Visual Arts Reviews

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.
At the Vancouver Art Gallery until January 3, 2005 Massive Change: The Future of Global Design is the costliest and most ambitious show the Vancouver Art Gallery has ever produced. In some ways, it is also the most daring, because it proposes that the gallery be a forum for ideas rather than a display space for art. The show isn't exactly conceptual; however, the items vetted into it are there because of their functional capacity and technical innovation rather than their artistic merit. They're also situated amid acres of text. This is a highly didactic show, whose truly nifty objects and images are often illustrations for its lengthy propositions and declarations. It's not really about the future of design, but rather about how contemporary design--which is given the broadest definition here--might enable a humane and sustainable future. Massive Change was guest-curated by Toronto-based celebrity designer Bruce Mau, but realized collaboratively. Research and execution fell to students at the Institute Without Boundaries, a graduate design program located within Mau's studio. The heavy work of coordinating the exhibition and installing it across two floors of the gallery went to VAG staff, under the commendable supervision of senior curator Bruce Grenville and senior preparator Bruce Wiedrick. (Yes, it's a concatenation of Bruces.) The kind of sleek and beautiful graphic, architectural, and industrial design that viewers expect to see in high-art galleries is absent here. In media interviews and in the show's introductory text, Mau has declared that he's not interested in the visual, and that a condition of undertaking this project was jettisoning the aesthetic. What drives Massive Change--and the possibility of global change--is design's capacity for problem-solving across multiple "design economies". In the exhibition, these economies range from urban growth and transportation to information technologies, imaging technologies, new materials, and biological engineering. Instead of furniture, fonts, and floor lamps, Massive Change presents water purifiers, a featherless chicken, and a bio-artificial human nose, the latter sitting in a vial of preservative in a darkened display case. (The likeness of this little white nose to a saintly relic is too funny to disregard.) It also gives us a wheelchair that climbs stairs, a survey of data-input devices, crash-test dummies, electro-luminescent film, images of the Earth from space and of spider spinnerets from real close up, self-cleaning glass, biodegradable plastic, compostable wool blankets, a transgenic salmon, and bar code--triggered AV kiosks that laud the efficiencies of market economies. In the show's introduction, Mau aligns his definition of design with a quote from the historian Arnold Toynbee about "the welfare of the whole human race as a practical objective". Each display leads off with a stout declaration, such as, "We will create urban shelter for the entire world", "We will eradicate poverty", and "We will eliminate the need for raw material and banish all waste." Sadly, the only display that is headed by a question rather than a declaration is the one that highlights design crossovers between the military and civilian realms, including Spam, the Internet (leading to yet more spam), and the Hummer. "Will we shift from the service of war to the service of life?" this section asks. If the gas-guzzling Hummer is any example, the answer would have to be no. Massive Change, the book that accompanies the exhibition (Bruce Mau with Jennifer Leonard and the Institute Without Boundaries, Phaidon, $39.95), opens with a discussion about design's ubiquity--and the fact that design is visible only when it fails. The same might be said about this show: its failures are more apparent than its wraparound successes. There's too much text and too little innovation in the exhibition design itself. All those miles of vinyl lettering and galleries full of platforms, plinths, banners, display cases, and DVD projections give the feeling of a manifesto mated with a trade fair. The orientation here is materialist and market-friendly, with hats tipped to product branding, corporate know-how, genetic engineering, and the special accomplishments of, say, Wal-Mart. Allusions to radical economic alternatives are buried. Although Mau asserts that the show is not about product design, there are lots of products here, lots of commodities. For instance, in the Movement Economies display, we're shown a range of private modes of energy-efficient transportation--from the Twike to the Segway--but no public-transit solutions to traffic congestion and greenhouse-gas emissions. (Fleeting mention is made, in the urban-shelter section, of the environmentally friendly public-transit policies of Curitiba, Brazil. Again, buried.) The Wealth and Politics display is confusing and ironic, given that it leads directly into the inevitable gallery shop. Here, viewers can shrug off the brief, alien aspiration to eliminate poverty and banish waste--and reassume the familiar mantle of privilege and overconsumption.
It's strange: sometimes the performances you like the least are the ones that make you think the most. Such was the case with the VOX festival's closing set, which promised to be a groundbreaking fusion of experimental music and digital visuals, but ended up a frustratingly inert--and seemingly endless--display of joyless self-indulgence. How else can you describe a show that opened and closed with 30 minutes of audiovisual static? Granted, the torture stopped briefly in the middle, when singer Maja Ratkje set a Bertolt Brecht poem to a mildly dissonant melody, backed by video artist HC Gilje's images of trees and the gaping maw of a large fish. There was real meaning here, even if the language was foreign to her listeners and the visual element oblique. Elsewhere, though, the two Norwegians appeared to be punishing their audience for some unnamed transgression, the singer by piling loop upon loop of her electronically distorted shrieking, the filmmaker with similarly repetitious shots of such mundane subjects as a 1950s radar scanner or power lines against a cloudy sky. Don't get me wrong: I like electronically distorted shrieking--in small doses, at least--and have a soft spot for minimalism in both music and the visual arts. But this was just dull. Part of the problem is the inherent squareness of digital media. I don't mean that looping devices and computerized video aren't hip; I mean that digital forms are hard-edged, mathematical, unyielding. Loops don't breathe; they're as precise and as oppressive as military drumming. While they can be immensely useful for the solo musician, they're limited in their ability to convey emotional meaning. Similarly, art has been trying to escape the confines of perspective and the frame for the past 100 years, but the video-sampling technology used by Gilje had the effect of cutting his images up into little rectangular boxes, as predictable as greeting cards. Given that the shots weren't inherently interesting in themselves, this was even more problematic. Granted, some of Gilje's images were at least intriguing--especially in the concert's opening sequence, which began with a run of biomorphic shapes suggesting brain scans, internal organs, metastasizing tumours, and mushroom clouds. And Ratkje has an astonishing voice, even if her performance here was one-dimensional compared to her work with "female chamber anarchist" quartet Spunk. I'd be happy to see either artist again, but what the two attempted on Saturday night didn't work.
Walk Ways At the Surrey Art Gallery until November 21 If you can, walk into Walk Ways. Walk through the front doors of the Surrey Arts Centre, up the ramp leading to the gallery, and into the exhibition halls. Walk to and through and around the artworks on display. It's impossible to encounter this show without becoming mindful of your own walking, without being newly aware of this most marvellously quotidian of human acts, this miraculous getting from place to place to place. Walk Ways is an engaging exhibition that examines walking as creative activity, as means, mark, and metaphor. A touring survey of some two dozen works by 19 contemporary artists from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Italy, and Great Britain, it compasses many dates (from 1969 to 2001), media (sculpture, installation, drawing, video, photography, text, and performance), and approaches (including mail art, conceptualism, and interactivity). Idea-driven works predominate. Some of the walking undertaken in this show is meditative. Some is political. Some is humorous. Some of it is done alone, and some in the company of dogs or children or noisy crowds of strangers. Mowry Baden proposes walking with a cane that creates wolf footprints, complicating the human ones and creating evidence of an intrigue of predator and prey. Franí§ois Morelli walks in remembrance of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, with a hideously burned and twisted torso, sculpted in fibreglass, strapped to his back. Tom Marioni walks back and forth in his studio with coloured pencils attached to his waist, drawing his unconsciously undulating and amazingly consistent movements in a multicoloured wave across a long sheet of paper. Francis Alí¿ss walks the streets of Mexico City, leaving a strand of his unravelling blue sweater behind him. In a subtle act of protest, Eleanor Antin sets out marching lines, circles, and squadrons of black rubber boots, in urban and rural settings across the continental U.S.A. Rudolf Stingel constructs a thick platform of Styrofoam, then walks over it in acetone-soaked boots, the acetone dissolving the Styrofoam and "etching" his footprints deep into his monochrome surface, his patch of snowy ground, his little plot of moon dust. The white-on-white footprints in Stingel's untitled piece echo the footprints in snow in Sharon Harper's lyrical, overlapping black-and-white photographs, titled Walkabout (Figment), in which a woman and a young girl trek across a winter landscape, and out of view. The footprints resonate, too, in the sounds and sights of a brisk walk--a jog, really--up a snowy hill in Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's video, Hillclimbing. As you would expect from Cardiff and Miller, the work is highly attuned to the audio environment. An excited dog, licence tags jingling, dashes from the bottom of a hill to the crest, while an unseen man holds the video camera and labours upward after it, boots crunching in the snow. He pants, falls, grunts, his companion laughs and calls out to him, he responds, gets up, spits out snow, and the action loops back to the bottom of the hill again. And again. And again. It's like the Zen of Sisyphus, a kind of walking meditation on the human condition. A more anguished eternity of walking is compressed into Nancy Spero's Vietnamese Women. Here, the single image of an elderly woman, abstracted from a news photo of villagers fleeing the 1968 My Lai massacre, is repeated over and over, handprinted in different colours, opacities, and angles across a friezelike, horizontal band of paper. The repetition of her striding image creates both a sense of momentum and a shifting, ghostly crowd out of an individual experience. This woman is witness to an unspeakable act of violence--and to all such unspeakable acts. There's something relentless in her march across the long page of history: she is like the spectre of all wars, past, present, and future. And you are walking along beside her.
Alpha Girls At the Diane Farris Gallery until October 23 * By Robin Laurence Adolescence has always been a charged time for girls, but never before, Angela Grossmann's recent art suggests, have the early teen years been so fraught with anxiety, aggression, competitiveness, and hypersexualized consumerism. Never before have children been the targets of so many billions of dollars of relentless advertising through so many zillions of hours of unsupervised TV-watching. And never before has the path through puberty been lit by the likes of Britney Spears... Alpha Girls, Grossmann's series of expressively executed mixed-media works (combining painted and photographic elements), grapples with issues such as the "disappearance of childhood" (the artist has been influenced by Neil Postman's book of the same name); the premature sexualizing of children and young adolescents by advertising, popular culture, and the Internet; and the social alignments--the cliques, friendships, and exclusions--by which pubescent girls find validation or misery. Her figures look out at the viewer singly, in pairs, or in apprehensive, amiable, or fugitive clusters. Grossmann has often worked with found images and distressed materials, finding resonance in the wordless history they bring to her projects. In the past, she has examined themes of war, imprisonment, and the Holocaust; of identity, anonymity, and dislocation; and of what she simply calls the human condition. As the mother of a 13-year-old, she now finds herself reexamining the adolescent segment of that condition and wondering whether or not it's possible to shelter kids from the mass-market and electronic bombardment of inappropriate images and behaviours. "You've got to now arm them," she said in a recent interview with the Straight. "It's like going into war." Alpha Girls includes 13 midsize works on vellum and two large-scale paintings on stained and wrinkled canvas, cut from old surveyors' tents. Most of the faces deployed have been abstracted from class photos of anonymous Victorian schoolgirls (although a few of the found photos are more modern). Around these pale, grainy, black-and-white images, Grossmann has rendered hair, clothing, accessories, and fictional bodies with elongated legs. She employs scrubby washes and impasto passages of grey, white, and black, with muddied interjections of pink, taupe, and burnt sienna, and wavering lines of Day-Glo red. The individual construction of these images of adolescence parallels the broader social construction of gender and sexuality, and the conjoining of sexuality and consumerism. Innocence plays against knowingness, confrontation against seduction, individuality against conformity. Budding young bodies are depicted in vulnerable states of nudity and cover, in various layers of underwear and diaphanous outerwear, suggesting the ways in which girls and women internalize the patriarchal agenda and make objects of themselves. The ghostliness of the faint, sweet faces from the past butts up against a jarring sense of the contemporary. Grossmann says that she is not interested in proselytizing, nor does she intend her work to propose solutions. Her undertaking here is to provoke thought and feeling, to bring ideas and emotions to the surface, to struggle toward some "nubbin", some "essence", some place where truth is purported to reside.
Jean-Paul Riopelle At the Elliott Louis Gallery until October 24 It's odd that we have to go to a commercial gallery for a survey of work by one of Canada's foremost modernist artists, but such is the case right now. According to the records of the Vancouver Art Gallery, the last time that institution hosted a solo show of paintings by Jean-Paul Riopelle was in 1965. Granted, postmodern and feminist theory subsequently cast a cloud of deconstruction and denunciation over the romantic and patriarchal realm of abstract expressionism. But still, Riopelle and the movements of which he was a part are aspects of our cultural heritage. It makes no sense not to look at--and enjoy--the work. During the 1950s and '60s, the Montreal-born Riopelle (1923-- 2002) was the most acclaimed abstractionist Canada had produced. In the years immediately following the Second World War, he was a member of the radical group of painters known as the Montreal School, and a signatory of Paul-Emile Borduas's antiestablishment manifesto, "Refus Global". Based in France for more than three decades beginning in 1948, Riopelle evolved a distinctive nature-based style of abstraction. He applied thick dollops of oil paint to the canvas, often directly from the tube, then used a palette knife to spread them into organic wedges of colour. Exhibiting internationally, he drew rapturous praise from critics, curators, and collectors. The three dozen works on view at the Elliott Louis Gallery, including oil paintings, mixed-media drawings, lithographic prints, and a small bronze sculpture, are a long way from constituting a comprehensive survey of Riopelle's work. Still, they touch on the periods before, during, and after the height of his career. A rare inclusion here is a small landscape painting, dated 1944 and realized in a post-impressionist manner. There are also some fine watercolour-and-ink drawings, revealing Riopelle's exploration of the surrealist method of automatism. Outstanding among them is Untitled (Série Bridge Hampton), dated 1960, in which calligraphic swipes and dashes of black overlay swatches of apple red, lime green, and grey. Most compelling are the oil paintings from the 1950s and '60s, executed in the style that made Riopelle famous. Often described as being mosaic- or tapestrylike because of the way they are composed of multiple small units of rich colour, these works employ the all-over technique of abstract expressionism, yet also evince a strong structural sense. In an untitled canvas from 1953, for instance, the wedges of black, olive green, and royal blue, inflected with blood red, create a diagonal movement across the canvas, evocative of the upward-growing branches of a tree. Less convincing, here, are the paintings and prints created in 1983, taking snow geese as their subject matter. Yes, they reflect Riopelle's strong feeling for nature and his almost totemic identification with certain birds, but they possess none of the structural or tonal strengths of his 1950s works, none of the gravity. The abstractions remain the heart of Riopelle's practice--and of this small show.
Jack Goldstein Under Water Sea Fantasy Jeremy Shaw DMT At Presentation House Gallery until October 24 The entrance to DMT, Jeremy Shaw's eight-monitor DVD installation, is so dark that it is disorienting. It's even more disorienting coming out than going in--appropriate enough, given the psychic and perceptual dislocations that are represented here. Simultaneously broadcast from eye-level monitors in the installation's black-walled, low-ceilinged, octagonal room, eight young men and women (including the artist) trip on the synthetic hallucinogen DMT (dimethyltryptamine) while the unmoving video camera records their experiences. Eyes closed, eyelids fluttering, heads rolling back and forth, they undertake brief, ecstatic journeys into the beyond. Subtitles on each screen counterpose the subjects' post-trip attempts to describe their essentially nonverbal experiences. "I was sorta, like,, what's going on..." "It is like this buzzing is kind of in you..." "I don't even know how to describe it....Holy shit....It was all gummy worms and the most vibrant colours..." Sighs, groans, hyperventilation, and each subject's chosen background music contribute to the textured sound environment within this cocoon of altered perception and near-terminal inarticulateness. Shaw, aka March 21, is a fast-ascending Vancouver media artist and electronic musician with a standing interest in representing youth subcultures. Here, he has assumed the academically trendy model of artist-as-researcher, and his project suggests a pseudoclinical or mock-anthropological study of recreational drug use among a particular subgroup. (There's an implication of privilege: DMT is expensive; six of the eight subjects are white; all look preppily fresh-faced and well-groomed.) In the exhibition brochure, curator Helga Pakasaar describes DMT as the synthetic version of ayahuasca, which, "in its natural form, is used as a spiritual device by shamans in South America for coming of age rituals". Pakasaar's observations about the deep differences between the uses of ayahuasca and DMT are absolutely germane: although Shaw's subjects may experiment with the drug recreationally, they cannot duplicate its original cultural significance. In traditional tribal societies, as religious historian Mircea Eliade observed, initiation rituals employ the ecstatic trance to enact a symbolic journey of suffering, death, and resurrection. The journey is made in the company of a spirit guide, helper, or guardian and culminates in the entrance of the initiate into either adult society or the shamanic vocation. In Shaw's "study", there is no social or religious context to hook the experience onto, no supernatural animals and beings to coalesce as guides out of the trippers' formless hallucinations. Thus, the trivial analogies to, say, gummy worms, and the inability to meaningfully describe inchoate perception and sensation. The profane never transforms into the sacred--although one of Shaw's subjects, a woman who thrashes, howls, and drops out of view of the camera, later attempts to align her drug experience with a book she's read about ecstatic trances and visions. What DMT conveys is not only the inadequacy of verbal language but also a sad sense of disconnection from community and belief. Still, this woman brings off the work's best line: "You're on these Web sites and you're, like, wow, you make shitty art....You really can't distinguish between trend and archetype." Although it is presented here as a separate and distinct exhibition, Jack Goldstein's experimental film Under Water Sea Fantasy enters into an inevitable dialogue with Shaw's installation. With its brilliant and bleached-out colours, shifting forms, fluid movement, and otherworldly sounds, Goldstein's continuously looping, six-and-a-half minute film can itself be read as an ecstatic journey. Instead of the archetypal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth, however, we seem to be watching a vast, primordial round of creation, destruction, and oblivion, inspiring both awe and existential dread. Unfortunately, we're experiencing the film at a remove from its context, too--from Goldstein's life, times, and multidisciplinary career. During the 1970s and '80s, he produced sound recordings, still photography, performances, and paintings as well as film. However, the local viewer can't draw immediate comparisons between the present film and his other works, nor place it within the ambit of his avant-garde themes and strategies. Goldstein was born in Montreal in 1945; his art education and tumultuous career took place in and near Los Angeles and New York, where he cycled in and out of acclaim, obscurity, and despair. Despite a recent revival, his work is infrequently shown in this country. Goldstein began Under Water Sea Fantasy in 1983, set it aside, and finally finished it in 2003, shortly before his death. Montaging and altering found footage of erupting volcanoes, underwater life, and a much-accelerated lunar eclipse, Goldstein gives a knowing nod to Hollywood and the notion of the spectacle. But he also, Pakasaar argues, employs a small scale and a gallery setting to explore the pictorial rather than theatrical aspects of his medium. Much more eloquently than Shaw's stoned subjects, Goldstein seems to be describing the ineffable, from primordial cataclysm to the oblivious void. Except for that weirdly concrete title, he does so without the obstacle or compromise of verbal language.
Scott Massey Spill 01: Collapse At Artspeak until October 16 Scott Massey's Collapse is the first of three Artspeak exhibitions this fall and winter, collectively titled Spill and addressing the porous and unstable interface between nature and culture. Our attempts to separate the built environment from the various orders of the natural world we have constructed through art and science are, this series proposes, given to failure, to leakage, to "spillage". Massey's small but eloquent show comprises 10 colour photographs transmounted on aluminum and an installation that might be described as living sculpture. The latter, titled Rememoration Piece #1, consists of a ring-shaped plywood planter, set on the floor, filled with soil, and seeded with grass. Hanging in the middle of the ring is a large industrial lamp, fitted with a full-spectrum light bulb; it is so close to the floor that the grass is compelled to grow sideways toward it rather than upward. Rememoration serves as a tidy green metaphor for artificiality, for the countless ways in which humankind has intervened in--and sought to imitate or replicate elements of--the natural realm. It also causes us to think about the politics of lawn, about what it signifies socially and environmentally. Subtextual here are ideas concerning the unsustainability of lawn in a warming and resource-depleted world, and the notions of Old World class and privilege that are folded into New World yards and gardens. All the photographs on view were taken at an unnamed Northern Canadian dumpsite, located in a bleak, autumnal landscape, lightly blanketed with snow and overhung by low clouds. New growth--brush and spindly trees--encircles the site, as do patches of raw earth. Beyond the dump's perimeter are wooded hills and low mountains, occasionally coalescing into a panoramic idea of wilderness. Most of the photographs, however, focus on the signs erected around the dump site, dictating what garbage is disposed of where, and on how those signs interact with and are made ridiculous by their surroundings. In his artist's statement, Massey discusses the systems of classification we use to describe and order our world, what those systems reveal about us, and how they are "subject to collapse". Significantly, the garbage being ordered by signs such as ELECTRONIC EQUIPMENT ONLY/TV'S, COMPUTERS, STEREOS and WOOD AND PAPER ONLY/NO PLASTICS OR METALS is mostly excluded from these photographs. We become acutely aware of the manner in which we seek to organize our refuse--and to make it disappear. We also note which photographs constitute conventional landscapes briefly interrupted by signage, and which photographs are documents of signage, of human enterprise, incidentally bordered by landscape. Curiously, we notice which signs are mechanically printed and which are handwritten. The handwritten signs seem to have been produced by a dyslexic person whose first language is not English, with curious errors such as "OXYGENE" and "DRAYERS". These errors make concrete Massey's suggestion that such classification systems--all classification systems--are ethnocentric, flawed, and impermanent.
Myfanwy MacLeod: Don't Stop Dreaming At the Catriona Jeffries Gallery until October 16 Pop-disco workout music with pseudo-inspirational New Age voice-over, emanating from two homemade, geodesic dome--inspired speakers--it's not exactly what you expect to encounter when you enter one of the more serious South Granville galleries. But Vancouver artist Myfanwy MacLeod is not a predictable artist in any place, mode, or medium. A sculptor, draughtswoman, and performance artist whose smart and sassy sense of humour is definitive, she pulls her visual references from films, TV shows, books, magazines, Japanese animation, and sports, along with corporate, retail, and self-help cultures. Here, her interests include the ways in which we construct a relationship to nature and our various approaches to the utopian ideal. She also incorporates the art world and its vagaries into her agenda. MacLeod's new sound installation, Don't Stop Dreaming, draws in strands of her earlier interest in self-help manuals by re-creating the audio elements of a stationary-bicycle fitness program similar to the one that MacLeod has participated in for the past two years. The sound effects, broadcast through the found and slightly altered speakers, include snippets of a Leonardo DiCaprio voice-over appropriated from the soundtrack to his 2000 film The Beach and a recording of a pedalling class's coach talking her sweaty acolytes through an imaginary landscape of hills, dales, and different degrees of resistance. He: "Mine is a generation that circles the globe, searching for something we haven't found before." She: "Keep it up! Keep it up! Keep it up!....Push! Push!....Feel the momentum you've created!" He: "I still believe in paradise....It's not where you go, it's how you feel for a moment in your life." She: "Hold on to that determination." MacLeod draws our attention to this recent manifestation of fitness culture, with its spoken and unspoken allusions to a utopian ideal. The workout seems to promise not simply physical well-being but also achievement of some higher realm. The installation reveals, too, the artist's interest in the language used (both its sexual and New Age components), and its metaphors for art-making (getting to the top of the art heap being comparable to stationary-bicycling to the top of a conceptual hill). A small photograph of cherry blossoms against a flawless sky, hung on the far back wall of the gallery, leads us to think about contemporary ideas of the natural world and our distance from its physical actuality. Manifested in Don't Stop Dreaming is an image in sound and light of our urban, sedentary, computer-and-remote-control--mediated lives. Our ever-yearning, never-getting-there lives. On display downstairs is a series of delicate line and wash drawings. Images of bluebirds, a house cat (scourge of North American songbirds), a dewdrop-covered spider web, a heap of baby white mice, and three baby robins with wide-open beaks create an uneasy picture of the nature-culture cusp. Sexual tension abounds here, as do metaphors of the art world, which MacLeod hilariously conflates with images of predators and prey, of sticky webs and gaping mouths. Upstairs, Leo's voice echoes. "If you find that moment, it'll last forever, it'll last forever, it'll last forever." Yeah, right.