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