February 20, 2015

How about those grimy ice hillocks that are lining the streets of Toronto?

I have to keep reminding myself that civilization is not breaking down.  It’s just winter.

Koffler Gallery – Kriistina Lahde

The Koffler Gallery, located in Artscape Youngplace, is the site of an exhibition by Kriistina Lahde titled ULTRA-PARALLEL.

I arrived to see the show in a completely winterized getup. The young woman at the desk immediately sprang into action and rushed up to meet me as I entered the gallery space. It took me a few minutes to figure out why this woman – charming and erudite – was so intent on guiding me around the show. The fact is that much of the work is delicately balanced and perishable. It could be easily destroyed by an unruly toddler ….or a viewer with fogged up dark glasses and a puffer coat. She didn’t want me to accidently wreck something.

It’s always so satisfying to see an art piece right in the middle of a gallery space. This show has a spectacular sculpture front and center. As light and airy as a dandelion puff ball the work is also structurally engrossing and culturally loaded.


From a straight line to a curve by Kriistina Lahde

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Details of From a straight line to a curve by Kriistina Lahde

Geodesic domes must have been around forever but for me they are associated with Buckminster Fuller. He discovered that triangles arranged into a sphere create structures of incomparable strength. He tried to market geodesic domes as dwellings but they did not catch on.  (Civilization is not breaking down!)

The sculpture is made of vintage yardsticks.  Each has a glowing patina and is emblazoned with the name of a long gone hardware store or house paint purveyor.  Even the name “yardstick” is an anachronism and the use of these appealing objects, once so common as to be nearly invisible, softens the piece and adds a melancholy dimension.

Yardsticks are the raw material for another sculpture in the exhibition.  This one, depicted below, glows in a delicious curve as the wooden sticks are arrayed according to hue and balanced in a swoop.


Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe


Detail of Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe

In fact, most of the pieces in the show are created from measuring devices: A chalk reel, surveyors tape measure, vellum, sewer’s measuring tape, and the yardsticks.  Routine, utilitarian, mundane could all be used to describe these objects.  Kriistina Ladhe uses them with grace and wit not so much to transform them as to allow their brilliant versatility and simplicity to be evident in a new context.


Detail of Parallel Lines by Kriistina Lahde

chalk line

Detail of String and a Box by Kriistina Lahde


Detail of Tool for Making by Kriistina Lahde


Greater than, less than by Kriistina Lahde

Near the entrance to the exhibition is a mysterious circular piece of steel.  It is a depiction of a meter.   The phrase “Meter: one forty millionth of the circumference of the Earth” is etched along the bottom rim of the object.  This piece has all the marks of serious tool but it is delightfully useless.


One forty millionth of the circumference of the Earth by Kriistina Lahde

The concept of the meter goes back to the 18th century.  After the French Revolution the French Academy of Science selected this as the standard measurement unit in the new Republic.  It was believed to be one ten-millionth of the length of the meridian through Paris from pole to the equator.  Actually they were a bit off, which is explained in an essay accompanying the exhibition.  Currently, somewhere in Geneva, the meter is defined as “the distance light travels, in a vacuum, in 1/299,792,458 seconds with time measured by a cesium-133 atomic clock which emits pulses of radiation at very rapid, regular intervals.”  Progress, not perfection.

February 12, 2015

I blame Stephen Harper for the punishing Alberta Clipper sweeping down Bloor Street as, gingerly avoiding black ice patches, I hustle toward the ROM.

Royal Ontario Museum – Douglas Coupland

At the last July 1st fireworks display I attended something weird was going on.  I noticed that possibly 60% of the viewers gazed at the brief spectacle through their smart phone screens.  Apparently tons of gun powder exploding in the summer night sky is no longer the pure experiential draw it once was. For many it must be mediated through a screen. A sense of mediation through technology is one idea Douglas Coupland is getting at in his exhibition at the ROM titled everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything.


Installation view of Douglas Coupland exhibition at the ROM

The title of the exhibit suggests depersonalization, corporatization and content flattening as it raises questions about a new way to experience the world: in comfort and safety through our irresistible, glittering toys.

Some of the paintings don’t make sense at all unless they are viewed through a screen.  The painting below, if viewed without mediation, i.e. IRL (in real life!), is an awkward abstraction.  Through the phone it morphs into the familiar visage of Osama bin Laben.


Bogeyman by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland’s paintings of the World Trade Center disaster, and another of a drone in flight, below, work the same way.


Poet by Douglas Coupland


Drone Attack by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland points to the terrorism threat as one of society’s drivers but one that is in low-gear, moving us steathily to somewhere.  Where?  His sculptural replication of the World Trade center is so banal it is shocking.


Artwork by Douglas Coupland

References to pop art and media devices are everywhere.  Big, colourful paintings ressurects Ben-Day dots with a Microsoft logo update and Quick Response bar codes that can be read by a smart phone.


Better Living Through Windows by Douglas Coupland


I Wait and I Wait for God to Appear by Douglas Coupland

There is a Warholian coolness and disconnection through much of the show.  Douglas Coupland acknowledges his debt to Andy Warhol with a piece containing wigs flattened under glass.  The artwork has the same disturbing creepiness as the famous 1936 Meret Oppenheim fur lined coffee cup.


Detail of Wigs in the Style of Andy Warhol by Douglas Coupland

Meret Oppenheim

Object by Meret Oppenheim

Douglas Coupland mines the Internet for pithy quotes, advertising hooks and memes of all kinds to create a wall of sentiments about what’s going on right now.  Strangely some of it already seems dated.




Details from Slogans for the 21st Century

For example I happen to know that right now there is nothing more coveted, among the truly style conscious, than a vintage flip phone.

The work also owes a lot to a certain Japanese aesthetic.  Cheerful, cute, bright and shiny with a dark undertow.  Think of Takashi Murakami who switches between designing bags for Louis Vuitton and creating apocalyptic visions of technological blowback.

The piece depicted below, featuring dozens of Japanese cleaning products, contains a Murakami-like ambivalence.  Douglas Coupland explains in the title card blurb that he collected the containers in a Japanese department store and dumped the contents down a drain before returning to Canada.  He then draws a link between subsequent oil spills and the Tsunami and debris from Japan washing up on the BC coast.



Details from Tokyo Harbor by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland’s concrete poetry pieces are also transcultural.   Although mostly in English they have a haiku-like feel and contain a sprinkling of Japanese words.  Shinhatsubai means “new product or new model” in Japanese.


Artwork by Douglas Coupland

A sculptural artwork sits on a large platform and is encased in glass like an architectural model.  It’s a metropolis right out of Sim City, where for every step forward a price is paid.  It is an immensely intricate piece, glittering, lively and vigorous, but of course the sheen comes from chemicals and oil and the city is dying.




Details from The World by Douglas Coupland

The exhibition is full of thought provoking work about the past and the future and that awkward spot, the present, in which Douglas Coupland, just like all of us, is stuck.  Perhaps that fact makes us myopic, alarmist or both.  Once in a while I like to drop by the Castle Board Games on Spadina, just below College, to get enthused and optimistic about the under 20 set and about how all this will play out.  One of the entrance conditions for this cafe is that you have to turn your phone off.

Meanwhile I slowly make my way to the ROM exit.  There are many distractions.




Sea life




Shrunken head (eyes and lips sewn shut)