Friday, April 16, 2004

Heeellllooooo in there...

Heellloooo, I'm guessing you're here because of Sally at digital media tree. She's the only one who knows I've been working late on this blog. I'm still on a STEEP blog learning ladder, so for now here are some of my National Post art columns that have been in the Toronto section each Saturday since August/04. My articles don't appear on the paper's website so if you didn't read them in real life, you can here. I'll be posting the articles each week, 5 days after they've been printed. I'm also posting them as I wrote them, so there'll be some small differences between what's here and what was in the paper.

Also, I wouldn't mind knowing who you are, so if you want to send me an email that would be great! If the Email Me! button doesn't work (and I have a feeling I haven't set that up right yet) my email is:

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Images Festival 2004 - National Post Apr 10/04

The most glaring change about this year's crop of 140-plus moving images that make up Images Festival 2004, is that the whole debate around film-versus-video-versus-digital, which believe it or not was a going concern in the 1990s, has pretty much been turfed. New art media types no longer distinguish the pros from the amateurs by what kind of camera is being used. Everybody is intermixing with abandon these days, now that laptop editing and downloading is as common as Starbucks.

But then Images Festival has always maintained impressively loose parameters on these sorts of territory issues. Unlike other festivals that declare their specialized narrowness, Hot Docs or the One-minute Film Festival for example, Images always unpacks for its willing viewers a complicated mix of underground low-tech new media that includes feature-length flicks as well as micro-short obsessive home-videos, one-off live performance-based projections that are screened in small dark theatres, and "curated" screenings that follow themes, like this year's collection of shorts about nihilism and self-loathing. That particular evening has been titled Self-defecating Theatre of Cruelty and is being presented by local video and vomit artist Jubal Brown (April 21 at Innis Town Hall). Also in the mix is about a dozen galleries providing space for installations of moving images that are also partly sculpture.

There are definitely some good alt-movies to be seen. New York's Julie Talen's opening gala feature Pretend (April 15 at Bloor Cinema) has been getting gushing webzine reviews for its intense use of video split-screens that present as many as a dozen variations of the same scene all at once. It's a confusing format at first but becomes riveting as the emotional impact of the narrative unfolds. Two young sisters, determined to keep their parents from splitting, come up with a plan: older sister Sophie will hide younger sister Ellie in the forest and tell mom and dad she's been kidnapped. The plan works brilliantly and mom and dad freak. As the story peaks so do the multi-frames, adding a frantic and bewildering overall chaos. Digital split-screening has been used before. Ang Lee used it in The Hulk, but Talen fully exploits the novel technique and surprisingly it doesn't suffer from overkill.

Talen's high-tech is the polar opposite to the work of local video artist Leslie Peters who is this year's featured spotlight artist. Peters, 29, has been producing short, short videos since the late 90s and despite being part of an intensely media-savvy generation, her idiosyncratic videos are like streams of raw footage that appear to be entirely free of any post-production tinkering.

401:01, shot from a moving car is just under two minutes long and records a single-cut stream of asphalt, yellow passing lines and big wheelers whizzing by on the 401. The camera's audio, being hit by the wind as the car travels at highway speed, creates a soundtrack of aural static not unlike the climatic distortions of an electric guitar. It's a tough-looking rolling image of stress and hardness that momentarily turns into quivering abstractions of acidic colour and line (April 16 at Innis Town Hall). Granted Peters' images border on the tedious but they maintain an edgy melancholy that tends to work more often than not.

The other glaring thing about this year's festival is the number of works dealing with fear, war and hate. It's like the teary-eyed give-peace-a-chance mood immediately following 9/11 that shutdown irony (for at least a week) as well as political discussion in art for the past few years has finally been lifted and the mood is now ripe for a serious look at how screwed we really are at the start of the 21st century.

Five of the festival's programs address war directly, including Barbara Hammer's Resisting Paradise, an historic look back on painter Matisse and the French Resistance fighters during the second world war (April 18 at Innis Town Hall).

There is also two of Toronto's favourite perennial dark horses, Jubal Brown and his newest dissolute flick We're in Heaven, about de-evolution and "the search for god in death" (April 20 at Innis Town Hall), and John Marriott whose latest short is titled today (April 20 at Innis Town Hall). Marriott asked high school students to debate the famed Manowar lyrics "today's a good day to die" that have made even more famous by the Columbine murders.

Then there is the avant-garde "sound stew" of the Montreal band Shalabi Effect improvising live to the 1968 Argentinian revolutionary classic The Hour of the Furnaces, an experimental and critically raw doc about U.S. intervention in South America during the 1960s (April 22 at Innis Town Hall).

Harun Farocki's superb War at a Distance traces the history of missile guidance systems and shows how war technology has been adopted into our daily lives. Farocki's screening follows what will likely be another terrifying reality-check on our military dependency, an illustrated talk by Village Voice film critic Ed Halter on how military technology is being used in the entertainment industry (April 18 at Innis Town Hall).

And, in yet another twist on reality TV, there is Auslander Raus! Schlingenshief's Container. Austrian doc filmmaker, web designer and "media scientist" Paul Poet worked alongside political art provocateur Christoph Schlingensief who staged a week-long game-show performance where 12 real refugee applicants were held in a shipping container in Vienna while their lives were streamed over the web. Online and at the site viewers voted out their least favourite refugee each day, effectively deporting them out of Austria. The performance led to a barely contained form of neo-Nazi hysteria that gripped Austria as the week wore on.

There's plenty more fear factor programming along with the usual assortment of veteran experimental auteurists (Michael Snow, Carl Brown, John Oswald, Richard Fung) and do-it-yourself slacker artists (Allyson Mitchell, Daniel Cockburn). Painter Shaan Syed, recently long-listed for the 2004 Sobey Award, has taped together 720 picture frames of two dogs screwing for his 30-second video titled Two Dogs (one of two prescreen loops). Daniel Barrow's draws his animation on mylar transparencies and projects them live on an overhead projector while delivering a narrative monologue. His fabulous The Face of Everything is loosely based on Liberace's boyfriends (April 24 at Innis Town Hall).

Three worthy others: Daniel Olson's Sleeping Giant (at the Art Gallery of Ontario), where the artist leaves the camera rolling and positioned on his heaving chest (lens facing his unshaven chin) as he sleeps off a couple rounds of Guinness. Adad Hannah's Still at Gallery TPW is a video projection that is cued up to fade from sight when you move near it. And, Tom Veraline of the band Television performs live with music composed for a series of 1920s art films, including Man Ray's Etoile de mer (starring Kiki de Montparnasse) and Fernand Leger's ultra-famous Ballet Mecanique (April 16 at Innis Town Hall). Not to be missed. - Catherine Osborne

Images Festival 2004 runs from April 15 to 24 at various venues. Tickets and passes available at 401 Richmond Street West, 4th floor, or call 416-971-8405. $8 general admission, $75 festival pass.

Satchel Gallery - National Post Apr 10/04

Toronto has its fair share of galleries that are so small lots of people walk right by them without even noticing. There's Barr Gilmore's consistently excellent Solo Exhibition space, a window that is 18-inches wide and 96-inches high, and sandwhiched discreetly beside Dufflet's Pasteries at 787 Queen Street West. Currently on view is one of Paul P.'s paintings of a young man in pink. Titled Pink Gothic, the painting is similar to the exquisite light-touch works that are included in the Power Plant's current Republic of Love exhibition. [Blog extra: Actually I got that bit wrong. Paul P.'s pink boy was NOT in the SOLO window when this article ran. It was filmmaker Maris Mezulis's Peep installation, which I don't have a pic of, but here's a little Q-time vid of Mezulis's Bus Stop]

And there is Lynne Rosen's Look Up Gallery located between two second-floor windows near Beaconsfield and Queen West. Weather-tough art is suspended over the sidewalk, and of course, you have to look up to see it.

But Anitra Hamilton's newly launched art space called Satchel Gallery, which is located inside her sturdy yellow carry-all bag, is definitely the smallest gallery in town at the moment.

Hamilton tells me she's heard of even smaller galleries than hers. In the UK someone has been curating exhibitions in their breast pocket. There is also a gallerist wandering around Halifax who has set up exhibition space on a bald spot of his otherwise bearded cheek. The patch of skin is programmed for site-specific works, and things like plastercine sculptures have been built and attached to his face for extended periods.

Hamilton, an artist herself, is being more practical about comfort and portability. She carries Satchel Gallery over her shoulder whenever she goes out. "I'm at gallery openings all the time anyway," she says, "so I thought, why not carry someone's art with me."

So far, art in a bag has been a huge micro-hit among opening partiers. The most common question asked is, "how can get a show?"

Currently Hamilton is sticking with a one artist, one work, for one month program schedule. This month Germaine Koh's Placebo is in the bag. The work is a small medicine bottle filled with 25 pill-size stones that you swallow to help root yourself by switching your focus and meditating on the wee stone as it passes through your body. "It's ecstasy for awareness," says Koh. People were happily popping stones at the recent Rodney Graham exhibition gala and at Ydessa Hendeles's opening last Saturday.

A full bottle sells for $75, which is not a bad deal for a work of art made by one of Canada's leading conceptualists; Koh has just been short-listed for this year's Sobey Art Award, a $50,000 prize given out every other year to an artist under the age of 40.

The Gallery has quickly attracted other high-ranking artists since it opened in March with a small booklet made by Calgary artist Jade Rude. The booklet, titled My Name Is, documents Rude's vinyl lettering graffiti which uses the nametag phrase as a street tag. In May, Alex Snukal has been commissioned to make a new work, and Hamilton plans exhibit Daniel Olson, Alexander Irving and Marla Hlady, all of whom have substantial art careers. Even AGO staffer Janna Graham wants to take the gallery on tour and act as animateur, giving a little schpele on each artist's background and concepts.

"I don't want to get too serious about this," says Hamilton. "I'm not documenting the shows or building a website or anything. It's pretty casual." In fact, to see the show you have run into Anitra at a gallery opening and request a viewing. The effect of Satchel Gallery is all in the social transaction it sparks. - Catherine Osborne

For more info, email Germaine Koh's Placebo can be purchased online at Art Metropole and weework.