April 7, 2019

Koffler Gallery – Nevet Yitzhak

On the eve of the Israeli election, where the polls are projecting “King Bibi”, it seems like a good idea to check out Israeli artist Nevet Yitzhak and her exhibition, titled WarCraft, at the Koffler Gallery.

Detail of WarCraft video installation by Nevet Yitzhak

When I arrive, Nevet Yitzhak is speaking about her work to a rapt audience of a few dozen. The gallery lights are off, the only illumination of the event comes from the huge, animated digital projections on three sides of the space.

The projections look like very large rugs. They are flat, patterned expanses, with light coloured strips of fringe running down both vertical ends. The projections share the flattened, stylized look of traditional rugs from the Middle East. And they have the same warm palette of reds, ochers and yellows. But traditional subject matter, that of animals, plants and various domestic scenes, has been replaced with something new. In fact they are “war rugs,” – reminiscent of those that emerged during the Afghani conflicts – displaying the implements of contemporary warfare, like choppers, tanks and AK-47s.

Detail from digital video animation by Nevet Yitzhak

And the rugs move. In a rather slow, desultory manner, bombers cruise here and there, missiles are dispatched and explode, helicopters meet dramatic ends and fires continually burn. The slowness and repetition gives the scene a routine, humdrum feel.

Detail of animated digital video by Nevet Yitzhak

Meanwhile in the gallery, the artist is describing her family background, which is Yemeni, Kurdish Iraqi and Syrian. She tells the audience about the Arabic Jewish communities within Israel and their attempts to maintain their cultural identities, and, about her sense of self as an Arabic Jew growing up in a state of continual conflict, where Arabs are the enemy. She tells the audience that she has no hope, her generation has no hope, and, that this artwork is not a metaphor. This artwork reflects reality.

She also talks about Afghani war rugs and how they inspired her. But in this respect Nevet Yitzhak emphasizes the fact that, unlike the Afghani rug producers, she is a citizen of the aggressor state, and, her audience is mainly an Israeli audience.

Afghan war rug from 2002

Q & A Period arrives: Someone in the audience suggested that the artist’s work celebrates war. “It is the opposite of Picasso’s Guernica, ” the person complains, “It does not show suffering.”

Detail of Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Nevet Yitzhak responds to the question as follows: She repeats she is an Israeli citizen. She can not show the victims of Israeli aggression, because that is not who she is.

In an aside, the artist mentions that textiles are always political. I never really thought about that before, but, yes, remember the Pussy Hat? It is now a cultural artifact, frequently disparaged.

Pussy Hat is now decried as racist and trans-phobic

Exhibiting concurrently with Nevet Yitzhak’s show is a work by Shaista Latif. Shaista Latif’s video work, called “Learning the Language of my Enemies” (I have to go back and see it!) was created as “an intervention and an attempt at empathetic critique” of the work in the main gallery.

Still from two channel video piece by Shaista Latif

Shaista Latif has a very charming, bubbly personality and she jumps into the rather tense Q & A session with a declaration of herself as working class, Afghani-Canadian and Queer. She somehow gets the assembled group to agree with her that when you are in Toronto it is very important that you identify where you are coming from, what your point of view is and who you are speaking for.

Nevet Yitzhak’s English is a little shaky and in fact, she has a translator with her. Someone in the audience asks her if her work is political. She talks to the interpreter for a few seconds, and then she replies: “Everything in Israel is political.”

Map of Israel and surroundings


November 30, 2015

Koffler Gallery – Isabel Rocamora

Yesterday was the last chance to see the Isabel Rocamora show – titled Troubled Histories, Ecstatic Solitudes – at the Koffler Gallery.  The exhibit, dominated by three large-scale video projections, opened way back on September 17, and it is utterly prescient in terms of its grave, unflinching tone and the subject matter it contains.

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Still from Body of War by Isabel Rocamora

In Body of War Isabel Rocamora probes the phenomenon of close-up brutality.  In an extended sequence the camera warily circles a fight to the death between two anonymous soldiers.  Staged on a barren runway beneath grey skies, this grim, slow battle confusingly becomes a kind of homoerotic dance from which there is no escape.  A soundtrack of medieval-like, choral chanting heightens the sense of ritual and archetype in this piece. Eventually a victor is left standing, panting and jubilant, and the camera turns away to slowly penetrate the opening of a nearby bunker.  The desultory movement toward darkness creates a truly horrifying moment.

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Stills from Horizon of Exile by Isabel Rocamora

In Horizon of Exile, a two channel video piece, snippets of monologue hint at the reasons a women must leave her home and set off into a barren, windswept desert.  Against an elegiac score and relentless wind, two women then perform a mesmerizing rolling dance, where they are carried like flotsam across a glittering salt flat in a God forsaken plain somewhere.

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Stills from Faith by Isabel Rocamora

An Orthodox Jew, a Greek Orthodox Christian and a Sunni Muslim are all engaged in prayer in Isabella Rocamora’s three channel loop called Faith.  Filmed in a craggy desert that reads “holy land” they are united in ancient transcendent practices.  The religious trappings – the robes, the gestures, the pious heavenward gazes, the fervent ritualized murmuring – are remarkably alike.  In fact not much is separating these men of God from one another, and yet, Isabel Rocamora seems to be saying, the superficial similarities are meaningless.  Tradition is terminally unique.

I really liked seeing this show: The stark graphic power, the rich soundscapes, the choreography of the camera and the subjects, and the potent imagery.  Ultimately the work struck me as very dark: The subjects are all unable to break out of age old oppression, each is condemned to endlessly repeat the rituals of the past and passively accept their fate.

Typology – Nicolas Fleming

Fortunately, it is possible to go shopping for handmade items on the third floor of Artspace Youngplace otherwise I would not have trekked upstairs and come across the tiny gallery called Typology.

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Installation shot of Moving Right Along by Nicolas Fleming

An installation by Nicholas Fleming called Moving Right Along is about to close.  I’m glad I caught this show.

Nicholas Fleming must be a very energetic guy.  He has built an entire room within the gallery, except that it is all delightfully backwards so that drywall, spackling paste, chipboard and insulation foam are on display and the smooth, white gallery walls with crisp corners and subtle lighting are hidden.  It’s kind of like putting a dress on inside out.

An unmistakable Home Depot fragrance wafts into the hallway from Typology.

I really liked looking at the “fountain” in the center of the space.  It has ghastly, poisonous look to it.  Something toxic appears to be weeping from the hardened foam to create a pool, coated in noxious sheen, at its base.

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Installation shots of Moving Right Along by Nicolas Fleming

No doubt Nicholas Fleming allies himself with Minimalism, Arte Povera and various Conceptual Art branches emerging in the 1970s but what is so interesting about this show to me is the exotic beauty created by these humble materials which leads to the whole idea of the infrastructure of our society and how it is hidden and denied and avoided, with perilous consequences.

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.

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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.

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Slide Rule by Kriistina Ladhe

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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.

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Detail of Parallel Lines by Kriistina Lahde

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Detail of String and a Box by Kriistina Lahde

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Detail of Tool for Making by Kriistina Lahde

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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.

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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.

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