Saturday, April 24, 2004

In case you haven't heard...

Carly Butler is starting up her Above My Sofa Artart gallery again in a few weeks with drawings by Stephanie Beliveau, being shipped from Galerie Simon Blais in Montreal as I write this.

Lisa Klapstock - National Post Apr 17/04

For the sake of the installation crew who spent many hours lining up photographer Lisa Klapstock's large-scale series of self-portraits so that her fixed gaze is at the same height on the gallery walls, it was well worth the trouble.

Not that anyone will stop to appreciate this minor detail, but you'd certainly notice it if they weren't hung so exactly. Klapstock is obsessive about micro-details. In fact it's detail that counts most in her work. In each of her portraits, shot while seated in a derelict laneway somewhere in the city, there is a one-on-oneness to these portraits that require an eye-level vantage point in order for our gaze to lock immediately with hers.

Living Room is the most impactful series the Kamloops-born, Toronto-based artist has created yet. It's her straight-ahead blank stare that makes them so impressive. It's hard to resist such an open invitation to stare right back.

In each one she is seated with controlled tension on a decrepit piece of furniture and with her thumb on the button of a manually-operated shutter release. She's wearing scuffed work boots and a white zip-up jumpsuit which makes her look nondescript but purposeful. I imagine her in the role of a nuclear emissions scientist documenting the effects of radiation. Her eyes have that glassed-over forensic look, like she's sitting on furniture that might be contaminated by some unseen agent, or else it is crawling with ticks.

In actual fact, the theme behind Living Room is more of a sublime take on the uncontrolled beauty of urban decay and Klapstock's interest in the boundaries between private and public spaces. Sitting on discarded furniture found in back alleys Klapstock sees as an opportunity to momentarily claim contested urban spaces. Many times she's been asked to leave by suspicious neighbours. The police have been called to get rid of her and her camera.

The occasional dramatic reaction has actually kept Klapstock going back to the laneways. Her first explorations started in 1998 with straightforward close-ups of rusted weather-worn surfaces. She has since moved on to pointing her macro-lens through the narrow slats of wooden fences and into backyards. These peeping-Tom photographs are not as arresting they might sound. Klapstock may have felt a little devious crossing that thin membrane between the public laneway and private yard, but what is beyond is usually something mundane, like a lawn chair or pot of geraniums. Voyeurism is such a mainstay these days with the internet and reality TV that spying on a garden hose just doesn't capture a sense of intrigue.

The third laneway project in this show is probably the one Klapstock is best known for. For years she has been taking close-up shots of nail heads embedded into aged and painted wood, and then cropped them so they look like moon craters as seen through a telescope. Eventually, each little crater gets mounted to a small clear-plastic dome that sticks to the wall with a magnet. Titled Umbilicus, the domes have been set up at the Drabinsky Gallery in a vivid Varsarelyesque grid formation, 12 domes by 12 domes, and in a rainbow of colours.

I've always been a bit baffled by this quirky yet elegantly-mod project because of the sudden left turn it takes. Klapstock gives viewers the option of rearranging the magnetized spheres like it's an expanded version of the Rubic's Cube. Somehow the participatory element makes the whole piece seem unstable. It's like at the end of all her careful deliberations in transforming pictures of boring old nails into a brilliant colour-coded geometric design, we're invited to step in and mess it all up, and for no apparent reason. Still, the final work is drop-dead gorgeous, and as far as I can tell, no one's touched it yet.

Ed. note: Actually, this last part of the review ran as you see it here, but it wasn't quite right. Klapstock's Umbilicus is NOT meant to be moved around by the viewer. In earlier works from the series, she did invite viewers to interact with the work. But that is no longer the case, so please don't touch the work if you go see it. It's meant to stay just as it is.

Lisa Klapstock Recent Work runs until May 8 at the Drabinsky Gallery, 122 Scollard Street.

Janet Werner - National Post Apr 17/04

Janet Werner's new paintings at Robert Birch Gallery have her usual panache for making things look dead simple. Since 1995 the Montreal artist has been painting portraits with a reductionist's habit of tempering facial features down to their trademark characteristics and setting her subjects up against solid flat backgrounds in various off-beat colour blends. It's an endlessly intriguing combination that Werner keeps carrying off with style.

You can see every trace of her impatient brushstrokes and the hand that's behind them. Plus, this time round, she's decided to riff expertly on the long, long history of portraiture by tapping every stereotype out there, from Victorian-era cameos to Hallmark cards.
Werner is in the same cannon as Alex Katz and her British-double Elizabeth Peyton. Yet while they paint real people, Werner fabricates from memory and flirts rampantly with archetypes found in magazines, television and billboards. She builds up noses, eyes, mouths, and ears, and not always matching them perfectly.

Iconic familiarity is everywhere though, including sideways references to Batman comics and those black velvet waifs with giant foreheads and marbles for eyes. Kurt Cobain's unpolished Seattle rocker nonchalance seeps into Boy with Shag, and a blacksuited woman on all fours surrounded in a cloud of pink (Count II), could easily be Catwoman or some soft porn knockoff.

But the most audacious painting in the show is not a made-up person exactly. It's a large, 100-percent gawdy, excessively brushy rendition of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in the film My Fair Lady. Hepburn is quite possibly the most doe-eyed movie star to ever hit the screen and her Doolittle character's social ladder climbing, from street urchin to debutante, is a barely concealed acknowledgment on the part of Werner that social stature and portrait painting are never too far apart.

Janet Werner's recent works are up until May 9 at Robert Birch Gallery, Distillery District, 55 Mill Street, Building 3. $1400 - $6700.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Rodent rescue in Montreal

Nice article in today's National P. on Bill Burn's excellent Safety Gear for Small Animals exhibition at Saidye B, by fellow Post-er Samantha Grice.