The eternal struggle between war and peace—between the human inclination to engage in bloody conflict and the equally human longing for harmony—finds expression in a few exhibitions this spring and summer. Genocidal civil war, the potential for nuclear holocaust, and the possibilities of uniting our sharply divided planet all engage viewers through performance, video, film, photography, painting, drawing, and interactive installation. Other social issues also preoccupy artists, including spatial justice and sustainability and the basic human right to shelter. That these immense matters prey on our individual psyches, casting us into a slough of despond, is also a subject for contemporary artists.
Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa: Requiem for Mirrors and Tigers
At the grunt gallery from February 22 to April 21
Renowned Guatemalan-Canadian artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa is represented by six media works documenting recent solo and group performances. The artist’s preoccupation here is with personal aspects of the civil war that raged in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996. Despite the brutal nature of his subject, he brings elements of both humour and ethereality to his work, drawing odd and individualistic forms and figures out of the broader telling of history.
The Draw: Requiem represents an important return to the place where Ramírez-Figueroa launched his career. Now based in Berlin and Guatemala City, he immigrated to Vancouver in the early 1980s, graduated with a BFA from Emily Carr University in 2006, and performed, with growing strength, in a number of local venues.
Yoko Ono: Mend Piece
At the Rennie Museum from March 1 to 31
First conceived by Yoko Ono in 1966, this audience-activated, antiwar work has had a number of iterations and incarnations. Consisting of fragments of broken ceramic cups and saucers set out on a table top, the 2016 version at the Rennie Museum invites gallery visitors to sit down and put the objects back together using somewhat crude materials such as tape, twine, and rubber cement. The repaired, Wabi-sabi–esque objects are then displayed on shelves as part of the installation.
The Draw: Mend Piece participants report experiencing joy and hope while contemplating Ono’s idealistic words: “Mend with wisdom, mend with love. It will mend the earth at the same time.”
At the Vancouver Art Gallery from March 3 to June 17
This powerful group show poses questions about art’s engagement with the realities and fears of the nuclear age. From the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the radiation-spewing meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi, the art on view attempts to reckon with the known and potential cultural and environmental impacts of atomic and nuclear technology. At the same time, guest curator John O’Brian attempts to reckon with art’s role in shaping our understanding of the subject. Among the 29 local, national, and international artists included here are Carl Beam, Gathie Falk, David Hockney, Jenny Holzer, Roy Kiyooka, Carel Moiseiwitsch, and Nancy Spero.
The Draw: What with escalating tensions and reckless threats issuing from nuclear powers on either side of the Pacific Ocean, this show could hardly be more timely. It also complements some of the themes revealed in the big Takashi Murakami show, on concurrently at the VAG.
Jeff Ladouceur: Pearl Path
At the Burnaby Art Gallery from June 15 to August 19
If you’re looking for an artist capable of rendering personal misfortune and existential angst into scenes of surrealistic comedy, Jeff Ladouceur is your man. Over the course of his inspired career, the Victoria-born, New York–based artist has created a crowd of distinctive characters, finely drawn in ink or pencil and suggestive of vintage cartoons. Ladouceur creates often inexplicable narratives, involving what he calls “cartoonified archetypes” and including little elephants, bubble babies, abominable snowmen, anthropomorphized natural elements, and a funny, sad everyman known as “Schmo”.
The Draw: Long overdue, Pearl Path is Ladouceur’s first solo exhibition in a Canadian art museum. It will bring together the largest number of his works yet assembled and will be accompanied by what promises to be a highly collectible book.
Germaine Koh: Home Made Home
At the Richmond Art Gallery from June 17 to August 26
This two-part installation—one small, site-specific structure inside the gallery and another mobile one outdoors—is part of Germaine Koh’s onoing series of wee, habitable structures inserted into unexpected places. On her website, one of our leading concept-driven artists describes her “Home Made Home” series as operating “simultaneously as a commercial enterprise with social objectives, and as a creative project for reimagining the possibilities for lived and civic space”.
The Draw: Koh’s smart, engaging, and immaculately constructed work speaks directly to the leading concern of those living in the Lower Mainland: housing. It challenges us to examine ideas of livability, affordability, and sustainability while advocating for social change.