Visual Arts Reviews

Steven Shearer At the Contemporary Art Gallery until January 2 In a brief interview with the Straight two years ago, Steven Shearer described himself as an anthropologist of certain cultural forms, forms for which he felt a particular attachment. His protean art ranges across sculpture, sound installation, digital prints, serigraphs, oil and acrylic paintings, and delicately rendered realist drawings, and is derived from his own extensive archive of found imagery, much of it gathered on the Net. Shearer creates critical coherence out of a disparate sampling of youth subcultures and banal suburbanism. This 10-year survey of the Vancouver artist's work pulls together images including a child's messy string collage, death-metal song titles, low-budget fanzine-style collages, fictitious performance posters, prefab tool sheds, pop-culture promo photographs, and snapshots of long-haired white guys partying or playing thrash guitar in their parents' basements. One of the themes that compels Shearer is the youth culture of the 1970s, especially as manifested in sweet-faced, androgynous teen idols of the Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy variety, and in crotch-grabbing, face-painting, blood-dripping heavy-metal bands. The former, this art suggests, represent mainstream society's attempt to promote a clean, compliant, and sexless image of male adolescence, while the latter express all that conventional adults fear of the same demographic: raw aggression, social alienation, and obsessions with sex, death, and violence. His own interest, Shearer says, is in youth as a time when "ideas of identity, social engineering, and culture collide". Among his principal forms of expression is collage, an example being Boy's Life, a large digital colour print whose title explains its content. Here, hundreds of small found images--from promo shots of the Osmonds, the Partridge Family, and the movie musical Oliver!, to photos of naked hippies, glam rockers, Black Sabbath tapes, drum sets, speakers, owl tattoos, pet opossums, and a crocheted bedspread--are laid out in an approximate grid against a bright, white ground. A quite different slice of life occurs in Slumber, the most ambitious digital print in the show, in which are collaged many more hundreds of small images, these of people sleeping. Men, teens, children, babies, occasional women--all are caught slumbering in awkward postures and unlikely contexts, on floors, chairs, boats, buses, motorcycles, sidewalks, stairways, and patches of dirt. Curled up like fetuses, seated with heads thrown back, or sprawled with arms outstretched, eyes closed, mouths open, they signal the vulnerable ordinariness of exhausted humanity. Collage and appropriation enable Shearer to interweave ideas about the social construction of masculinity, the marketplace's construction of celebrity, the history of portraiture, the shifting nature of photographic representation, and--more obscurely--modernism's utopian ideals concerning the creativity of children. Despite the predominance of subjects from the 1970s, he articulates a contemporary condition in which the image bombardment of the mass media--such a rich resource for Andy Warhol four decades ago--finds its present-day electronic equivalent on the Internet, an apparently bottomless well of visual material. Other strategies that Shearer shares with Warhol include the silk-screening of much-enlarged, photo-based images onto canvas and an engagement with banality that transcends the material sourced and sparks a critical dialogue with unregarded aspects of our daily lives.
Liz Magor Handy Thing/Split At the Equinox Gallery until December 24 LightShed Permanent public-art installation at Coal Harbour Art, Liz Magor says, is the place where our perceptions are opened and examined for prolonged periods of time. Much longer, she suggests, than in our day-to-day encounters with the visual world, where we tend to interpret given signs in fixed ways, and where our first impressions are usually consolidated by our second. Magor's art refutes such consolidation: irresolution prevails and closure eludes us. Her sculptures consistently play reality against unreality, meaning against alternative meaning, initial appearance against later revelation. Magor has recently completed three important sculptural projects, one of them a public artwork installed on the sea wall at Coal Harbour, beyond the foot of Broughton Street, and two others on view at the Equinox Gallery. The Coal Harbour work, titled LightShed, was privately commissioned (by Grosvenor Canada Limited) but was subject to the full rigour of the City of Vancouver's public-art process, including a call for submissions, a juried selection, and a public hearing to address concerns of local residents. The sculpture resembles a dilapidated wooden shed on weathered log pilings, set at a slightly skewed angle, as if the whole structure had been battered by the elements and were in danger of collapse. The startling aspect is that the entire work--boards, planks, door handles, latches, hinges, ropes, corrugated roof tiles, pilings, and even barnacles on the pilings--was cast in aluminum from the components of a one-half-scale model, inspired by the freight sheds that once sat on wharves in Coal Harbour. While calling up an aspect of Vancouver's maritime history, the work also finds formal resonance in the contemporary storage sheds and boat shelters nearby, an interaction that alerts us to our built environment and the everyday life of the harbour. Still, history and environment are not Magor's chief concerns here: again, she wants to play with our perceptions, pitting what's real against what's not. In a recent interview with the Straight, Magor said she believed the best art employs two modes of perception: the "experiential", that which we encounter with our bodies and our senses; and the "referential", linking us, as a computer does, to a long chain of related concepts and ideas and transporting us elsewhere. As with some of Magor's earlier works, which riff off the image of a log cabin in the woods, sheds and pilings are familiar to us, bearing certain cultural assumptions. Yet that familiarity is disturbed by the transformation into another material and scale and by the sense of eternal precariousness or transition. (In side view, there is also an oddly zoomorphic suggestion, as if the shed on pilings were a large, lumbering beast.) We are unsettled, too, by the structure's ultimate inaccessibility: raised up and sealed off from entry, it can't really function as we suppose it should. The appearance of LightShed changes depending on the time and conditions of viewing. On a clear day, it glints and glitters, and sunlight, reflecting off the rippling water of the harbour, flickers and dances across its surface. On dark days and at night, a greasy silver light shines inside the shed and leaks out through the windows and the gaps between the tilted and skewed "boards". The light seems to shift from place to place, creating the impression of ghostly inhabitation. It animates the work, enhancing the suggestion of interiority, but it also invests the shed with an otherworldly quality. Like an apparition, it's here but not here. At the Equinox Gallery, two highly realistic sculptures, cast from moulds taken from a living tree trunk, make reference to some of Magor's earlier themes, including ideas around the hoarding, hiding, and anxieties of recluses and survivalists. In Handy Thing, cast in bronze, we first see what we assume to be a cut section of a big, old tree, with a rough, active surface of deeply undercut bark, and numerous wavy concentric rings on the severed end nearest the gallery's front door. Walk around this object, however, and the other end reveals that the log is not solid but hollow and crammed with (actual) garden implements, from rakes, hoes, shovels, and sprinkler nozzles to rubber boots, nylon ropes, and a plastic tarpaulin. The work communicates not only a surreal disjunction between appearance and actuality, but also a sense of somewhat desperate contingency and paranoia. The other monumental log sculpture, Split, cast improbably in wax, again plays initial appearance (that of an elegantly curved tree section with old, gnarled, deeply cut bark, this one split in two) against revelation. Here, the core of the logs is revealed to have been something molten, once liquid but now solid, like lava rock or petrified sap. The work is self-referential, alluding to the process of casting molten bronze and to the mutable character of the wax. Like LightShed, it suggests a transitional state forever frozen in time and matter. Forever provocative.
Jeff Ladouceur Safety Village At the Atelier Gallery until December 18 Victoria-born cartoonist Jeff Ladouceur works exclusively in one medium--black ink over graphite (with occasional corrections in White Out)--and in one key: mordant gloom. From these limited means, Ladouceur makes small, memorable drawings--about subjects like depression, self-mutilation, the injuries the unhappy inflict on themselves and everyone around them--that are all the more arresting for their modesty. Ladouceur's medium isn't really news in and of itself. Hundreds of cartoonists are now exhibiting their work in a fine-art context, everyone from seasoned pros like Robert Crumb and Lynda Barry to Winnipeg's Marcel Dzama and Vancouver's Marc Bell and Jason McLean. Ladouceur's drawings stand out from this crowded field. There are no splashy colours, no messy handwritten phrases, and no kitsch symbols like dolls, robots, ninja assassins, or bears. Instead, there are thin, cautious ink lines that resemble the tracks of a skier descending a steep and potentially deadly slope. There is also a real sense of menace to Ladouceur's drawings, one totally absent from the work of better-known contemporaries such as Dzama. A Dzama drawing of a giant robot chasing a naked girl or of bears menacing cowboys is many things, but frightening isn't one of them. Dzama's drawings hint at evil, but they never crank the menace implicit in their subjects up to full bore. We sense that once we look away, the bears and robots and cowboys and naked girls will be swapping jokes in the cafeteria lunch line. Ladouceur's drawings are far less reassuring. Here are a few of his subjects: An octopus slashing itself open with a straight razor. Endless processions of fat, little, round-headed men--Ladouceur calls them "schmoes"--with clown shoes and patched pants, whose pudgy faces, curved noses, and jowls suggest a caricature of former U.S. president Lyndon Johnson, or a cruel portrait of a hydrocephalic child. A schmo in a rowboat whose oars have carved gaping wounds in the heads of the waves he floats on. Miniature baby elephants, trickling like blood from a sleeping toddler's nose. There are many others. I take two things away from Ladouceur's drawings. First, they are parts of a larger mythology. Nothing in them exists in a vacuum; everything, including inanimate things like signs and waves, is alive and busy changing into something else. Ladouceur, in his own secular, slyly ironic way, puts me in mind of the best Northwest Coast art, such as Douglas Cranmer's more abstract paintings, or Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun's blighted biomorphic landscapes. Like Ladouceur, these artists understand landscape as nothing more than a collection of frenzied, interlocking figures. Second, Ladouceur is purposeful. He points out some pretty unpalatable truths to those of us unlucky enough to spend most of the time depressed. Relationships are awful. (One memorable drawing depicts a couple whose heads are little linked thunderclouds.) You can hurt people just by being near them (that guy in the rowboat again!). Social structures inflict their own damage but are better than the alternatives. (A cartoon cloud is held together by boards nailed onto its body.) Ladouceur's best drawings make you wince and laugh simultaneously. Though fantastic, they are a lot like life.
Illusion of Sky--Shimmering Spectacles Robbin Deyo, Shelley Ouellet. At the Richmond Art Gallery until December 9 Clouds, fog, mist, haze--atmospheric metaphors are unfurling in this damp season within a couple of exhibitions across the Lower Mainland. Notable is Illusion of Sky--Shimmering Spectacles at the Richmond Art Gallery. The show features luminous (cloudy) skyscapes in encaustic on canvas by Montreal's Robbin Deyo, and shimmering (watery) landscapes executed in the surprising medium of plastic beads by Shelley Ouellet of Calgary. Themes undertaken include the social construction of gender and the politics of production. For both Deyo and Ouellet, process is of pressing significance: the labour-intensiveness of their artworks is integral to their ideas. Deyo uses pattern and repetition to critique the idea of the feminine. Typically, her art involves cookie cutters, encaustic (wax mixed with pigment), and a daunting degree of repetition. An example is Forget-me-not, an installation of some 8,000 little floral forms in sugary, pastel colours. The candylike "paintings" are cut out of fibreboard, coated in encaustic (which here resembles icing), and mounted directly on the wall, in configurations of six, repeated through multiple horizontal rows. The obsessively repetitive nature of this work, together with its kitsch and saccharine aspects, suggests the endless, selfless repetitiveness of domestic labour and maternal nurturance. Deyo is also represented in this exhibition by a 16-panel encaustic-on-canvas painting, Nightscape, in gradations of rich cobalt blue set with cookie-cutter stars. The most unabashedly beautiful and impressive work in the show, however, is Skyscape, an installation of some 234 encaustic-coated canvases (each 30 by 25 centimetres) mounted in a grand grid near the ceiling, across three walls of the RAG's octagonal gallery. Worked in translucent washes of cerulean, through which the white ground appears from place to place, the work simulates the experience of looking at a bright summer sky streaked with thin white clouds through high, multi-paned windows. While each panel could stand alone as a monochromatic abstraction, together they create a representational work, an amazing technical feat. High modernism and the romantic sublime meet the conceptualist grid in a way that, again, critiques conditions of production, but that also takes Deyo in a new thematic direction. Her statement attests to her interest in the window as a "portal" between interior and exterior, whether physical location or psychological state. Ouellet's two large beaded hangings, Wish you were here...Saugenay River and Wish you were here...Niagara Falls, are based on historic Canadian landscape paintings. Each work is composed of thousands of black, white, and clear plastic beads strung on hundreds of vertical strands, and each cleverly simulates a digitalized version of the painted image, the beads functioning as pixels. On the surface, Ouellet appears to be exploring the intersection of national identity and romantic landscape imagery. Yet a subversive subtext emerges, again concerning gender roles and processes of production. High art butts up against low craft, computer technology against handmade-ness, the heroic against the kitsch. Ouellet, who teaches at the Alberta College of Art and Design, is well placed to rattle her plastic beads in the face of art-world convention.
Lotus Blossom Special: Metamorphosis and Misidentification in Madama Butterfly Written and performed by David Bateman. Directed by Emily Glasspool. Presented by Western Front Performance Art, Centre A, and Vancouver Opera. At the Western Front on November 18. No remaining performances Spectacle, melodrama, torch songs--no wonder Madama Butterfly's colonialist candle attracts gay moths like David Bateman. The Toronto-based performance artist and Emily Carr Institute instructor presented his own queerly comedic revision of the Giacomo Puccini work as part of Views of Japan, a community series built around Vancouver Opera's current production. From beneath the Stars and Stripes, the irreverent, amusing, and hysterical Bateman emerges in drag onto a stage swathed in Canadian flags and Molson Canadian patio umbrellas (which he dons as a dress, to hilarious effect). In three acts and a finale based on the Madama Butterfly story line, Lotus Blossom Special follows a phone conversation with his "straight" production manager, a closet case for whom he, Butterfly-like, holds a hopeless flame. Although his humour is classic camp--from sardonic one-liners to rehashed gay party jokes--unlike most drag performers, Bateman eschews lip-synching for actually singing songs from Tammy Wynette and Cats. The show is also part self-referential lecture. Bateman's explanations of identity theory, however, veer toward preemptive strikes against criticism and recitals of academic orthodoxy rather than original thought. His autobiographical examinations are more engaging. During his childhood in Peterborough, Ontario, Bateman relates, distinctions between Japan and China weren't made because he was "raised to consider cuisine, not continents". With expansive scope, he touches on everything from the Mona Lisa, Disneyland, and his first homosexual experience to Chinese-Canadian railroad workers and the Japanese-Canadian internment. Bateman makes concerted efforts to explore racial issues, but it's disappointing that as the sole Views of Japan offering to directly addresses race, gender, and sexuality, Lotus Blossom Special sidesteps a core problem with the Madama Butterfly cliché: how its legacy affects interracial sexual politics involving Asian females (and even Asian gay males). Similarly, his character's preference for closet cases over openly gay men remains lamented but unchallenged. A comparison of the two fetishes--for the stereotypical Asian female restrained by social codes, and his own taste for closet cases straitjacketed by internalized homophobia--could liberate both Butterfly and Bateman from a pessimistic metamorphosis. In the light of recent developments, the material's social currency may be nearing its best-before date. Gay acceptance and rights gains are reversing the roles that Bateman draws upon. Now, it's those clinging to their closeted cocoons who are abandoned, while openly gay Canadians can fly after male marriage prospects. Furthermore, the Sandra Ohs and Ming-Na Wens of today are banishing the stereotype of the demure blossom; they're more than capable of kicking the asses of potential Pinkertons. On November 20 at Western Front, a free public seminar hosted by Emily Carr instructor Ashok Mathur elaborated on the issues raised by Lotus Blossom Special. It's unfortunate there are no similar forums to deal with questions that may arise after viewing the opera itself.
Vikky Alexander At State Gallery until December 4 For the past decade-and-a-half, Vikky Alexander has been making art at culture's interface with nature. A photographer, sculptor, collagist, and installation artist, she has examined American theme parks, Canadian shopping malls, and European formal gardens. She has created images that toy with the placement of fantasy buildings within an array of idealized natural environments. And she has made definitive use of artifice in the form of mirrors, photographic landscape murals, and plastic "wood-grain" veneer. Although her interest in modernist architecture, particularly, can be read within the context of a larger postmodern movement, she lays particular and witty claim to the kind of space in which consumption, desire, fake nature, utopian aspiration, and the dynamics of representation are all framed. In her ongoing series of collages digitally printed on canvas, Alexander is working again with found imagery and materials and occasionally her own photographs. Here, she juxtaposes cut-out bits of pattern, shape, and colour to create fictional domestic interiors. They're the kind of grand, expensively finished, high-ceilinged rooms found in decorating magazines. But then again, not quite. The overall look is seductive--an apparently slick organization of forms designed to stimulate our longing to possess the room, the house, the view--but there's a disconnection between the component parts, one that signals a larger disjunction between reality and representation. The flattened, cut-out forms and awkward, anti-perspectival angles of the furniture and fixtures depicted, and the disproportion of scale between the built and "natural" environments, signal a comprehensive artificiality. The architectural look of these fake interiors is generically modernist, with a special focus on the International Style's simplicity and transparency. The large windows and glass walls depicted admit big-time views of the natural world, again employing strange angles and odd scale. Magnus' Lair, for instance, is a bedroom scene whose windows look out onto, or impossibly thrust themselves into, a snowy forest and a raging waterfall. In High Tide, walls and ceiling are made out of glass--or perhaps they're absent altogether--so that this Malibu-style beach house appears to be floating in the middle of its sunset-and-seascape environment. Material desire is conflated with a longing to be close to nature, or at least to a notion of nature. (Closeness, here, is taken to ridiculous extremes.) Together, interior and exterior allude to some lost utopian ideal, some impossible image of perfection that would elevate our lives, make them more pleasurable and more meaningful. Throughout this small show, there are repeated appropriations of fake nature: fake animal-skin patterning on floors and accessories; faux-finish marble on walls and around fireplaces; wood grain--patterned contact paper on beams, window frames, and door frames. All accord with the generations-removed pretend nature outside (grainy photographic reproductions, further copied, scanned, and re-reproduced). Initially, it seems these imaginary homes are situated at the place where nature meets its cultural construction. But eventually it becomes clear that in this realm, everything is culture, nothing is nature. Alexander's images are like a construct within a construct, a wooden doll within a wooden doll within yet another wooden doll. Longing takes an infinite number of nearly identical forms.
Daniel Richter Pink Flag--White Horse At the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery until November 28 Jeff Wall delivered one his most-quoted remarks at a public forum in Vancouver more than a decade ago. When the city's pre-eminent photo-artist was questioned about the supposed demise of painting, he replied that painting wasn't dead, it was undead, "vampiric"--a very witty accounting for the fact that, despite the dire predictions of postmodernism, painting isn't going away anytime soon. The word vampiric nudged my brain as I made my way through Pink Flag--White Horse, an exhibition by German artist Daniel Richter. The dozen works on view, eight of them heroic in scale, deploy a nightmarish contingent of lurid colour, distorted and disjunct imagery, and fearful mood. Most of the scenes depicted, in layers of cartoonlike figuration and gestural abstraction, are expressive of violence, actual or potential. Often described as "surreal" or "psychedelic", these works are, indeed, evocative of dreams and hallucinations in their junkyard montaging of visual detritus and psychic garbage and in their feelings of anxiety, familiarity, and strangeness. Richter's big works on canvas are rendered with a cheesy indifference to notions of "good" drawing or painting. His figures, often clustered in horrified, menacing, or apathetic groups, are set in rural and urban settings gone creepily bad. Images include a street scene in which a costumed monkey has leaped on the back of a crouching human figure; a fall-of-the-Berlin-Wall moment in which an appalled crowd witnesses a body being passed downward, like Christ from the cross; a seascape in which seven people, huddled in an inflatable life raft, look around them with extreme paranoia; and a landscape in which a child, sleeping in a forest glade, is watched over by small, naked extraterrestrials--the 21st-century equivalent of elves and fairies. Much has been written about the possible meanings of Richter's works, their political intentions, and their relationship to art-historical precedents, especially history painting of the early 1800s and symbolist painting at the turn of the last century. The artist himself resists explaining his imagery. He does concede, however, that he's interested in depicting what it is to exist in the world today. Richter bases many of his images on news photos (other sources include film stills, album covers, and mainstream and alternative comics); however, he simplifies and distorts his figures, and may also obscure them with splats, drips, and swipes of paint. People here often possess masklike faces, and are composed of undulating lines and passages of wildly non-naturalistic colour, stimulating again the idea of the psychedelic but also suggesting a debt to pre-expressionists Edvard Munch and James Ensor. (In a video interview, on view in the gallery, Richter also cites Nabi artists Félix Vallotton and Edouard Vuillard as influences.) An unsettling paradox in Richter's works lies in their aspiration to be heroic-scale history paintings and their sense of alternative reality and paranoid interiority. It's apt, I suppose, given this end-of-empire age in which we are living. This time of undeadness.
The End of the Moon Written and performed by Laurie Anderson. An International Arts Initiatives/grunt gallery coproduction. At the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts on Sunday, November 14. No remaining performances Laurie Anderson will not be going into orbit anytime soon. As the diminutive performance artist and musician announced on-stage last Sunday, she was NASA's first artist in residence and now she's its last. Bush-league budget cutbacks or an adverse reaction to Anderson's findings, who can tell? But it's probable the artist's criticisms of NASA's cowboy mindset played a part; the serious senior bureaucrats who run the show must resent being told that they're allowing their personal biases to taint their supposedly impartial research. Yet it's telling that NASA scientists have dubbed the new subatomic particles they've discovered MACHOs and WIMPs based on an anthropocentric reading of their behaviour, and that, as Anderson reported on Sunday, the space agency paints the birth of stars in baby-blanket pink and blue because "We thought people would like it." Who's being artistic--i.e., sentimental and unrealistic--here? Of course, as an artist Anderson has no problem showing her bias: being a pacifist with a Buddhist bent, she naturally shudders at the idea of a Strategic Air Command base on the moon, and she's appalled by the direction that her country has taken. The End of the Moon, her new and still-evolving solo show, is about many things, among them NASA, dogs, trees, and travel. But one of its most obvious topics is the United States of America: when Anderson says, "When you look at something this big and this broken, how do you imagine putting it all back together?" she's not just talking about the wreckage of the space shuttle Columbia. In this performance, she offers no easy answers, revealing instead that even the good things in life are fraught with peril. Discussing a 10-day retreat she took on the Northern California coast, she describes hiking with her dog Lolabelle and being stalked by vultures hoping to chow down on the terrier. For the rest of the trip, her pet walked nervously, its head in the air--just like the post-9/11 residents of Anderson's home city, New York. Death from above, she posits, has become a constant waking nightmare. The End of the Moon is not devoid of solace, however. Its content may be serious, but its presentation is soft. Another implicit message in Anderson's new work is the idea that we can be rescued by attentive sensuality: it's there in her intimate voice, in the lush electronic drones that support her narratives, in her own physical ease on-stage. And it was there in her final statement, just before the stage went black. "Sometimes," she said, "I can almost smell the light." An ambiguous notion for sure, but one that suggests the good in the world will get us through these dark times.
Anita Dube and Subodh Gupta Resonance: Contemporary Art From New Delhi At Centre A until November 27 Resonance is an apt title for this two-person show. Anita Dube and Subodh Gupta, midcareer artists based in the New Delhi area, both employ everyday materials, images, and objects in such a way that meanings resonate far beyond local and prosaic associations. As curator Keith Wallace tells us in the exhibition brochure, Dube and Gupta's strategies are familiar to Western viewers, particularly their shifting of quotidian elements into fine-art settings, thereby disrupting conventional associations and stimulating new readings. Each reflects and responds to conditions of contemporary Indian life that may be outside our immediate understanding, but through which we can draw universal analogies. Two of Dube's wall drawings are mosaiclike inasmuch as they are composed of enamelled votive eyes manufactured, Wallace explains, "for the adornment of Hindu devotional sculpture that can be found throughout India". Whether clustered like a swarm of insects in an upper corner of the gallery or strung as a spiralling and convoluted line across a wall, the eyes have been slyly abstracted from their original religious context in the service of a secular art. At the same time, their votive associations amplify Dube's critique of the way religion has shaped India, including the drawing of its boundaries with Pakistan and the displacement of millions of people on either side of those borders. The more extreme aspects of religious conviction impel her mandalalike collage, Sleep of Reason (Gujarat). From a distance resembling a large all-seeing eye, it is made up of multiple laminated photo-reproductions. Among the images repeated in the mandala are a severely bruised and beaten face and a shouting extremist brandishing a metal bar. Although Dube's specific references are to a particular political party and to the deadly communal violence in the Gujarat region of India a few years ago, the repressive, intolerant, and murderous potential of far-right politics mated with religious fundamentalism reverberates well beyond India. Gupta's single-track video, I Go Home Every Single Day, is by contrast a gentle examination of a slice of Indian life, taking us on a commuter's train journey. Red ceramic roof tiles, green fields, railway tracks, train stations, fellow travellers, food vendors, an ambling white cow--all these images tumble by in a blurred montage of colour and sound, banality and lyricism. At journey's end, the camera tracks through a small courtyard into a house with walls of whitewashed bricks--home. Here, the everyday consists of a rush of sensory experience. As Wallace points out, it consists of rupture between village and city life. Gupta has also created two sculptural installations out of ostensibly prosaic metal objects. One of them, Empty, is a squat, circular column formed of upside-down stainless-steel bowls. Wallace mentions that Gupta's simple construction echoes the way cow dung is stacked and dried in many parts of rural India. Despite this lowly analogy, the work stands in the gallery as elegant and mysterious, and the emptiness it speaks of seems to relate not only to physical hunger but also to cultural loss and spiritual longing. As with Dube's swarm of ceramic eyes, it is both beautiful and unsettling.
At the Douglas Udell Gallery until Saturday, November 6 In the early 1970s, when American artist William Wegman was a fast-emerging conceptualist working with video, photography, and studio-based performance, his pet dog, a Weimaraner named Man Ray, insisted on collaborating with him. Not content with the role of passive canine companion, Man Ray emitted a high-pitched whine that forced Wegman to include the dog in his videos and photographs--just to shut him up. An enduring and strangely definitive association was launched. Based in New York, Wegman paints, draws, writes, and makes films, videos, collages, and artist's books, through a range of themes and subjects. Still, he is most identified with his playful photos of Weimaraners. His sleek, grey dogs (now three and four generations younger than the long-deceased Man Ray) have appeared in a number of theatrical setups, including draped in human clothing and faux fur, decked out in wigs and jewellery, sprinkled with torn pieces of paper, seated in a canoe, and wrapped in strands of Christmas tinsel. Through dogs, Wegman humorously contends with a roster of postmodern concerns, from gender and identity to the nature-culture interface. In this recent body of large-format (61-by-51-centimetre) Polaroids, much of the theatricality and all of the costuming have been stripped away--although not the human impulse to identify with the canine subjects. Wegman uses his dogs to revisit the possibilities of the portrait, the metaphors of art history, and the poetic, comic, and formalist relationships between the animals and certain simple props, especially a white wooden box. (The box has been a motif in his work since the Man Ray days.) In Vancouver recently for the opening of his exhibition, Wegman told the Straight that he was interested in "foiling" the simplicity of his setups and messing with clichés, both his own and those of photographic history. The technically challenging superimposition of images through double exposure suggests that many of these creatures are posed inside closed boxes, and appear as if they were X-rayed. Wegman's poetic conceit is that the dogs are statues, stored in crates in the vault of a museum of antiquity. Most of these crated dogs communicate a state of suspension, even of limbo, especially given the ghostliness of some of the double-exposed images. In Boxer, Back Of, the evocation of death is particularly powerful: the dog, seated and turned away from us, seems to be looking toward his own demise. As do the mortally ill, he asks us not to call him back to us. Whether statue or spectre, he has chosen some other realm.