Cut and Paste is a smart and visually engaging collage exhibit

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Cut and Paste
At Equinox Project Space until July 14

In Cut and Paste, there’s an interesting confluence of ideas, past and present. Subtitled “An Exhibition of Canadian Collage”, the show invites us to examine contemporary uses of what was once a breakthrough medium championed by the early modernists. For Dadaists, cubists, constructivists, and surrealists, collage offered the possibility of reinventing picture-making, of butting one surface against another, adding dimensionality to flatness, and integrating elements of the print media, popular culture, and even the discards of banal existence—from old bus tickets to ragged dishcloths—into the making of “high” art.

Given its location, this exhibition also provokes thought about the shifting nature of curation. The strikingly large Equinox Project Space, located on industrial land off Great Northern Way, reminds us that commercial galleries (and sometimes private collectors) are playing an ever greater role in shaping our experience of contemporary art.

Assembled by Sophie Brodovitch, a graduate of the master’s program in critical and curatorial studies at UBC, and Equinox Gallery director Andy Sylvester, Cut and Paste displays some 140 works by 35 artists, emerging, established, and departed. The lineup includes Vikky Alexander, Paul Butler, Raymond Boisjoly, Geoffrey Farmer, Rodney Graham, Elizabeth McIntosh, Lyse Lemieux, Jason McLean, Al McWilliams, Renée Van Halm, Etienne Zack, and Elizabeth Zvonar. Senior West Coast artists Gathie Falk, Gordon Smith, and Takao Tanabe are represented, as are some of central Canada’s mid-20th-century modernists, such as Charles Gagnon, Jean Paul Riopelle, and Harold Town.

Graham’s series of scrappy, funky collages, composed of the disassembled sleeves of record albums, include a portrait of folk singer Joan Baez, represented at a time when her music and her antiwar politics were profoundly interwoven. At first viewing, it looks like a tribute—but perhaps its a deconstruction of a long-dead counterculture movement. A profile image of Baez’s face is pasted in the middle of a square of raw cardboard, formally distanced from her art and her convictions.

Christopher Kukura has contributed six odd, untitled digital C-prints. Found photographs of purebred dogs have been sliced apart horizontally, then reassembled without any faces, so that most of the creatures appear to be undifferentiated heaps of fur. Because many of the original images were shot against a landscape background, Kukura’s works suggest a sardonic reconsideration of the human manipulation of the natural world. And the appropriated studio shot of a pair of silky terriers reads like a GMO experiment gone monstrously wrong.

Lemieux’s three beguiling collages are diptychs of subtly bulging, organic forms cut out of plain and patterned fabric from recycled shirts, then laid smoothly within column-like figures thickly outlined in black ink. Both the forms and the fabric allude to the human body, an ongoing preoccupation of the artist. The lines function in some ways as elements of sentence structure, as both punctuation and syntax, and seem to allude to psycho-linguistic ideas of identity.

Zack is represented here by two framed pictures, whose juxtaposition of painted and found images fully meets our expectation of what collage is, and by a new relief sculpture that doesn’t at all. As Far As I Know is a very large, wall-mounted relief sculpture, created in response to the enormous gallery space. From a distance, it resembles a quilt made out of rough clots of clay, or an immensely enlarged view of canvas, with its woven components greatly exaggerated. Up close, you realize that it is composed of hundreds of rolled-up blobs of recycled paper and glue, stuck to an armature of chicken wire and humorously augmented by cut-out paper “nails”. Given the work’s unresolved appearance, it could be the kind of surreal object that would appear in one of Zack’s paintings. However, the materials used—paper and glue—allude directly to the basic elements of collage.

Smart and visually engaging works by both Alexander and Van Halm reveal a shared interest in critiquing modernist architecture and design. Alexander has a gift for digitally combining banal patterns and images, often lifted from wall paper, photomurals, and glossy magazines, to invoke the interface between nature and culture. Her imaginary modernist interiors often look out on impossible landscapes such as icebergs or gigantically enlarged, frozen pine trees.

Krisdy Shindler has created two animated shorts of leaping, dancing, and twirling dolphins, to a 1962 recording of the Beat poet Brion Gysin reciting two of his “permutation poems”. “Junk Is No Good Baby” and “No Poets” remind of us of the inventive way avant-garde poets cut up and reassembled phrases in a manner parallel to visual collage. Gysin’s gravelly voice makes an intriguing aural backdrop to an exhibition filled with visual interest and delight—and built upon innovations that occurred many, many years ago.

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