Kathy Slade

At the Tracey Lawrence Gallery until April 29

Kathy Slade pulls images, texts, and musical notations out of the multi-stranded stream of contemporary life. The Vancouver artist's sources range from cult films and punk rock to literary classics and recent art history. Often, she uses the medium of machine embroidery on fabric to reconfigure her allusions and frame her ideas.

In Chart, 105 black-on-white panels installed in five horizontal lines on the long west wall of the Tracey Lawrence Gallery, those ideas relate to both aspiration and longing. Each 38-by-36-centimetre panel is embroidered with a simplified representation of a guitar chord, the whole work progressing from A to G sharp. The minimal images-black dots on a black grid on a white ground-are borrowed from basic guitar tablature, a learning system in which the grid represents strings and frets and the dots indicate finger placement.

In theory, there are enough chords here to enable the self-learner to play any song in the pop-music universe. Adolescent guitar do-it-yourself-ness parallels larger yearnings to succeed in every facet of feeling and enterprise. These yearnings are prompted by the eternally unachievable carrot of desire that advertising and popular culture dangle before us. Again, guitar tabs signify a grander compulsion to create, to accomplish, to matter.

What the musically illiterate but visually informed viewer might see here is a series of minimal-conceptual grids within a much larger minimal-conceptual grid. Subtle references to Agnes Martin, Hanne Darboven, and Alighiero Boetti emerge, as does a nifty allusion to embroidery samplers, with parallels between guitar strings and stitchery threads, musical notation and alphabets, hand placement and the work of the hand. The fact that Slade's images have been digitized and executed by machine, then mounted on stretchers like paintings on canvas, displaces them from the realm of domestic labour and craft.

Two smaller guitar-tab pieces are also on view: Don't Be Shy, A, E, D and Revolution. Together with Chart, they manifest Slade's ongoing use of pop music to playfully examine our longing to lead fully aware, expressive, and meaningful lives.