Friday, September 8, 2017

ESSAY: In Blood and Bone



Exhibition Essay: an aware form of care

In Blood and Bone is a compilation of Alana Bartol's many multifaceted constructs; its result is similar to a corporeal body. This body—an accumulation of different organs, which in turn are different facets of Bartol’s work—reaches out into the world in a multitude of ways. The body works and in doing so makes this body of work.

First, there is the Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA), which walks the line between a real functioning not-for-profit and a fictitious organization. The OWAA, like any adoption agency, busies itself with matching orphans, in this case orphaned oil wells, with people that will act as their caretakers. While at a first glance, the OWAA may seem the penultimate step towards a reconciliation with the land and its peoples, Bartol knows the reality to be far more complex; she knows this to be but the first step of many*. In actuality there may be no final step towards a reconciling but instead a resolve to actively care with awareness.The OWAA is a radical step in envisioning—stepping out of fantasy and into a messy reality. The responsibility inherent in privilege is only performed if a person puts their agency into action, and this is something that Bartol clearly is devoted to doing in this exhibition. Bartol utilizes her privilege granted from the exhibition version of In Blood And Bone to draw attention to the hazy grey area between real organizations, performance within fine visual art. This in turn is a tool to consider what it would be like if we entered a realm focused on care.

Also exerting the pushes and pulls of a physical body is Bartol's water dowsing practice, a second tenet of this exhibition. Dowsing, or water witching, is the practice of using a pendulum, dowsing rod, or forked stick to determine the location of water or other rare minerals. Water witching itself is contentious and controversial and is seen by many to be a dubious practice, though it has been practiced for over a century to successfully find water. To practice this, the dowser must ask the rod yes or no questions. Bartol also has a blue uniform for dowsing and uses Ganzfeld goggles, which renders the user's vision blank, making her as susceptible as possible to the whims of the dowsing rods, and responses to her questions. The dowsing rods are tools of the field worker but they also relate to the third and final element of In Blood and Bone, which comes flying into the gallery and becomes an entity of its own. Black vinyl neckties made of garbage bags, representing corporate culture, patriarchy, and evil spirits in general, which haunt the land and places where these orphaned wells reside. The dowsing rods themselves are installed to animate the dispersion of these ties, and this is represented in both the installation of the neck ties in the space and the animated video in the gallery’s front room.

The great pleasure of a body of work like this is that it offers viewers a space to consider the gargantuan and contentious issue of the oil industry within Alberta in a completely different manner. The absurdity of the ties that bind corporate structures to the land is intimated by the black neckties, which add an element of humour. The laughter that follows can both confound and disarm people to discuss socially and politically charged subjects which can be very difficult to address within the economic systems that we have created. Bartol poses the questions, “How do you get people to connect to issues that are overwhelming even if they are relating to them personally?” and “How do you shift a perspective so that the contentious and uncomfortable topic of oil can be considered?” If this exhibition is to serve as a starting point in which Bartol begins her inquiries, she does so by first listening, processing, acting, and persisting—with care.

By: Ashley Bedet

*A consideration she is aware of given Bartol’s history of incorporating walking into her practice. See A Woman Walks the City Limits, 2016.


Ashley Bedet came back to Calgary, where she was born. Bedet is the product of many very different worlds reproducing, meeting difference, and then reproducing again. That makes her the product of at least four distinct separate paths. She graduated from NSCAD University in 2014 and has been slowly making and showing work since.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

ESSAY: The Stridents

Exhibition Essay: The Stridents

merchant, light, lavender, tongue 1
 
In the Middle Ages, church architecture, including stained glass windows and altarpieces, could be read as a collectively experienced book. The church was an intellectual center, not only for the scholarly monks, priests, and nuns but also for the public. Then, as now, artists employed history and mythology as parable for the present. 
 
In The Stridents, Andrea Roberts’ words are sculpted into laser cut fabric mounted on silver powder coated steel structures, as though backed with the grisaille mesh patterns of stained glass windows and confession screens. Telling a story, recording a vision, writing a history, is to be caught somewhere between life and death, between lamentation and faith. Say it Ain’t So articulates this temporal tension between preservation and loss, referencing one of the earliest methods of sound recording, the phonoautograph and its use of soot to index sound. These gentle grouping of words recall alchemical formulas, printed on paper surfaces lamp-blackened like the aged walls of churches (and the phonautograph’s acoustic diagrams).
 
gold, rue, amethyst, hair
 
Modern sound reproduction, beginning in the nineteenth century, was believed to split sources from their auditory copies, signalling the act of recording as enclosure. Jonathan Sterne has argued in his history of sound recording, that “the history of sound implies a history of the body.” 2 As in the history of modern optics, acoustic technology frequently modeled technological form after parts of the human body, positioning sound reproduction as an erstwhile history of shifting understandings of phenomenological experience. 
 
As Sterne has outlined, the hierarchy of the senses has a lengthy history, with religious texts frequently outlining a division between spirit and letter. The voice (and its sensual counterpart, hearing), is prized for its transcendence, the written word (and corresponding vision) damned to earthly decay. The technology of church architecture, designed for acoustic resonance and vibrational transcendence, acts to preserve holy sounds in perpetuity. 
 
mine, vesper, tansy, sulfur
 
Anchorites, the most extreme religious lives of the medieval period, were recluses who lived their lives enclosed in stone rooms. The life of the anchorite has been referred to as a kind of spiritual warfare modelled after religious figures such as St. Anthony, who in around 285 banished himself to the desert in an act of divine sacrifice. Through a small and aptly named window, a squint, those confined could converse with passersby. Both men and women were enclosed, although historians have found evidence that much larger numbers of women undertook the ceremonial enclosure—a rite to signal the anchorite’s passage from one life to another. Through self-knowledge gained from withdrawal towards a greater knowledge of the divine, anchorite women were renowned for their spiritual visions, both auditory and visual. Held just out of sight, the visual experience of devotion could be replaced by sound.  Hearing the voice of the anchorite through the wall was to journey from one spiritual world to another, an act of intellectual exchange and bodies held at a distance.
 
gasp, sigh, hiss, rale
 
Roberts’ A mirror for recluses, trades visual refraction for sound, blending the auditory elements of spiritual retreat with droning resistance to the monotony of order. As Roberts has described, the recording foregrounds sibilant sounds (like s, z, f, ch). Also called stridents, these tones represent a challenge to modern sound recording—a refusal of fixity in the auditory surplus of the hiss. Defined variously as urgent, grating, and just simply too much, these sounds show us the shape of regulatory order. 
 
lithium, milk, melamine, rose
 
To consider the history of a technology is often to remove it from its altar, that is, to show its perseverance as a concept before and after its physical and named form has come into cultural consciousness. I suspect Roberts’ knows this, for here a word is a sound is a technology is a recording is a built object. 
 
total insolvency, there is gold dust
 
Roberts’ investigation of the history of retreat paired with that of modern sound recording comes through to us as an archaeology of technology, loss, and the desire to transcend our bodies becoming ciphers of the divine—or at the very least, something of permanence beyond capitalist reproduction and technological obsolescence. 
 
So mote it be?
 

1 Word groupings in italics borrowed (in order) from Andrea Roberts, Merchant Light (Say It Ain’t So #3) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink and lampblack on paper, 2016; Gold Rue. (Say It Ain’t So #4) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink on lampblack on paper, 2016; Mine Vesper (Say it Ain’t So #6) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink on lampblack on paper, 2016; The Stridents #1 (sigh, gasp, hiss, rale) 93” x 30” x 12,” Fabric, steel, 2016; Lithium Milk (Say It Ain’t So #5) 19.5” x 27.5,” Ink on lampblack on paper, 2017; The Stridents #2 (total insolvency) 80” x 20” x 23,” Fabric, steel, 2016; The Stridents #3 (there is gold dust) 64” x 36’ x 1,” Fabric, wood, steel, 2016.
2 Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: The Cultural Origins of Sound Production (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 12.

Thanks to Janique Vigier and Jessica Evans for their comments on this text.

By Emily Doucet
 
Emily Doucet is a writer and PhD candidate in the Graduate Department of Art at the University of Toronto. She holds an MA from University College London and a BA (Honors) from the University of Winnipeg. Her current research explores the history of photography and the technological imagination in nineteenth century France. Her doctoral research is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. She writes about contemporary art for publications such as Border Crossings, C Magazine and Canadian Art online. 

Friday, March 31, 2017

ESSAY: The Future Behind Us


Exhibition Essay: The Future Behind Us

The Future Behind Us revisits a collective project initiated by Romeo Gongora in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in March 2013. Each artwork and object in the exhibition enacts a series of subtle shifts, ruptures, and translations across time and space, re-presenting and relocating the project from Kinshasa to Calgary.

The project in Kinshasa
Romeo Gongora’s research-led practice involves the creation of temporary situations, each uniquely structured around collective creative, critical processes of production. In line with this approach, and in response to an invitation to be a facilitator for a workshop at Kin ArtStudio in Kinshasa, he proposed to collaboratively produce a science fiction film, from scratch, over the course of a three-week residency.

Kin ArtStudio - a cultural platform set up by artist Vitshois Mwilambwe Bondo - produced the annual ‘Master Art’ workshop as a fluid, alternative education program offering young artists the opportunity to work in close collaboration with an invited international artist. A group of around 14 young artists from DRC took part, and the pilot film, Perinium, was created over fifteen days of production.

Before arriving in Kinshasa, Gongora kick-started the collaborative process of producing the film by creating a sci-fi literary competition, circulating a poster via Kin ArtStudio’s online networks. Two of the winning entries later formed the basis of the script for the pilot film and its title, Perinium.

The film was written, directed, and screened within three weeks. Working with little to no budget, the team self-selected their roles, producing DIY props, soundtracks, and costumes in the lead-up to the shoot. The shoot itself took place over three days and was edited right up to the final hour before its first public screening.

The installation in Calgary
The installation, The Future Behind Us, at TRUCK Contemporary Art translates the experience and process of shooting on-location in Kinshasa from different angles and perspectives; offering a sense of the energy of the city whilst reflecting the wider socio-political contexts that informed the making of the film.

A series of questions thread in and out of the work throughout the space: What do we do with the past? Is it possible to re-present an artwork that was based as much on process as on final outcomes? If the film was a project defined by collective work, how can it be exhibited?

The film: a pilot
The central installation and screening framework at TRUCK echoes the structure of the bar in Kinshasa where the film was first shown. The site, which is a meeting point for locals in Kinshasa, becomes a communal point in the centre of the gallery. These two moments are connected by the film banner, hung here in the space but originally printed to advertise the event in Kinshasa.

The photographs
Romeo Gongora took a series of images in what he describes as ‘gaps of time’ whilst travelling through the city; in the midst of producing the film on route to and from Kin ArtStudio and the Academy of Fine Arts where he was staying throughout the production. They act both as a counterpoint to the moving images of the film, and as contemplative imprints of Gongora’s subjective experience of the city.

The process
Gongora’s mode of creating communal, creative, critical projects is inspired in part by the theories and praxis of Brazilian radical pedagogue Paulo Freire; and equally by artist collectives from the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, to name a few, the Mousse Spacthèque, the Fusion des Arts group, and the Fondation du théâtre d’environnement integral, as well as the periodicals Parti Pris and Liberté. His recent project Just Watch Me (2014) transformed the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery into a social club. For the duration of the show the space became a radical site of production, dialogue, collaboration, and collective creation. Taking similar starting points, but expanding beyond the walls of a gallery space, Commun Commune (June 2015) was a month-long experiment that brought a disparate group of strangers together to temporarily experience life in a commune.

The process-based project in Kinshasa took a similar approach: while Gongora initiated the film, his role gradually shifted within the group from catalyst to collaborator, from instigator to interlocutor. In his own words, “over time, the project became horizontal”.

While these subtle processes of negotiation, which played out within the dynamics of the group behind-the-scenes remain invisible, for Gongora they are integral to the work. For this reason, the film Perinium was first screened at the 10th edition of the Bamako Biennial of Photography in Mali (2015), as a collectively authored project.

The Future Behind Us represents a new departure for Gongora, as an exhibition presented as a solo show rather than a collaborative project unfolding within the space. And yet, the performative act of staging the exhibition in itself involves the creation of a temporary space for collective, creative, critical, and transformative processes of reflection. A workshop taking place on March 25th, 2017 - almost exactly four years to the day since the pilot film was originally screened - loops back to Gongora’s collaborative impulse and takes a step further in this direction, feeding back into the exhibition with science fiction objects created by visitors for future use in the space, for the duration of the show.

By Lily Hall


Lily Hall is an independent curator and writer based in London. She holds an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art, London, UK (2012) and a BA in English Literature and Art History from the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK (2007). Forthcoming curatorial projects include Surface Tensions: Pavla and Lucia Sceranková, at Pump House Gallery in partnership with Czech Centre, London; and Soft Walls, curated in collaboration with Mette Kjærgaard Præst and Daniela Berger at Museo de la Solidaridad Salvaldor Allende (MSSA), Santiago de Chile (both 2017).

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

DOCUMENTATION: Obsolescence

Documentation from: Obsolescence curated by Mohammad Rezaei and featuring work by Brynn Higgins-Stirrup, Colwyn Paddon, Justin Somjen, Jim Verburg, and Joy Walker






















Tuesday, January 10, 2017

ESSAY: Obsolescence



An Essay on Obsolescence

By Mohammad Rezaei

1.

In an interview following the release of her 2014 album Wanderlust—a departure from her signature sound—British pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor spoke of the album as “something which I really felt like I needed to do. I felt more excited than worried and liberated. I'm really not sure where I'll go from here if I'm honest. It's funny, it's the first time in ages where I'm not sure where I'll be in the next six months or with the next album.”[1]

2. 

If we were to approach obsolescence as an evolution, how would future generations recount the discourse of art in our current time? Would they look to objects made by artists presented in the white cube, in theory a place with aspirations of opening dialogue that is instead oftentimes exclusive, classist, and routinely resisting change? Or would they look to .gifs, memes, and emoji as evidence to track the evolution of language and culture? In 2017, how important is it to make tangible objects to continue the discourse of visual art?

3. 

When I started doing research for this project, I was interested in signs made by migrant/illegal workers underneath bridges, tunnels, close to railroad tracks. Lines crossing each other, squares within squares, horizontal zigzags hold meaning of up to a full sentence, indicating the social structure of the surrounding area and its friendly/unfriendly nature. Humans decipher lines that were thought up by other humans because we find patterns within layers to seek meaning in marks.

4.

Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obsolescence as “the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete.”[2] With this exhibition, I wanted to explore the residual leftovers, the marks left after obsoletion. I look at this process as an evolution, not an end. A gradual fade to white, rather than a fade to black.

This exhibit is an attempt to define meaning within mark making from a very specific educated in the arts socio-economic point of view. It is an exploration of what is not there, more than what is there. The works presented here are process-driven and explore the depth of perception, both literal and metaphorical. They are methods of communication within a world on the brink of collapse. Each piece in its own way embodies an approach of noticing and not noticing. Justin Somjen’s photographs are layers of printed photographs and arranged objects, printed and then photographed again and again and again and again. They are optical illusions made from mass-produced objects, taken out of context when placed within the white cube. Brynn Higgins Stirrup challenges the viewer by making marks that resemble a lost language. Like an archeological discovery, these works are placed within the gallery space asking to be viewed from different angles and in one case, to even be touched. Colwyn Paddon takes the most sentimental approach here, by unthreading and re-sewing thread onto fabric bouquets found in public mourning sites. Jim Verburg takes an architectural approach to defining shadows and perception through layers. Here you are more focused on what is not there than what is there. This is accompanied by the text piece “I Forget That You’re Trying To Interpret All This As Well,” where the most literal approach to the concept is explored. Joy Nina Walker’s drawings pick up where Verburg left off. They are simplistic in nature, symmetrical, and clean. They are forms of communication formed in numbers and measurements.

5. 


When I submitted this application almost two years ago, I was younger and the world seemed like a brighter place. I longed for recognition and legitimization. More recently however, most of my thoughts are directed towards the turmoil I see in the world. I’ve been feeling that I’ve fought for something for so long now, only to come to terms with it becoming obsolete. As a queer brown person, I have come to terms with the resentment I feel when I navigate white institutions that insist on seeking their own legitimization via exhibiting what they’ve known over and over and over and over again. I wonder about the value of visual arts in this time; will visual arts be obsolete, perhaps for its inability to be enough when faced with intense aggression? Have tangible objects lost their ability to communicate the urgency of the political turmoil that has taken over the world? Perhaps to me, obsolescence is the acceptance of the inevitable.

                                                                       

[1] http://www.digitalspy.com/music/interviews/a544491/sophie-ellis-bextor-theres-another-dance-album-in-me-for-sure/#ixzz2qZnB5eLV
[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/obsolescence

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016

ESSAY: Performagraphic



Exhibition Essay: The Epistrophy[i] of James Luna

James Luna — his name should be whispered in reverence by all performance artists everywhere but also should be screamed through the halls of every museum. James Luna is a Puyukitchum (Luiseño), Ipi (Degueno), and Mexican-American performance and multimedia installation artist living on California’s La Jolla Indian Reservation. He has been at the forefront of performance art and its intersections with and influence on photography and media installation since he first stepped into a museum as a living exhibit in the 1970s. Trained by Dutch conceptual artist, Bas Jan Ader, Luna uses psychology, a keen eye to the contradictions contemporary ‘Indian’ people live under colonialism, the aesthetics of a painter, and a fearlessness in “airing our dirty laundry.”

The diptych Apparitions 2 shows the complexity of Luna’s strategy of juxtaposition in his photographic work. For this series, Luna uses self-portraiture as a contemporary Indigenous man paired with anthropologically situated photographs of potential ancestors. Apparitions 2 has Luna mimicking the photo of William Ralganal Benson, circa 1936 and held at Hearst Museum of Anthropology, University of California. Benson was an expert basketmaker, the evidence of which he displays in his hand. In the anthropological discourse surrounding him he is described as follows:

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Benson was fortunate enough to have lived his boyhood years during the last decade in which Eastern Pomo speakers enjoyed a more-or-less traditional lifestyle. By the 1870s, the social and environmental disruptions caused by a growing local Anglo-American population would make traditional life impossible, as the lifeways of local Indians became increasingly marginalized.[i]
Benson, along with his wife, exhibited at the St. Louis Fair as an expert basketmaker in 1904. In the Apparitions series, Luna draws parallels between his practice of performing ‘Indian’ for contemporary art crowds and historical figures who also performed their artistry for crowds at world fairs and museums. In Apparitions 2, the clock he holds gives a clue to his critique. While the archival photos show a fascination with an authentic ‘Indian’ culture from pre-contact times, the depicted artists were actually involved in a process of cultural change. Benson made a living from his work and used white expectations of his identity and culture for his own gain. Luna’s photos and performance works’ use of irony do the same, turning societal desire for authentic pre-contact cultures inward by insisting on contemporaneity. In fact, the clock did not stop and Indigenous cultures continue to change and transform as always. The desire to stop time for Indigenous cultures has always meant a denial of place and presence on both the land and in modern societies for current Indigenous peoples.

Another layer in Luna’s work can be seen clearly in We Become Them, in which he contorts his face into the exact replica of a ‘traditional’ west coast mask. Instead of critiquing the prevalence of desire for west coast art in the white imaginary he reframes the mask in an Indigenous context. As a performance artist, his work is connected to the work of the First Nations who would have used these masks in performance, offering a much longer history to performance art in North America. By using his own body to become the mask Luna draws us into the idea of transformation itself and its potential value in Indigenous cultures. As another kick to the knees of old school anthropology he questions: if the masks are meant to be performed then why are they behind glass? We might also ask ourselves how our cultures have shifted into Luna’s brand of performance and storytelling and how we should value it as equally about social change and community remembrance.

In Half-Indian Half-Mexican Luna challenges our understandings of racial purity and the stereotypic signifiers of culture. While each of his two profile shots are of the same man (Luna), each can be recognized as either Mexican or Indian because of the proliferation of images we recognize as representative of a culture. In this case, the Mexican mustache and the Indian long hair. When you confront both profiles head on you realize the ridiculousness of our standards of recognition and how easy it is to split a person in half by our desire to know who someone is definitively. When people cross borders literally (US/Mexican border) and biologically it challenges us to see the fear that lies at the assertion of all borders and purities. That same fear leads to violence against the bodies that cross those borders. While we might laugh at the absurdity of such a dual face we also realize the reality of imposing the division of those identities.

While Luna’s photography is a distillation and continuation of his performance practice it also functions in a similar vein. By having his own body confront the viewer, they can no longer deny his existence. The Indigenous body that has been segregated, exterminated, traumatized, disabled, and confined becomes a site of challenge, power, humour, community, and cultural continuity.

By Wanda Nanibush
                                                                  


[i] Title of Thelonius Monk song. He used it to mean the repetition of sounds at the end of a musical line or phrase. Luna loves Jazz and the title is a tribute to him.


[ii] Luthin, Herbert W. Surviving through the Days: Translations of Native California Stories and Songs: A California Indian Reader. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002: 261.