February 14, 2016

Song Dong – Lori Nix

Art Gallery of Ontario – Song Dong

Wisdom of the Poor: Communal Courtyard is the name of the installation by Song Dong at the Art Gallery of Ontario.  The piece has the strange effect of slowing down time and creating a consuming sense of melancholy.  The viewer steps out of the moment and into a maze, composed of antique wardrobes, and, concurrently, into a bygone era.

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Detail of installation by Song Dong

The wardrobes have been dismantled and roughly knocked together to create twisting, labyrinthine passageways.  Bits of fabric, modest curtains, broken locks, faded posters and other sentimental items cling to the gutted furniture and add to the sense of forlorn domestic ruin.

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Detail of installation by Song Dong

The art piece feels funereal, and there is the lingering presence of ghosts.  Glimpses through openings may reveal another viewer wandering hesitantly, an abandoned bicycle or perhaps a rising tower (wait, its the AGO’s  Sol Lewitt sculpture and elsewhere is the AGO’s Warhol portrait of Karen Kain.)

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Detail of installation by Song Dong

China is famously changing at a breakneck pace despite an increasing public outcry against the demolition of historic neighbourhoods and a gathering preservationist movement.  Song Dong taps into a powerful emotional yearning for an idyllic past that is felt apparently all over the world. The object of the loving backward gaze could be the narrow, crowded streets of bygone China or …… Mayberry.   In North America this imagery can be baldly manipulative romanticism, covering for a suspect agenda, but what it is in China I do not know.

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Mayberry set

Admittedly there are some very appealing aspects to the decades past.  For example, long before the rise of Twitter and ISIS (forever linked in my mind) anyone could smoke and drink with abandon, even on airplanes.  But is it my actual memories that view these activities fondly or is it the “Mad Men” portrayal of them that I like?

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Smoking on airplanes through the eyes of the creator’s of “Mad Men”

Meanwhile the unrestrained development in China has not only resulted in the spectacular buildings we see in the media but some weirdly manufactured nostalgia, for example Thames Town, built to look like a charming Tudor town in the English countryside.

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Thames Town, 19 miles from Shanghai

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Bau-Xi Photo  – Lori Nix

All over North America laundromat seating is the same.  I may have known this as a fact before I saw the show of photographs by Lori Nix at Bau-Xi Photo, but to be honest I never really thought about it much. In Lori Nix’s photo of a post-apocalyptic laundromat (shown below) under dreadful fluorescent light, the seats are identical to those at the “Coin Wash” in the vicinity of Dundas and Keele.  In fact everything is exactly right, except of course the obvious…

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Laundromat at Night by Lori Nix

What I liked about looking at these photographs was noticing the detail and how exacting and precise it is.  Lori Nix builds miniatures of scenes she comes across in her daily life and then she photographs them. (To learn how she does this click on the link.)

Lori Nix does not replicate reality.  In all her photographs something is off, really off.  Something has occurred.  Things will never be the same.

Fountain

Fountain by Lori Nix

What’s going on in Fountain, the art work shown above?  A spectacular public space has been vandalized and then abandoned entirely.  The bronze sculptures have deteriorated, maybe because of chemicals in the atmosphere, such as chlorine, sulfur, nitrogen oxides or maybe just rain. Vines have overtake graffiti and then all (hubris) is silenced by cold and ice.

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Bar by Lori Nix

Could this be a bar in rural Ontario on any Sunday morning?  It does look very familiar … except there is no hockey memorabilia.

Despite visions of catastrophe Lori Nix’s art work transmits a sense of enthusiasm for the places she creates.  With meticulous patience she commits these mundane arenas of everyday life to a suspended state of timelessness.

 

May 9, 2015

….More Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival

There are CONTACT exhibitions everywhere in Toronto this month; a coffee shop around the corner from me on Dundas West, the local organic supermarket even!  Hard to get a good look at them through the vegetable misters, but they are there.

Bau-Xi Photo – Chris Shepherd

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Kennedy Station Platform by Chris Shepherd

Is the essential character of a city reflected in its transportation systems or do the systems help to create the character?  Think of the glamour of Montreal’s metro; its bold graphic styling and silently approaching trains, or the romance of New York’s subway, permanently embedded like its famous black and white, art deco tiles.  Relatively, Toronto’s underground transportation has seemed somewhat mundane, workaday and all about function.

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Pape Exit by Chris Shepherd

Chris Shepherd gets at the heart of the form and function connection in his exhibition at Bau Xi Photo.  (I am actually the owner of some subway shots Chris Shepherd and I think it is because of looking at these photographs that I began to appreciate the aesthetic of Toronto’s subway.)  Sadly, it is not glamour or romance that is at the core of Toronto; it is work.  And the Toronto subway is in total harmony.  The photographs of Chris Shepherd show us the modest pathways to our daily grind and reveal their perfection.

From BlogTO I learned the following:

The colours were chosen to discourage rowdy behaviour and loitering rather than for aesthetic reasons.  Consequently, they have that institutional quality of hospital or penitentiary walls.  For many years, Torontonians grumbled that their subway stations looked like public washrooms.  But now, decades later, the remaining designs have become Modernist classics.

There has been a recent flurry of TTC projects to improve and concurrently embellish the existing underground system.  It’s exciting to see a little civic preening going on in this city so focused on dogged achievement.

At Dufferin Station, Winnipeg artists Eduardo Aquino and Karen Shaski (of spmb) add blooms of pure colour, and big pixilated images to transform one of the most heavily used and rundown station of the Bloor line.  Chris Shepherd documents this unrestrained use of colour so well.  We can only hope it does not lead to loitering or rowdiness.

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Dufferin Station by Chris Shepherd

And finally the hoardings have come down at Union Station.  Big, messy,  sketchbook style line drawings by Stuart Reid are revealed.  The drawings, depicting TTC riders, have been blown up and transposed onto glass panels.  They are fresh, unexpected, thoughtful, sensitive and kind of a shock relative to the relentless TTC grids and tiles.

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Union Station panels by Stuart Reid

My current work address is near the Ferry terminal at the bottom of Bay Street.  Wandering around the area at lunch time gives me the feeling the plastic wrap is coming off.  Everything is shiny, clean and has that new car smell.

Across the street from me, draping the exterior of the Westin Harbour Castle Conference Center at 11 Bay Street is a public installation (also part of the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival) titled Best Beach by Sarah Anne Johnson.  The piece is particularly stunning when seen from within the Waterpark food court at mid-day.  At that time the whole place is flooded with light and Sarah Anne Johnson’s piece looms over the oblivious diners, glowing and shimmering in the daylight.

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Views of Sarah Anne Johnson’s piece Best Beach from the Waterpark food court at 10 Bay Street

It is a huge photograph and it sweeps across the entire end of the food court’s massive plane of windows like some giant playground graffiti, messy, dripping, flourescent and joyful.

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Best Beach by Sarah Anne Johnson

MOCCA  – Part Picture

The exhibition at MOCCA, called Part Picture, is also associated with the Scotiabank CONTACT event.  On entering the show there is a statement clarifying the curatorial rationale for the pieces included.  The artists in this exhibition, declares the statement, must be:

  1. young
  2. reacting against digital photography, and,
  3. combining photographs with another creative medium, like painting or sculpture

Why Jan Groover is included I do not know?  She was born in 1943 and became well known in the 1970s for close up, vaguely feminist, domestic interiors.  Maybe its because they are truly painterly and reminiscent of a Braque still life in purples, greens and reds?  In any case I appreciated seeing these beautiful photos.

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Untitled by Jan Groover

Painterly too are the photos by James Welling.  It’s interesting that James Welling has worked for Brioni (the Italian fashion conglomerate) because these prints resemble nothing so much as pretty dress fabric.

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14Y by James Welling

Works by Ryan Foerster are more in line with the stated intentions of the show and truly take photography into another realm.  Eschewing the tradition of pristine craftsmanship in a dust free darkroom, Ryan Foerester uses mangled photo plates, chance and accidents of light, dirt and debris to create wonderfully expressionist pieces with a particular Petri-dish gore appeal that reads as post apocalyptic.

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Artwork by Ryan Foerster

Ellen Carey’s Mourning Wall is composed of spent Polaroid plates.  They have a dreary, grey, funerary look and are arranged in the finest tradition of minimalist sculpture.  This piece made me think about the brief flowering of unique technologies.  (How exciting Polaroid once was!  Why did I throw my Commodore 64 in the trash?!)  Ellen Carey extends the metaphor of obsolescence, death and decay with the Rust Belt aesthetic of this work.

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Mourning Wall by Ellen Carey

Slick reams of photo paper tumble in heaps; snapshots sprout cables or have little blanket covers attached; but more typically, in this show, photographs take on a more painterly look, moving away from documentation, the traditional province of photography, and closer to objecthood, and marketability.

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68 by Mariah Robertson

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