Friday, September 17, 2004

Sleepy time

Well, it looks like inertia has finally set in with this blog. Didn't mean for that to happen, but I am no longer writing for the Post. I have a new job at a magazine. It's full time, which is why this blog is over, for now. I'm leaving it up for archival purposes and maybe so I can start it up again another day. Thanks for reading and see you 'round. Catherine

Monday, July 19, 2004

Peterborough's Artspace is flooded -- Help!

Another culture crisis that needs your attention ....

Dear ARCCO Members and Friends,
On behalf of Artspace, ARCCO requests your help!

Due the flood and sewage backup in downtown Peterborough, Artspace, which
had recently relocated to a basement space in the downtown area, is
currently a disaster zone. If you have anything that you can donate such as
office supplies, energy/expertise or can help in anyway please email David
LaRiviere at or leave a
voice-mail at (705)748-3883.

Your help is appreciated!

Sincerely, Jewell Goodwyn ARCCO Executive Director
Below is the release from David LaRiviere, Artspace Director

Michael Davey at Canada Quay -- N. Post July 17, 2004

Carin terriers are known for their firm little legs and butts, their spunky personalities and tenacious habit for digging trenches in front lawns. Occasionally, they are also known for being natural acrobats at catching balls. Angus, a 10-year-old Carin terrier who lives on Toronto Island with owner and artist Michael Davey, is definitely a ball catcher. He can leap three feet in the air and snag a flying tennis ball mid-arch. He is also a superb ball finder, and on the island there are hundreds of lost balls that wash up daily along the shorelines. At last count Angus had something like 3,000 balls in his collection.

He has lent over a thousand of them, including algae-covered golf balls and waterlogged soccer balls, to the creation of a giant ball mosaic that is shaped in his own leaping likeness. "Inter Species" is on display for the rest of the summer at Canada Quay at Harbourfront Centre. Davey and another ball collector, Danny O from Boston, created the 16-foot long mosaic using close to 3,000 recovered balls, or "dead balls" as they are sometimes called.

Angus is considered a full collaborator in this artistic triumvirate. But this is not a doggy mosaic designed just to keep Harbourfront Kids happy while playing on the nearby jungle gym. Inter Species, the world’s first and biggest human- and dog-made ball mosaic, is also the third time Davey has made art with Angus, and he takes the collaboration as seriously as William Wegman does his Weimaraners.

Their first team effort three years ago produced a wildly colourful series of totem poles made out of plastic "floaters." Angus sniffed out the materials beached along the shores and lagoons. Davey did the assembling. Most of the totems feature balls and half balls that have petrified after being waterlogged and sunbleached for so long. Davey has also cast Angus’s balls and other flotsam into elaborate bronze sculptures. They are tree-like forms made out of beaver-chewed logs and footballs all bronzed into one.

Naturally, there’s an ecological message attached to this kind of art made from the plastic world that is swimming around in Toronto’s harbour. But there is also a populist-minimalist-folk art irony in giving such classical art treatment to mass-produced objects. Once bronzed, some of Davey’s works look more like Brancusi sculptures than old tennis balls displaced into new context. It’s a been-done aesthetic but Davey seems to come by it with a certain honesty and unwavering curiosity that works.

Inter Species is definitely more goofy than bleeding-heart art theory, though turning a micro-activity, like ball collecting with your dog, into a micro-art project has its own particular merits, along the same lines as building houses out of coke crates or making celebrity portraits out of noodles. The art is the obsession.
O, who collects balls without the help of a dog, says balls are different to other tossed items. "The circle is a perfect form, he says. "It mimics the moon, the earth. It’s pure joy. When I bend down and grab a ball it’s like I’m re-igniting it with fun. Square objects aren’t the same, and triangles are severe to me." Davey agrees (and probably Angus would, too) that there’s a heightened state of awareness when catching a ball. "It’s a perfect form in both art and sports," says Davey, who is also a former competitive track athlete. "You learn about freedom playing with a ball, and catching a spiral in an arch. It’s poetic." There’s also that human-head connection, the kind that made Tom Hanks pin his survival on a basketball named Wilson in Cast Away.

O’s collection has been built up over the years with long walks along Boston’s railway corridors where he’s been known to find as many as 310 balls in a single day. "I’ve developed ball radar," he says, describing his passion for ball finding in almost spiritual terms. "I now maintain a certain equilibrium of finding and not finding balls," he says. And: "I feel like I was chosen to do this, more than I chose to do it."

He has close to 16,000 balls of every size and shape stashed away in a barn at the moment. The entire collection has recently been bought and will be used to make a ball-covered rooftop on an artist co-op in Boston.

Davey and O are both surprised there aren’t more artists collecting balls. In fact, when Davey came across one of O’s "ball walks" in a catalogue for the exhibition Game Show at MASS MoCA in 2002, it was first time he had found another artist using balls. Davey called up O and after sharing a bit of ball-lore O invited Davey down to North Adams to add a new ball-art component to the exhibition. Davey loaded up boxes of balls and took the train down. He arranged all his balls in a trophy case and titled the piece The Great Lake Ball Vitrine.

And there are indeed cultural differences between Canadian and U.S. balls, says Davey. "We have balls here that they don’t. In Canada, we make more balls with dogs in mind." Kongs and foxtails, for instance, are not sold in the U.S., and cricket balls are more common in Canada. But the U.S., Davey says, make "stupendous" basketballs.

Inter Species by Danny O, Michael Davey and Angus is viewable 24/7 until September 19 at Canada Quay at Harbourfront Centre (Westside window).

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Save Coach House Petition - July 17, 2004

Here's a take-action follow-up to the Coach House Press crisis I posted last week....

As many of you know, Coach House has been fighting to save its home. Our landlord, Campus Co-op Residence Inc., plans to expand its own property, and this development directly threatens the buildings that Coach House has occupied for forty years.

However, we have just received word that we're on the list for recommendation for historical designation. They'll vote on it at city council next week. Now, this is only the first stage. After city
designation (which is certainly not guaranteed), we need provincial designation, and then we need to work with Co-op to make things work well for both of us. This is a great start, but we still need your support!

So we're asking you to please sign our petition, and to pass it along to anyone else you think might like to help. Check it out at: Save Coach House

For more information, check our website

Monday, July 12, 2004

Blue Republic at Peak Gallery -- N. Post July 10, 2004

I love this show. Blue Republic’s para-conceptual work is about life, art and economic and political imbalances around the globe, but you wouldn’t know it at first glance. At first glance you get a room full of jokey sculptures with smart, zippy titles, like a stepladder covered in Legos that’s titled "Beautiful Infections."

But then there are works like "Cambodia," where a pair of flipflops have been embedded into bag of plaster, which manages to symbolize in quiet, minimalist terms, a concise image of the country’s chronic state of impoverishment and immobility. Politically charged yes, but the Toronto-based collective (Anna Passakas and Radoslaw Kudlinski, who are both from Poland originally) avoid any socialist sloganeering. "Middle Eastern League: Israel vs. Palestine 0:0," for instance, is a pair of lush-looking still-life photographs of a dozen apples cut into squares and stacked like bricks. Both pictures are of the same apples, they’re just rearranged in slightly different rows, indicting the minor distinctions between team Israel and team Palestine, when you get right down to it.

As for the garbage on the floor that’s been swept away in circles with a radius of what might be called our own personal space (the span of an extended arm), it’s part of Blue's "Limited Activities" series, and another visual comment on how we keep our own yards clean of dirt at cost of everyone and everything else. --co

Waiting Room -- Works from Future, by Blue Republic runs until July 27 at Peak Gallery 23 Morrow Ave. $50-$9000.

Sandy Plotnikoff at Headspace -- N. Post, July 10,2004

Sandy Plotnikoff doesn’t know how many clothing snaps he’s made into art over the past few years, but I would venture it must be in the millions by now. It all started as a project of microscopic proportions, when Plotnikoff, an artist of extreme subtleties, bought himself a snap machine.

At first he would go around town discreetly snapping a colourful snap onto people’s undone snap-up coats when they weren’t looking. He would stick a new top half of a snap onto the coat’s snap bottom, like a wayward burr clinging to fleece. He never stayed around to witness the response when the coat owners tried to snap up their jackets and discovered the extra snaps. Plotnikoff saw his tiny interventions as a spontaneous performance between the snap and the snapee, a work of art that could spark reactions of bafflement and confusion from those who had become inadvertent owners to an original work of art. And who knows if anyone besides Plotnikoff saw these small gifts as art at all.

Since those subtler times, Plotnikoff’s snaps have become a local cottage industry. He is now Sandyplot the snap artist, and his hugely popular Sandyplot bracelets, a leather strap with colourful snaps all around it, is standard uniform on the wrists of artists on Queen West. He has made thousands of them, every one a different combination of snap colours and snap sizes. Up until recently they’ve been sold at art events and artist-run centres, like Art Metropole.

Two weeks ago Eileen Sommerman, an independent curator who programs a small art space in the cafe of Holt Renfrew called Headspace, took the Sandyplot snap art one degree closer to the world of fashion, and another thin layer further from art. She set up a Sandyplot snap shop on the store’s mezzanine, as one installation of a larger Headspace exhibition. At the table there’s an impressive display of Sandyplot bracelets, as well as some of his other snap art works, like the Sandyplot rubberband with snap, the Band-Aid with snap, and the Band-Aid with snap as refrigerator magnet. It’s a great display, and the salesclerk, Jessie, who has a graduate degree in art history, is quick to tell customers these bracelets aren’t just bracelets, they’re actually art.

The question that surrounds this loaded little table is whether Plotnikoff’s art, now that it has drifted into the realm of haute couture, is still art. When do snap bracelets stop being an idea and start becoming novelty bobbles for insatiable shoppers? And do these distinctions even matter?

Through her curatorial goggles, Sommerman sees Sandyplot bracelets as art no matter where they’re sold, because they’re made as art. The challenge that intrigues Sommerman is putting art in places where people don’t expect to find it, like at Holt’s. It’s very a Plotnikoff thing to do, actually, to narrow the distinguishing features of art to a point where it’s only a matter of perspective that determines its status.

Sommerman says there’s definitely "a collision of two worlds" happening at the outpost between shoppers and the art. "You want to guard it as art. We tell people, ‘It’s a bracelet, but you’re also wearing an idea.’ They can relate to that." So far, the response has ranged from very positive to mildly curious to total disinterest, which is close to how people usually react to art. As Sommerman concedes, "When you put art out into the elements, it tends to weather a bit." --co

The Sandyplot outpost remains open until (at least) Sunday. The artist will also be selling his snap art this weekend at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition at Nathan Phillips Square.

Max Dean at Susan Hobbs -- N. Post, July 3, 2004

Max Dean’s latest operatic-scale video projection at the Susan Hobbs Gallery has the usual top-grade technological production value and virtual awesomeness we’ve come to expect from the man who has been building mechanical-type art since the 1970s.

Two years ago, Dean filled the same gallery with a video-installation called Mist, which projected the mighty Niagara Falls onto a giant curving screen. It was just like being there with the sound of thundering water completely engulfing the room and drowning out any chance of conversation. And, the sexual seduction which that natural wonder of the world so ably embodies was doubly and hilariously reinforced in Dean’s video with the on-again/off-again appearance of a pair of woman’s hands lifting the curtain of rushing water up to reveal her naked legs, as though the falls was her own skirt she was hiking upward.

Dean is definitely attracted to the blatant masculinity of rushing water. On the phone in Ottawa he says, "This is not a very politically correct show, I’m afraid. I’m a Cancer, so I love water. I love the situation [the falls] puts you in, of dropping over the edge, of jumping without a fence. The sexual pull of that is enormous."

Snap is part two of a planned trilogy. This time, you walk into the gallery to face a head-on view of Niagara. A man’s forearm slowly emerges out of the watery scene and then snaps his fingers hard. For the finale, you have to walk outside, down the alley and through the gallery’s back door where a second multi-screen video projects a view from one of the observation portals behind the falls. Out of the haze a paper airplane glides gently into the rushing water before disappearing into a watery sheet of whiteness. Just as it disappears the other video’s snapping fingers are heard, like the lost paper bird has been caught on the other side between thumb and finger.

Why finger snapping? Dean says he’s attracted to the gesture because of its many possible meanings. "Around 1991 I started exploring reckless behaviour and how it relates to the falls and that power of inevitability," he says admitting, too, that the work is quite personal. (Dean has recently split from long-time girlfriend Ydessa Hendeles.) "It’s all represented in the falls. It’s not about sensation as much as the decision aspect of, ah, jumping in. The snap is like a commitment to a decision. The snap decision. There’s a certain recklessness."

More snapping continues upstairs with photographs, a video and an image of an arm that’s triggered to snap when motion is detected. --co

Max Dean’s Snap runs until July 31 at Susan Hobbs Gallery, 137 Tecumseth Street. $1500-$45,000.

Lisa Neighbour at Katharine Mulherine - N. Post, July 3, 2004

Lisa Neighbour’s School of Knots is a real shot of visual spectacle, a sublime and obsessively crafted series of light-bulb wall sculptures held together by reams of electrical wires that have been strung together by the long forgotten art of macrame. Neighbour has been working with bulbs and braided electrical cords since the early 1990s to varying degrees of masterful success. This rich dazzler of a show is best seen at night and looking in at the one-room gallery space from outside. It’s all lit up like a Portuguese festival. -co

At Katharine Mulherin Gallery until July 18. 1086 Queen Street West. $400-$5000.

Double CHIN at Katharine Mulherin - N. Post , July 3, 2004

Taking its namesake from the big, messy and age-old picnic now sprawled across the CNE grounds this weekend, Double CHIN Picnic is another type of family event -- an exhibition of four gay and lesbian friends who are old hats at turning Value Village junk culture into crafty works of art.

Sad but funny photographs titled "Am I Becoming My Father?" show local writer-artist-poet R.M. Vaughan trying to squeeze his full-size body into the jackets of his recently deceased father who was, obviously, quite a bit leaner. Vaughan’s photos are as self-depricating as those Cary Leibowitz gay yarmulkes now on sale at Art Metropole, and as sadsack as any David Shrigley drawing.

Andrew Harwood’s thermos series titled "Picnic," includes a giant mobile of plastic lunch-box thermoses spinning in motorized circles; and Allyson Mitchell and Christina Zeidler’s "Oh, Lesbian Organic Shoppers" is a wall-mounted mandela with two Chatty Cathy dolls enshrined in blissful union at the centre, and surrounded in vintage plastic flowers and Astroturf. But Mitchell’s apple-head dolls (remember those?) stuffed into glass fish bowls are the true gems of this show, if only because these petrified beings have been futuristically titled "Gay Pride 2054." --co

Double CHIN Picnic runs until July 18 at Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects, 1080 Queen Street West. $2 - $2000

Monday, July 05, 2004

Coach House Press no more?

This is SCARY! No no, it's sick. Coach House Press is about to be knocked down to make way for another U of T residency. Here's John Barber's excellent article in Saturday's Globe and Mail. Time to call Mayor Miller!

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Steve Kurtz update

Critical Art Ensemble artist Steve Kurtz has been charged with "mail fraud" by US courts, not with bioterrorism as many of us who have been watching this story unfold over the past weeks had thought was going to happen. Here's what says and the CAE Defense Fund.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Coupland at DX - N. Post, June 26, 2004

Not everyone knows that Douglas Coupland, the Vancouver-based novelist and city guide book writer, is also an artist. In fact, he was an artist before he became a writer. It’s just that when his first novel, Generation X, became the literary beacon of a whole swathe of disenfranchised youth back in 1991, his art just wasn’t as conspicuously public. Once in a while his brightly coloured sculptures, shaped like giant bottles of Tide and Sunlight dishwashing detergent, turn up in exhibitions in his hometown, and occasionally Monte Clark Gallery in Toronto puts up some of his still-life photographs. But Coupland’s been more serious about his art than many realize.

Canada House, which opens at the Design Exchange on Canada Day (this coming Thursday), is the title of his latest body of work, a gathering of sculptures assembled out of waterlogged foam, hand-stitched crazy quilts, custom-designed home furnishings, and a number of two-headed push-me-pull-you Canadian geese which Coupland has made by gluing plastic decoys together. Canadian art has never looked more patriotic. It’s like this is his one-man mission to update Canada’s hoser and mullet reputation with a whole new lifestyle nip-and-tuck not imagined since Moshe Safdie built Habitat.

There won’t be a house though, not as there was when this project was first installed last November in Vancouver. Coupland found a house that was about to be demolished, a classic 1950s bungalow, the kind that line the cul-de-sacs of Don Mills. He took it over for the run of the exhibition and had the entire interior -- including walls, floors, stove burners and the flatstone fireplace -- sprayed with three coats of white paint, giving the house a gallery-white seriousness as well as a modish effect, like something out of a James Bond flick. The allover whiteness also made it look like the house was covered in a layer of ice. A rather appropriate frozen-in-time look, given the Northern theme of this exhibition.

Canada House at DX is the contents of that house only -- the art and objects Coupland has made with comical Canadiana detail. It takes a moment of looking at sculptures made out Canadian Tire hubcaps and wooden Hydro wire tower object to realize just how quintessentially Canadian these things really are.

One of the furniture designs is a Victorian-style kissing seat with cushions made out of hunting jacket wool. One seat has blue checker cushions, the other is in red checks. I take the red-blue divide to be a reference to Liberals and Tories, though it could just as easily be the divide between French and English, Eastern and Western Canada, First Nations and everyone else. Coupland has titled the platonic loveseat "Two Solitudes," and physically it looks like Charles Eames meets Bob and Doug McKenzie.

A dozen or so floor lamps have been made out of bouys that have been rubbed down to soft pillow after by years of bobbing around in Arctic waters. They’ve been stacked vertically like totem poles. On the walls are quilts embedded with hubcaps and perforated with catgut dream catchers.

Canada House, as you can gather, is chalk full of punchlines. In fact, it is just this kind of easy-to-read cultural mixing-and-matching that tends to irk some critics of Coupland’s books, those who sense he is too much in love with branding to be a legitimate satirist of modern times.

Last Tuesday evening, at a talk Coupland gave at the DX, and in discussion with designer Bruce Mau, he compared his creative process to dumpster diving. "I love dumpster diving," he said squirming happily and neurotically in his chair. "You don’t know what’s swirling in the mess."

Personally, I don’t mind Coupland’s glib style of creativity, in his art or his writing. Saying his books aren’t all that deep is like criticizing sitcoms for being too superficial. I tend to read his books the same way I watch videos -- while doing something else, like patting the cat or replacing batteries in things. He really just wants, as he says, to dumpster dive through the beautiful ugliness of modern life. And because he is so affectionate about our insatiable narcissism, he’s become one of the most astute observers of human freakishness. Coupland is the ring barer of Gen Xers, microserfers, and highschool gunmen not by inventing anything, but by being the first to transplant cultural phenomena into a form of art. It’s a kind of Andy Warhol approach to mastering superficiality.
Canada House is the art version of what Coupland does in his novels – a distillation of culture. That kind of fast-paced simplicity is can be silly enough to dismiss, but then you can look at it another way. If Coupland were a comedian he’d be Rick Mercer when he’s doing his political rants while walking and turning corners really fast. The pace, the style, the directness of it all turns rather common viewpoints into poignant observations. You really can’t separate Coupland’s art from his books or from who he is, just like Mercer needs to be walking and ranting all at once. It’s a package deal. The art is one thing, but "Coupland Country" is pretty darn good.

Last thing of note: This exhibition also coincides with release of Coupland’s newest title Souvenir of Canada 2, which includes images of the first Canada House in the Vancouver bungalow.

Canada House runs July 1 to August 29 at Design Exchange, 234 Bay Street. DX$8 (but free admission on Canada Day)