January 15, 2015

I walked north from Dupont on Osler and then veered left to take in some of the desolate, windswept beauty of the Junction. All was bathed in a high contrast glare on this bright afternoon in deep January.

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Jessica Bradley Gallery

It was such a relief to be in the warm, friendly gallery space, filled with laconic poetry, as a succession of trains rumbled by outside.  The show at Jessica Bradley is called Signs & Symbols.

Work by a dozen artists is on display. The delivery methods are diverse but there is a definite coherence to the show: high Concept Art, detached and cool.


Installation view of Signs & Symbols

The show got me thinking about the material manifestation of ideas and how far ranging that could be among the original Conceptual Artists: From the notion that “if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing,” (for example, Robert Smithson literally creating a new landscape) to instances whereby the object part of the art became less and less important until finally, poof!, it was gone (as in Sol LeWitt handing out some instructions).

In this exhibition, one end of the spectrum (the “less is more” end) might be occupied by Jason McLean who jots some practically illegible notes on nice thick paper and then frames them. It’s so deft and effortless, the way these particular text fragments powerfully capture some of the chaos and unmanageability of contemporary life.


Jan 2112 by Jason McLean

(Since it is a bit hard to read I’ve excerpted a particularly appealing section below:)

loose nuts in bowl
  with kiwi &
    log on log off

Jason McLean’s poetry/sign works really well with a photograph by Geoffrey James which is hung next to it. The photograph documents a bit of signage on the exterior of The Matador. The bizarre concoction of letters on dense green paint is like a faint missive from another world, emphasizing the divide between the dull staid society where mail is delivered and the after hours parallel universe where vice and mayhem rule.


The entrance to the Matador by Geoffrey James

Some of the work seems to be getting at the ineffable. Like a thick black, manufactured oval with glowing white letters by Kelly Mark.  It effectively reminds the viewer that life is short and eternity awaits.


Nothing is Larger than Everything by Kelly Mark

Yes, yes….there is no time like now! I should buy a Hyundai and some cheap gas!

A piece by Robert Fones, similarly manufactured and glowing, elevates a strangely awkward command.


What You Don’t See Displayed by Robert Fones

Tricia Middleton’s piece, painted in watery blues, is a quote from Nietzche.  It has a plaintive tone and makes a link between the courage to live life deeply and the by-product of that, which is intense suffering.


The most spiritual human beings (Nietzshe) by Tricia Middleton

The artist Karl Holmqvist creates an ambitious installation work.  Typewritten sheets completely cover one wall and climb over a platform.  The texts share a visual similarity to the “typings” of Christopher Knowles but unlike that famous autistic artist whose pieces never waver from a single idea, this installation offers a roving commentary on such disparate topics as celebrity culture, advertising, politics, history, religion and so on.  It’s not clear if these are found texts or compositions by the author.  There are a couple of sets of headphone included as part of the installation where one can listen to what sounds like a computer with a deep, male, German accented voice reciting random words.



Untitled (MOMA) by Karl Holmqvist

Walking back down Miller Street I had a new appreciation of the workaday announcements plastered on plateglass all around me.  What were the considerations that resulted in the final form?


November 5, 2014

Off the beaten track and away from the high rents a small group of galleries are staking out territory in an unexpected region of Toronto. According to the Toronto Star this neighbourhood is called Carleton Village and it is bordered by St. Claire avenue on the north and surrounded on the other three sides by railway lines: the CNR/CPR mainline to the west, the CNR railway lines to the east, and the CPR east-west railway lines to the south. Carleton Village may be a little scary at night but during the day its all about auto body shops, humble residences, scrub vegation and a particular industrial park ambience that has an undeniable allure.


View outside galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village


View in back of galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village

Jessica Bradley Gallery

At the Jessica Bradley Gallery an exhibition by Tricia Middleton, titled Making friends with yourself, feels strangely like a reference to the gallery exterior, albeit darkly exaggerated. These messy piles of forgotten, encrusted stuff are just the kind of tableaux that lurk along railway lines, highway-off ramps and docksides to be stumbled upon by the unwary dog-walker or middle-school biker.


Detail of installation by Tricia Middleton


Installation View

The signs along a riverbank might say No Dumping but Tricia Middleton knows our world is full of items to be discarded, hidden, eroded, rotted and finally washed away by moving water or overgrown with weeds and more debris.



The cascading wax references memorials, alters, communion with others or the world beyond and furtive spiritual gestures of all kinds and provides another dimension to the work. The faint glimpse of glitter beneath the wax encrusted surface and the purples, pinks and blues suggest the melting and blurring of once distinct ritual objects, desperate prayers and secret meetings.


Sometimes the objects are simply ghastly like various disconnected swollen body parts. These headless torsos or set of legs might be encased in clothing, vestiges of their former existence, and now swarming with indicators of truly repellent new life.


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The installations raises all kinds of interesting ideas concerning our consumer society and relationships to things, about waste and value, about pop culture notions of the macabre in relation to marginal forms of spirituality, ideas about what is disgusting and grotesque, nightmarish glimpses of the terrible fates of the missing among us, and about the forgotten people, places and things that exist in the hidden margins of our society.

Katzman Contemporary

Annabella Scondi lived from 1921 to 2005, mostly in rural Northern Ontario. Recognized as a brilliant diarist in her teenage years Ms. Scondi then laboured for decades as a ticket taker at the Sudbury train station. She went on to retreat to “a cabin in the woods” and create a startling body of outsider art, presented at the Katzman Gallery by Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium.


Annabella Scondi

An elaboratly produced audio guide is offered to help the gallery visitor understand Annabella Scondi’s influences. The audio piece breathlessly details the evolution and development of the artist as a wounded genius or maybe an elusive idiot savant somehow able to comprehend the complex machinations of the art world and create astute artworks, responding to such varied influences as Brancusi, Duchamp and Bridget Riley.

Bridget Riley piece

Unsent Letters to Bridget Riley

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Installation view of The Scondi Collection

Personally, I understand the lure of the distant obscure object.  Growing up on the Canadian prairies I wanted to know more about, say, Conceptual Art, and studied the relevant publications diligently. Its not an uncommon phenomenon. I have a nephew who, at the age of seven, living in rural Manitoba, became obsessed with the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach, particularly a certain musical passage from that work. He went on to study music composition and eventually attended a remounting of the piece at 2012 Luminato festival. His own music is influenced by this classic avant garde work.

The work on the walls can be a little bland, especially without the audio accompaniement, but Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium have created a very interesting piece.  Particularly relevant in this era of social media hyper communication where all is revealed instantly the work creates something that we are not quite sure about and as such becomes a kind of meditation on the whole idea of the internationally obscure.

Did Annabella Scondi ever exist at all? One of the recurring images throughout the show is the obscured visage.


Detail from The Scondi Collection

Supposedly her work was all tied up with her self imposed exile subsequent to an early brush with fame (and 30 years at the wicket in Sudbury).  What does this show tell us about fame, particularly of the art world variety? The Warhol take on fame, the way he captured and coveted the aura of Lisa Minelli or Marilyn, has morphed through the decades so that movie stars like Tilda Swinton or James Franco covet the esoteric elitism of the performance artist.

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Installation view of The Scondi Collection

Was Annabella Scondi created so that she could be unearthed and deconstructed by the art world, ever hungry for the new and obscure, someone who is genuinely unknowable? Or is she real, an accurate cipher decoding and dialoguing with the cultural forces of her times?