At the Contemporary Art Gallery until December 31
At the Contemporary Art Gallery and Yaletown-Roundhouse Station until March 25, 2018
In 1971, Gathie Falk measured out a picture-shaped rectangle of wild foliage in what was then an undeveloped area of Vancouver and spray-painted it red. Working by herself over a couple of days, she filmed her performance on her 8mm camera and titled it Landscape Painting. Some years later, she re-created the work so that it could be documented by others on videotape.
Falk’s original intervention in the (semi) natural environment took place nine years before Andrew Dadson was born, and yet its form seems to preside over the younger Vancouver artist’s practice. Although his conceptual motivations are quite different from Falk’s, Dadson has pushed and prodded the interfaces between nature, culture, and the idea of landscape in similar ways. And, like Falk, he works across media and materials, including painting, performance, installation, photography, and film. I thought about the precedent Falk created when I first encountered images of the squares and rectangles of land and lawn that Dadson painted black earlier in his career, and again when I saw his recent large photograph of a white-painted patch of West Coast rainforest. (This work is on display in the Polygon Gallery’s inaugural exhibition, N. Vancouver.) I thought about Falk again when curator Kimberly Phillips toured a group of us through Dadson’s solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery. Phillips recounted some of his history, citing the influence of American artist Robert Smithson and his well-documented visits to Vancouver in 1969-70. Still, the artist who sprang to my mind was Gathie Falk.
Dadson’s CAG show, Site for Still Life, includes a mixed-media installation, two large and four small painted works, and a double film projection. The installation, House Plants, consists of a grouping of large, handsome tropicals—among them, dracaena, palm, fig, and cactus—in terra-cotta pots. (In her 1985 installation My Dog’s Bones, Falk used little spruce trees in pots.) Here, plants and pots have been white-washed with a biodegradable, milk-based paint, then set on a white platform and lit with multicoloured grow-lights. Of the kind used in marijuana grow-ops (a nice West Coast-y touch), the lights throw faint green shadows and half-rainbows onto the wall behind. (In My Dog’s Bones, Falk painted silvery shadows on the wall.)
Sourced by the artist from Craigslist, the houseplants are embedded with histories of care, cultivation, and the human impulse to re-create elements of the natural world within the domestic setting. What’s poignant here is that our domestic settings have necessitated the eradication of vast tracts of the natural landscape, and the plants we surround ourselves with to compensate for this loss are a long way from native to the region. During the course of the exhibition, however, Dadson’s plants will sprout new, green growth and also shed flakes of paint, reasserting something of their “natural” character against the social and cultural constructs imposed upon them.
Dadson’s series of “Restretch Paintings” involve his applying many, many layers of paint to stretched canvas, and repeatedly scraping the paint off the rectangular surface so that it masses and dries in thick, voluptuous rolls at the edges. Eventually, the works, now sculptures, are removed from their stretchers, flipped, remounted on blank canvas, and over-painted black or white. Where we expect to see layers of applied colour in each work’s rough edges, as in, say, Jeffrey Spalding’s black paintings from the 1970s, currently on view in Entangled at the Vancouver Art Gallery, we encounter earthy materials, such as mulch and soil, that Dadson has mixed into the oil paint. Rather than depicting the landscape, these works incorporate it. Again, it’s interesting to see Dadson’s environmental focus woven into the conceptual strategies of his predecessors.
Lyse Lemieux’s solo exhibition Full Frontal is installed in the windows that wrap the CAG’s exterior, and also in the windows surrounding the entrance to the Yaletown-Roundhouse Canada Line station. The two commissioned works are big, black-and-white abstractions that riff on some of the forms and ideas Lemieux introduced in her Richmond Art Gallery show last year. Printed on vinyl, two storeys high, the installation at the CAG employs tall, slightly tilted ovals as symbols of the human figure. Human presence also occurs in abstractly patterned passages, with suggestions here of woven fabric and clothing—of stitching, pleats, and folds. The solidity and monumentality of the elliptical forms are gently countered by suggestions of dancing threads, unravelling edges, and porous boundaries between inside and out. The work serves to warm and enliven both the building’s exterior and, by extension, all the chilly concrete that predominates in the area.