April 9, 2016

Lately I have been obsessed with getting to work on time.  If I’m late I might not have a place to sit.  There are always a few latecomers lugging their laptops down to Starbucks to set up shop for the day and I don’t want to be one of them.  I tried working from home – some people (slackers?) seem to love it, but not me.  My home life and my work life start to become one seamless parade with work edging out home until it seems like that’s all I do.  I started going in to the office again, joining the flow of humanity on the TTC, earlier and earlier, 7:30, 7:20, 7:15…And then I remembered:  Looking at Art in Toronto.

Trinity Square Video – Heather Phillipson

Trinity Square Video’s new location is not optimal for viewing.  Skylights wash out the projected video images.  (I was advised they are fixing the problem and custom blinds are on order.)  Fortunately, the inaugural exhibition of the space features work by Heather Phillipson, and the  show, titled “sub-fusc love-feast,” has such a powerful audio component that the diminished visual impact is hardly missed.


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Installation view of sub-fusc love-feast by Heather Phillipson

Also, three video projection screens are tucked into an elaborate installation of cut out photographs.  It’s like walking around in an oversized collage, cut out from cheerful travel postcards and National Geographic magazines.

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Installation views of sub-fusc love-feast by Heather Phillipson

The layers of sound and music, dominated by a bell-like female voice, are completely absorbing.  Heather Phillipson is a thinker and a poet.  She takes on the slippery task of defining nature in this era of unrestrained production and gives voice to the places, things and animals caught in the terrifying cycles of consumption.

The piece has a plaintive, uncertain feel to it, the sound in particular grows panicky at times and fearful.  This makes sense given the subject matter.  Heather Phillipson explores the grim news that is easier to deny than accept; the scale and finality of the environmental crisis that looms over us all.


Gallery 44 – Sarah Anne Johnson

The victim of a medical experiment, perpetrated without the consent or knowledge of patients, Sarah Ann Johnson’s grandmother suffered crippling depression and agoraphobia following her treatment.  Sarah Anne Johnson explores this trauma, which continues to ripple through generations of her family, in a video installation called The Kitchen.


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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

On numerous monitors we watch short loops of a woman, alone, on a kind of stage set which is a kitchen.  The clothes and decor signify the nineteen fifties.  She wears a dress and heels but everything else is wrong.  This woman is strangely afflicted, nuts probably.  A mask is warn on the back of her head and a wig obscures her face.  She carries out her lonely kitchen activities backwards, freakish, awkward, perpetually failing, occasionally crying out in frustration, hurling plates in this filthy kitchen where she seems to be trapped.

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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

It’s fascinating to watch the intense and torturous contortions the woman performs to carry out simple tasks as our vision flips back and forth, trying to make sense of the impossible.  And maybe that is what Sarah Anne Johnson is getting at: the misery of trying to succeed in an situation which is impossible.

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Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson


Still from The Kitchen by Sarah Anne Johnson

In a separate room, a projected video in black and white, shows the same woman.  She is still in the kitchen.  Now she lies on the floor, trundling heavily in an abstract, compulsive manner.

In acting out these moments in the kitchen Sarah Anne Johnson may be re-creating childhood memories or simply seeking to understand her family and herself.  The art work she comes up with has a strange tragic aspect to it, dark and painful.

March 21, 2014

Knots of people loitered on the street like teenagers as the sun started to have some real meaning.  It was an afternoon to saunter.

Trinity Square Video

The work on display at Trinity Square Video, called The Cloud of Unknowing, by Ho Tzu Neyen, put me off lunch.   The camera lingered over plates of rotting food and maggots, appalling skin diseases, obese half naked people, fetid water and a heavy set man wearing a Depend.


Still from The Cloud of Unknowing by Ho Tzu Neyen

The soundtrack could be described as ambient metal or dark ambient with an overlay of heavy breathing and occasional bursts of quite good drumming.  There is no dialogue.   A collection of vaguely surrealistic and improbable tableau vivant were linked with a cloud/steam/fog image.  At the conclusion of the presentation a fan switches on somewhere and a  steamy vaporous cloud wafts into the dark viewing room as the screen fades to a blinding white. It’s disorienting.

Showing video in art galleries has always been challenging.  On this Saturday afternoon I became aware of an apparent new trend in the medium: a material manifestation (literal fog or cloud in this case) of the onscreen work.

(Fog was one of the key components of a memorable art piece I saw in London by Olaf Elliason called The Weather Project.  In that case viewers in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall became so spaced out they lay on the floor, staring up at the fog shrouding a dim sun in the mirrored ceiling far above.  The fog created a dreamlike atmosphere and seemed to release all kinds of inhibitions. )


The Weather Project by Olaf Elliason

Ten minutes away from Trinity Square Video, at the Georgia Scherman Project, there is an anything goes atmosphere as an art installation/perfume launch is underway.  The space is very dark and very fragrant.  A short black and white video loop is playing is which a model clomps up a circular stairway in what appears to be a dank cave or grotto of some sort.  The soundtrack is ambient metal.  No dialogue.  The floor is littered with black confetti which has been heavily doused in the fragrance.  The artist wants to create a particular atmosphere.  At the counter – I mean desk – sachets of Andrea Maack’s upcoming fragrance “Dual” are handed out.

The gallery staff mentioned the plan for the video to go viral.  You never know what’s going to catch on.  More than 40 million people have watched: Double Rainbow.

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Samples of the fragrance “Dual” by Andrea Maacke

The idea for the black confetti underfoot – more material manifestation – is that the public will inadvertently track it out into the neighbourhood and disperse the olfactory offering up and down Tecumseh Street and beyond.

Susan Hobbs Krista Buecking

Next door at Susan Hobbs I thought I was in more conventional terrain.  Big, beautiful framed art pieces hung on the walls.  But at the moment of entering the gallery a soundtrack is triggered: swelling violins and “This Magic Moment’ by the Drifters spills into the space.

In the exhibition, titled Matters of Fact, Krista Buecking creates exquisitely subdued atmospheric fades and then suspends hard edged graphics above them on the encasing glass.

For me, although the music was an endearing touch, the art pieces could totally stand alone.  It did strike me as amusing, that whereas the media artists want some ambient element scattered about, the painter selects an old school emotional torch song to create an atmosphere.

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codified form B by Krista Buecking

Mist, fog, dreaminess, atmosphere.  Those seems to be the themes for this beautiful sunny afternoon.

January 27, 2015

Biting cold…cruel gusts along Annette Street…broken down Dupont bus…one glove lost…not even February….but the days are getting longer.

Clint Enns, Leslie Supnet

I arrive just in time to catch the beginning of Adventures in Transgression, a screening of videos by Clint Enns and Leslie Supnet at Trinity Square Video. The mood of the crowd is that of cabin fever induced excitement and recklessness that make for an interesting evening, and, TSV has a capacious screening room with a sound system worthy of the ambient industrial tracks to come.

Some of the videos of Clint Enns have a tossed-off larkishness, like the short nostalgic clip called Freddie Mercury Sing-A-Long.


Still from Freddie Mercury Sing-A-Long by Clint Enns

Others are discomforting, like the superimposed close-ups of an ejaculating penis and vigorous teeth brushing in Gleem  or the tight shot of cataract surgery called Botched Eyeball Operation which is more horrifying than any slasher movie. Let me ASMR you explores the perceptual phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response, which is evidently a popular youtube indulgence.


Still from Let me ASMR you by Clint Enns

Many of the works have a connection to some earlier film or technology or video art piece.  They are remakes, tributes, recreations, remixes, variants of existing technology or artwork — some more obscure than others — which becomes clear in seeing Andy Warhol, Michael Snow, James Benning, Hans Richter, Chris Burden, Name June Paik and others referenced in the programme notes.  Clint Enns is apparently a student and ardent fan of earlier achievements in moving imagery but he is definitely on his own path.

The videos that are truly spellbinding, for me, are those in which Clint Enns goes for pure image.   Take as a starting point, for example, the scratchy, flaring, generally beat up look of a Guy Maddin film and keep going…and keep going… all the way.  Clint Enns apparently sets outs out to degrade his images until they are virtually abstract.


Detail of still from Ten Skies by Clint Enns

What happens on the journey to total annihilation is really interesting: not only are the visuals often incidentally gorgeous but also the viewer is obliged to think about the phenomenon of seeing itself.

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Stills from Spiderman vs. Macrovison by Clint Enns

In Spiderman vs. Macrovision the real time image decay is fast and unsettling.  Macrovision’s “Ripguard” technology, was designed to prevent illegal copying.  In the tape we see antique cartoons repeatedly churn, hesitate and dissolve into a froth of colour only to be reformed momentarily and dissolve again, like a babel of photons struggling for coherence.

Strangely, in these videotapes the emotional content is heightened with increasing abstraction.  The sound design/music (frequently performed by Clint Enns) is a big factor.  In winnipeg stories: sacrificial memories, composed of discarded footage, Clint Enns achieves a fitful, melancholy tone.  The golden glow gives the tape a “trapped in amber” look and the music is wistful, haunting, emotive.


Still from winnipeg stories: sacrificial memories by Clint Enns

The Everden (which is my favourite) creates a sense of panic and paranoia as the viewer looks deeper and deeper into a bleak urban landscape.  It’s like watching the famous “grassy knoll” footage from Dallas.  Everything is so tantalizingly close, but the resolution just isn’t there and the image breaks up, becomes meaningless, closed and unknowable.

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Still from The Everden by Clint Enns

The Everden also made me think of the Laura Poitras’ film Citizen Four, in its dark, brooding unease and revelations of betrayal and duplicity.  The sound track of processed ambience and guitar, the unrelenting static, drop out, smear and interference all conspire to create a powerfully tense piece about extreme alienation in this: the age of surveillance.

Leslie Supnet’s work also has a “take no prisoners” approach to materials.  She chooses to hand draw her animations, paint and cut out her sets (with scissors), and shoot in super 8 instead of HD.

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Still from First Sun by Leslie Supnet

Capturing simple, graphic pictures with these erzats techniques Leslie Supnet’s work frequently achieves a sense of elemental imagery.  In pieces like Sun Moon Stars Rain or First Sun the bold images, coupled with a boisterious percussive sound track results in wildly playful pagan joyfulness.

Leslie Supnet’s narrative animations explore themes of depression, anxiety, loss and redemption.  Simple line drawings have an affecting emotive depth and nuance that seems precisely current.


Still from Fair Trade by Leslie Supnet

Her processed super 8 work also has complex results using simple imagery.   Recurring themes include flocks of gulls, bizarre landscapes, cats, horses.  Last Light Breaking has an other worldly, meditative dreaminess.  Wind and Snow combines startling depictions of classic subjects in flaring, shimmering psychedelic colours.  Less like a documenter of the natural world and more like poet, Leslie Supnet gets at the essence of what’s around her.

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Stills from Wind and Snow by Leslie Supnet