At the Tracey Lawrence Gallery until September 10
Someday, I'll write an article about why we have celebrities instead of news. In the meantime, Vancouver artists continue to explore the nuances of our relationship with popular culture and its stars. I'm a Fan, at the Tracey Lawrence Gallery, covers some of the same territory as Yesterday, which recently completed its run at the Western Front, and David Ostrem's small show of paintings, on view at the Red Ruby Hair Studio until Wednesday (August 31). I'm a Fan, however, incorporates high-art arcanities and art-world in-jokes into its low-art constellation of rock musicians and horror movies. Spotlighted here are gallery artists Adrian, Colleen Brown, David Carter, Shannon Oksanen, Jeremy Shaw, and Kathy Slade.
As indicated by the exhibition's title, most of the works on view elaborate upon or deconstruct aspects of our infatuation with certain artists or art forms. At the same time, as with Yesterday's photos, videos, and installations and Ostrem's paintings, we are reminded of the many layers of reproduction, photomechanical and digital, that exist between us and the core visual experience. If, indeed, that unmediated experience actually exists.
Kathy Slade's machine-embroidered images and text assume the format and gravitas of paintings while undermining the painting tradition. They also make reference to a quirky range of cultural and personal touchstones, from Willy Wonka to Walter Benjamin. Her two works on display are embroidered versions of the same photograph, a shot of Italian artist Alighiero Boetti (who died in 1994), taken by his contemporary, Paolo Mussat Sartor.
The textile pieces are an apparent homage to Boetti, a member of the Arte Povera group of the 1960s and '70s, whose innovative use of embroidery as an art form has informed and inspired Slade's own practice. (In the early 20th century, pioneering modernists such as Jean Arp and Sophie Tauber, Sonia Delaunay, Liubov Popova, and Olga Rozanova employed embroidery and other textile arts as radical alternatives to painting.) There is further delight for Slade in the form and mood of the appropriated image. Boetti is seen sitting at a drum set, cigarette in his mouth, his pose and setting calling up the popular music of three decades past.
Colleen Brown's Evidence is a wry play on the nature of authenticity, the collaborative process, the retro appeal of conceptual-correspondence projects, and the dynamics of authority and adulation. The work comprises five pairs of photographs, each consisting of a letter from Brown to an influential artist or academic (including Mike Kelley and Rosalind Krauss) and a blowup of a grainy, poorly lit photo allegedly taken by the recipient.
The letter, larded with cleverly sycophantic artspeak and academic jargon, includes a request to photograph the enclosed cast-metal object (a small, enigmatic form) with the enclosed disposable camera and to return the latter. However, it's not clear if the exchanges actually occurred. The enterprise may be entirely or partially illusory. Such possibilities pitch Evidence to the outer reaches of photo-mediated reality-and the inner reaches of art-world game-playing.
40 Portraits of Nana Mouskouri, created by Shannon Oksanen in 1999, is just that: 40 framed graphite drawings of the prolific Greek singer, hung in a minimal-conceptual grid on the gallery's east wall. Each drawing is the same size and has been copied from an LP cover, conveying the "branding" consistency of Mouskouri's appearance over the years and decades. Hair, eyeglasses, beauty spot-all contribute to an image apparently calculated to satisfy a specific audience.
Oksanen's drawings mimic those a teenage fan might make (if, indeed, Mouskouri has any teenage fans): each is a stiff, earnest, irksome image that could have been traced from the photographic original. Their totality-four rows of 10 drawings each-verges on the fanatical. Compare this adult undertaking with Jeremy Shaw's David Bowie, a felt-tip homage to "Ashes to Ashes", executed when Shaw was eight years old and a fervent Bowie fan. The little ink drawing wonderfully anticipates Shaw's adult career as an electronic musician and media artist whose focus is youth subcultures.
Somewhat less engaging is David Carter's Michael Myers (Halloween), in which the artist documents himself masked and costumed as a character from that beyond-popular movie franchise. Thus disguised, Carter brandishes a prop butcher knife in various nighttime Vancouver locations (including a Gastown intersection, with an unrelated film crew working behind him), prompting reactions that range from amusement to indifference.
Adrian's video, Morse Code, follows a lugubrious guy through a series of scenes in which he communicates a selection of love lyrics by Morse code. The poetic conceit is that he conveys the code by opening and closing a refrigerator door, sipping beer, and tapping his bare foot on the floor while reading a magazine. Adrian's allusions are multiple and obscure, and his work conveys tedium rather than loneliness. Or maybe it addresses a lovelorn state of mind-a fanlike devotion.