A Question of Perception

November 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Toronto-based artist Evan Penny has been creating works for over twenty-five years, but only in the last decade has he really been pushing the boundaries of his own practice. The touring exhibition Re Figured, currently on display on the fourth floor of the Art Gallery of Ontario, is an examination of the various issues Penny explores through his creations.

The decision to include one early work, a less than life size nude male sculpture entitled Jim (1985) offers a point of reference for the viewers.  Jim demonstrates that Penny has been focusing on the human body since the 1980s,  and particularly issues related to the representation of the human body in the media, and also our perception of the body in three-dimensional space. Jim Revisited (2011) is also included in the exhibition as a means of examining the advancement of Penny’s practice since the 1980s. It is also relevant because of its play on perception – it is distorted in a way that forces the observers to question the viewpoint or angle from which they are observing the work.

Re Figured consists of two large open spaces, as well as five smaller rooms. Four of the smaller rooms contain works from various series, such as Backs (2004-2008), No One – In Particular Series 1 (2001-2005) and Series 2 (2004-2007), and Old Self, Young Self (2010-2011).  The fifth room is dedicated solely to the step-by-step process of the way Penny creates his silicone casts. There are posters in this room, a video, and samples of the materials he uses so patrons in the gallery can directly experience the way his sculptures might feel, without actually touching the finished products themselves. The artist is clearly interested in process and progress.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are confronted by Penny’s Stretch #1(2003) one of his silicone casts. While the skin looks extremely real, enough to make the viewer think that touching it would evoke the touch of human skin, the features of the abnormally large face are not proportionate. This is one way the artist articulates his thoughts on the influence of media and the way that the images we see affect the way we perceive ourselves. Penny is also referencing manipulations that can be made in programs such as Photoshop, and what would happen if such two-dimensional forms were projected into three-dimensional space.

It is interesting that related works are placed across from one another, and not beside each other. This underscores Penny’s intentions. The artist is constantly juxtaposing two separate ideas or concepts to demonstrate the way in which they influence or relate to one another. Ultimately the artist is interested in blurring   the boundary between abstraction and figuration.  By placing related works on opposite walls, a conversation is literally created in the physical space that separates the artworks.

People of all ages can relate to the issues that Penny’s work addresses because of the prevelance of our interaction with media in this day and age.

Re-figured, organized by the Kunsthalle, Tübingen, Germany in association with the Art Gallery of Ontario runs through January 6th, 2013 at the AGO.

Jolene McKillop

Claro Cosco, Piffin Duvekot, Grey Muldoon: Crave Crawl Cave @ UTAC

November 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

Crave Crawl Cave at the UTAC art lounge

On the evening of September 29, Toronto hosted its Annual Nuit Blanche art festival. On this occasion, the University of Toronto Art Centre showcased the installation Crave Crawl Cave by artists Claro Cosco, Piffin Duvekot and Grey Muldoon. The all-night exhibit of this interactive art installation consisted of three geodesic tent-like pods connected by tunnels. The circular pods were about a meter in height and the low, narrow tunnels allowed the audience to crawl from one pod to another.

As visitors arrived at the  Art Centre, they were encouraged to remove their shoes and enter the pods in order to experience the environment inside. Live music added to the intensity of the experience. The three pods each had a distinct theme. The pod closest to the entrance contained numerous smooth, glowing rubber balls. The middle pod was entirely dedicated to furry objects, be it the rug on the floor, the stuffed toys, or the pieces of materials hung on the ceiling of the pod. The third pod had web like nets hanging from the ceiling and was lit by UV lights which reflected off the painted floor and added an eerie effect.

Duvekot informed me that while coming up with this project, the artists looked at Snoezel rooms in the Netherlands, as well as research done on autism spectrum disorders. Through this installation, the artists tried to create a space that would stimulate the senses. They were successful in achieving their goal because not only did we get to see the art installations but we also got the opportunity to feel different kinds of textures inside the pods. Our senses were further stimulated by the improvised music being played by the musicians. In fact, the electric violin created quite a dramatic atmosphere.

Crave Crawl Cave has been previously exhibited at the Monster festival, as well as at the Milton Centre for the Arts. Didn’t get the chance to crawl through the caves during Nuit Blanche or still craving for more? Come see, hear, smell and feel the exhibition which stays at UTAC until the 6th of October.

Tanzila Ahmed

Above: interior of the first Crave Crawl Cave pod.          Below: interior of the third pod.


October 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last weekend, DREAMERS RENEGADES VISIONARIES: The Glenn Gould Variations festival was held in honour of Glenn Gould, a revolutionary and renowned twentieth century pianist particularly known for his interpretations of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Performances, installations and an exhibition were put on to celebrate Gould’s life and work. One of the artists who paid tribute to the Canadian pianist is Robert Wilson, using a series of video portraits specially designed for UTAC’s galleries to create an exhibition called Robert Wilson Gould Variations: A series of Video Portraits in celebration of Glenn Gould. Reportedly recreating a moment he experienced while dining to the sounds of Gould and croaking frogs, Wilson meticulously combines his South American Horned Frog Video Portraits with nature recordings and Gould’s arrangement of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Eleven HD screens are mounted on the walls of the gallery, each displaying a brilliantly coloured frog that boldly stares back at the viewer.

Wilson masterfully creates an atmosphere that intrigues, captivates and stimulates. The rooms of the gallery are lit only by the vivid colours of the screens and the viewer is confronted with the gaze of a frog at every turn – a truly surreal experience. The frogs, each with a name, gender and colour scheme, seem to have individual personalities and places within the court of frogs ruled by Lord Suckfist (2012) who dominates the central space. Their stares compel the audience to engage with every one of them.

The genius behind Wilson’s Gould Variations lies in how the artist has woven together such a multiplicity of details in order to manipulate the viewer’s reaction, but in a way that is still open to each individual’s imagination. The images and music work together to transform the space: a feeling of serenity can be quickly succeeded by a disturbing loneliness. Wilson encourages the visitors to develop their own interpretations and provides them with a contemplative space in which to do so. This exhibit is truly an experience for the mind and senses.

Robert Wilson Gould Variations: A series of Video Portraits in celebration of Glenn Gould runs until October 6, 2012 at UTAC.

Olivia Tang

Below: Robert Wilson, Mr. Speedball, South American Horned Frog Video Portrait, 2012, video still. Courtesy of the artist.

60 Years of Designing the Ballet @ The Design Exchange

August 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Nutcracker Wardrobe Crate

Focusing largely on the Canadian National Ballet’s past productions of The Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake, the Design Exchange’s, 60 Years of Designing the Ballet, is a must-see for theatre and dance lovers alike. With only one full weekend left to catch the exhibition, which displays costumes, set items and sketches from six decades of Canadian ballet tradition; time is running thin.  However, 60 Years of Designing the Ballet is certainly worth the trip as it more than delivers on its promise to provide a comprehensive look into the National Ballet’s backstage story and design process.  Through combining the three-dimensional facets of the stage (i.e. sets, costumes and maquettes) with typical gallery elements, some of which include, video footage, photographs and an interactive station that teaches you standard dance poses, 60 Years of Designing the Ballet aptly documents the humble beginnings of the National Ballet company as well as its critically acclaimed performances of today. While Caroline O’Brien, the curator of the exhibit, did place her focus on commissioning archived costume pieces, she did also make sure that 60 Years of Designing the Ballet was in part dedicated to the art form’s laborious and intricate design production processes. In this vein, the inclusion of ballet “bibles”, a vital stage document that is filled with sketches, scale drawings, inspirations and fabric swatches, offered up a fascinating look into the grueling process of putting on a show, rather than solely the glamorous end product. 60 Years of Designing the Ballet is also paired with a smaller retrospective and community-outreach venture, The Tutu Project.

60 Years of Designing the Ballet run until September 2.


Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors @ the AGO

July 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the AGO’s current special exhibitions features the work of Zhang Huan, a Chinese artist based out of Shanghai and New York, who is mainly known for performance and body oriented work. While most of the AGO’s focus this summer has been marketing it’s massive Picasso retrospective, Zhang Huan: Ash Paintings and Memory Doors, is a lesser-known gem that traces the very specific art process of Zhang Huan. After completing his studies in America and returning to his native China, Huan reformed his Buddhist beliefs, in turn becoming fixated on the aesthetic potential of burned incense ash. Similar to the act of burning incense in Buddhist services, Huan’s assemblage of large quantities of ash also became a rather ceremonialized practice. On a weekly basis, city trucks would deliver the temples’ ashes to Huan, who would then painstakingly sort through the specimen, dividing it according to gradation and texture, eventually applying the pigments to a linen canvas. In this sense, Huan’s utilization of a quasi-religious, creative ritual, aims to uncover the meeting point wherein which spiritual and corporeal cognitions meld.

Zhang Huan’s “Night” (2007)

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trans/FORM @ MOCCA

July 9, 2012 § Leave a comment

Georgia Dickie’s “Smoking Gun Sculpture I” (2012)

This summer the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art is set to host, trans/FORM– an exhibition featuring Toronto based artists, curated by the gallery’s director, David Liss.

trans/FORM showcases a variety of work by eight local artists, who, despite their disparate media preferences, do share a bond through a common materialist perspective. In this sense, trans/FORM upholds a “New Aesthetic” mandate in that, as the show’s title suggests, these artists aim to primarily stress the material and physical processes that are involved in making visual art. While trans/FORM’s main point of issue is centered firmly on the materiality of the highlighted work, and not it’s narrative or conceptual meanings, each of the show’s artists employ starkly different mediums and thematic sources, some of which hone in on, most obviously, materiality, but also physicality, scale and presence.

Georgia Dickie’s “None Genuine without This” (2012) sets the tone for trans/FORM. Not only is this work the first displayed installation upon entering the gallery doors, but, the piece also manages to literally evoke the artist’s material process and fabrication techniques in that the work is entirely comprised of objects that inhabit Dickie’s studio.

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Headlines @ Communication Art Gallery

June 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Deep Breath

There are only a few days left to catch Annie Terrazzo’s, Headlines, at Harbord’s Communication Art Gallery.  The exhibition highlights just one facet of what Terrazzo herself has labeled, trash portraiture, that is, “art created with found objects from around the world”. Headlines consists of 12 pieces, comprised of various international newspaper headings and articles, which are cut out and put back together in definitive pattern sets. This painstaking process is then heightened in that all the cut outs, which take up the entire background of every canvas, aim to help represent the specific headline Terrazzo has gathered for each piece.  These assemblages are then painted over with black, heavy outlining and a splashy surrealistic colour palette in order to further emphasize the work’s focal slogan.  One example of this artistic method can be seen in Terrazzo’s “Deep Breath,” which illustrates a moody side silhouette of a young woman whose pulmonary system is painted over the newsprint, in vibrant brushy strokes. Terrazzo manages to balance her mixture of media in that her output both equally emphasizes a beautiful painting technique as well as the more mechanical aspect of newspaper assemblage. In this way Annie’s work does not allow it’s audience to shy away from the meta-textual components of her process as well as the layers of sub-meaning within each piece.

Headlines runs until July 1

Stella Melchiori

PICASSO Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris @ the AGO

May 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

The AGO’s latest summer blockbuster, “PICASSO Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris,” absolutely lives up to the hype.  The eagerly awaited exhibition takes on the colossal task of mapping out the prolific career of painter and sculptor, Pablo Picasso. In so doing this AGO retrospective exemplifies Pablo Picasso’s extraordinary imagination as the show not only tracks the evolution of the artist’s legion of styles, but also, the motifs that encapsulated each period of Picasso’s 70 year career.

La Celestina (1904)

Right off the bat, I was struck by “PICASSO Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris” as the gallery’s lead-in corridor is not at all typical. The entryway is painted bright red, adorned with pictures of various stages of the artist’s life (some of the most notable photographs are of Picasso in his famous Montrouge studio) and beautifully complimented by a loop of flamenco music bursting through the gallery speakers. The exhibition’s main space is then broken up into 8 large rooms, each representing a unique approach within Picasso’s creative pursuits. These individual rooms are organized chronologically and cover every seminal phase of the modern master’s diverse career.  The sub-headings of these rooms include: the artist’s initial move to Paris, his fixation with African art, the advent of Cubism, Classicism and Surrealism, the artist’s involvement in politically activated painting, and finally, his last years of life. « Read the rest of this entry »

Gender and Exposure in Contemporary Iranian Photography @ Gallery 44

May 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

Abbas Kowsari

As it seems, a good portion of this year’s CONTACT programming directs it’s focus on the concept of national character. More specifically, Iranian identity is one particular thematic strand that links quite a few of the CONTACT 2012 exhibitions. Gallery 44’s Gender and Exposure in Contemporary Iranian Photography is but one of the expositions that either hone in on Iranian nationalist paradigms or aim to showcase the country’s vibrant art scene. Gender and Exposure in Contemporary Iranian Photography features the work of Samira Eskandarfar, Amirali Ghasemi, Abbas Kowsari, Zeinab Salarvand, Arman Stepanian and Sadegh Tirafkan; seven Iranian born artists whose work presents a broad perspective on art in the Middle East but is still united through social circumstance and the photographic medium.

Gender and Exposure in Contemporary Iranian Photography, curated by Andrea Fitzpatrick, deliberately elaborates on the more typical artistic representations of Iranian culture, i.e. issues pertaining to the feminine sphere, the positioning of women in the social hierarchy and the notion of veiling. Two of Gallery 44’s stand out photographic series present altogether different outlooks on Iranian identity by capturing the lives of everyday, secular men. Abbas Kowsari’s “Masculinity Series” offers up a very specific window on the activities of male bodybuilders. The series of photos employs oversaturated colouring as well as dramatic lighting in order to further emphasize the staged nature of the contest at hand. Sadegh Tirafkan also looks to examine Iranian masculine identity as he uses his camera to capture the world of amateur wrestling. Set against white backgrounds and positioned in elaborate, Mannerist-like poses, Tirafkan’s work calls attention to the sitters’ bare bodies as well as their awareness of the fact that they have an audience. Within these photographs, the men wear traditional national costuming – a choice that highlights the geographical setting and, according to Tirafkan, provides “a subtle questioning of tradition and what this heroic masculinity means in a very patriarchal society.”

Sadegh Tirafkan

Gender and Exposure in Contemporary Iranian Photography showcases both contemporary male and female artists who are actively documenting their surroundings and seeking to reveal true national subjects.

Gender and Exposure in Contemporary Iranian Photography runs until June 9, 2012

– Stella Melchiori

Review: Yael Bartana at the AGO.

March 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Art Gallery of Ontario is showing … And Europe Will Be Stunned. Composed of a trilogy of shorts by Israeli filmmaker Yael Bartana, which invert the concepts behind Zionism and reflect the cultural landscape of the 20th century. The series raises questions about displacement and homeland as it takes the viewer through an exaggerated depiction of the Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland. Rather than communicating a positive or negative view of the movement, Bartana explores the aspects and connotations of the call for Ashkenazi Jews to return to their European homeland. Drawing from propaganda and a history full of militarism and nationalism, she presents an idea for a utopian future, while at the same time criticizing it.

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