The economy meets engaging art in Belkin Gallery show

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      To refuse/To wait/To sleep and M&A
      At the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery until April 9

      A quick read through the press release for To refuse/To wait/To sleep suggests an exhibition so crammed with critical ideas that it threatens to alienate the viewer. A slow walk through this group show, however, reveals the exact opposite: the works on view are highly engaging, visually as well as intellectually.

      Melanie Gilligan, Gabrielle Hill, Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Marianne Nicolson, and Raqs Media Collective take on a battery of issues related to our distressing entanglement with global capitalism and the market economy. Forms range from Hill’s unassuming sculptures composed of salvaged materials to Gilligan’s multichannel sci-fi video.

      The slightly obscure title of the show, curated by Lorna Brown, is meant to suggest what the artists represented here are not, that is, tastefully removed from the address of icky economic issues. (Willfully ignoring the economic is, Brown suggests, a waste of time.)

      The first artwork we encounter is a huge banner installed on an exterior wall of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery. Created by Nicolson, it reworks the provincial flag of British Columbia using Kwakwaka’wakw images and motifs and Chinook jargon, reversing colonial power dynamics and reasserting a First Nations claim to place. It is a commanding and, not incidentally, beautiful piece.

      Nicolson is also showing two large, powerful paintings, Tunics of the Changing Tide, at the nearby Walter C. Koerner Library. Again, this work makes use of Kwakwaka’wakw imagery to redress the cultural and economic consequences of colonialism.

      With intellectual subtlety and visual whimsy, The Prophets, by Ibghy & Lemmens, satirizes our society’s faith in charts, graphs, and other forms of data visualization employed in economic analysis and prediction. Installed on a gallery-length tabletop, the work is composed of over 500 tiny, exquisite models, handcrafted versions of economic models. 

      Their delicate materials include thread, bamboo sticks, fine wire, acetate, and plastic netting. Each of these wonderful little constructions is accompanied by a wee, handwritten label, such as “Nonlinear Growth Model”, “Effect of Constraints on Capital Requirements”, and “Natural Rate of Unemployment”. We know the artists are messing with us—pointing up the “free” market’s inability to see beyond itself—when we encounter labels that read “The Fuzzy Subsets of the Poverty Line”, “Locating Points of Indifference”, and “Comparative Twidget Market”.

      A banner by Marianne Nicolson on the exterior of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery recasts the B.C. provincial flag by using First Nations imagery.
      Michael R. Barrick

      Hill, who grew up in Strathcona, spent much of her childhood wandering the adjacent False Creek Flats waste grounds. As an adult, she returns frequently to that rough and marginal space to create performances and interventions, and to gather discarded materials for her eloquent sculptures. Twelve of them, collectively titled Waste Lands, are on view here.

      They range from a bench built out of old lumber and beer cans to a basketball hoop with an absurdly elongated net made of plastic casing that has been stripped from copper wire. Hill, who is of Cree-Métis descent, has also created a series of bundles out of abandoned blankets tied with, again, plastic wire casing. (Two of them are installed near the gallery’s ceiling, high above viewers’ heads.)

      Her art appropriates the early modernist technique of assemblage to speak to the contemporary reality of those dispossessed by both capitalism and colonialism. Her stained, peeling, grubby, and rusty artifacts are about much more than clever formalism: they abound, as Brown points out in her curatorial essay, in the complex narratives embedded in disregarded urban spaces.

      Complementing the group show is M&A, a durational performance piece, created by artists Simon Goldin and Jacob Senneby, working in collaboration with a New York–based investment banker and a team of computer and theatre people. M&A tracks a stock-market investment (the artists’ exhibition production budget) to its uncertain conclusion.

      At the Belkin, actor Sebastien Archibald interacts with visitors in rehearsing a script by Jo Randerson, his performance acknowledging that it (and presumably his fee) will end if the investment tanks. As Brown writes, “The speculative nature of both art and finance—and the often troubling relationship between the two—is placed in direct relation in M&A.”

      It’s an intriguing and illuminating work, not simply in its premise but also in its execution. Archibald is a delight, seamlessly slipping between roles as he answers questions, explains the work to us, and takes on the character of “ACTOR”.

      One of his lines, as he solicits money from the audience and is then unable or unwilling to return it, is, “Sorry…it’s beyond my control.” Then he adds, on script and as any committed capitalist would, “I’m not really sorry.”