11 April 2017

FOUR DECADES OF PHOTOGRAPHY

MASTHEAD

11 April 2017

Volume 2 Number 8 Copyright 2017

ISSN 2561-3316

 

Galleries West Digital is an online magazine published every second Tuesday to promote and advance the visual arts. Launched in 2016, it replaces the print version of Galleries West magazine, which covered art and artists in Western Canada for 15 years. Our award-winning website, gallerieswest.ca, the repository for all content, is an open archive of information about the arts in communities large and small throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columba as well as Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

 

Editor Portia Priegert
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Contributors Paul Gessell, Rachel Rosenfield Lafo, Agnieszka Matejko
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Jeff Wall, "The Destroyed Room," 1978, printed 1987, Cibachrome transparency in fluorescent lightbox, 70" × 98" × 8" National Gallery of Canada, purchased 1988.

COVER STORY

Four Decades of Photography at the National Gallery

So, where is Stan Douglas? And where, for that matter, is the Vancouver School of photo conceptualism? Those questions hang over a new exhibition, Photography in Canada: 1960-2000, at the National Gallery of Canada. It’s the first in a series of shows that examine both historical and contemporary Canadian art in this, the 150th anniversary of Confederation. This initial photography offering, limited to works held by the National Gallery, is a comforting family album, with brilliant innovators like Michael Snow, Lynne Cohen and Edward Burtynsky now seen, decades later, as more establishment than daring. Although Vancouver’s Stan Douglas is one of the most celebrated photo-artists in the post-Centennial period, not one of the 100 works in this exhibition of 71 artists is his, although the gallery owns several. As well, there is no mention of the so-called Vancouver School of photoconceptualism, to which Douglas is deemed to belong, although works from such other West Coast photoconceptualists as Ken Lum, Rodney Graham, N.E. Thing Co. and Jeff Wall pepper the show. Superstar Wall quite rightly gets his own room, at the end of the exhibition for his gaudy, messy lightbox image, The Destroyed Room, a 1978 image inspired by the Eugène Delacroix painting, The Death of Sardanapalus. Thus, the otherwise staid exhibition ends with a bang, Wall’s image as startling as a freeway car crash. Lum, Graham and the rest, are not grouped together in one cozy Vancouver-centric area. Instead, they are scattered around the five-room, summer-long Ottawa exhibition like a bunch of irate relatives who have stopped talking to one another. And yet, they are among the best-known and most celebrated Canadian artists of the late 20th century. New York and Berlin love them. They have made Canada cool. Don’t they deserve a collective pat on the back in an exhibition covering their heyday? More ►

– Paul Gessell

 

George Littlechild works on a new version of his 1996 installation, "Displaced Indians: The Sixties Scoop," in his studio on Vancouver Island.

FIVE THINGS

Winnipeg Project Looks at the Sixties Scoop

1

The snapshot shows children dressed for Halloween on an Edmonton street in the 1960s. One child wears a cat mask. A blonde girl in a pillbox hat shields her eyes from the sun with one hand. To their left, a little apart from the others, is a boy with dark hair and eyes, dressed in brown. Long feathers ring his head. He holds a mask in one hand. It catches the bright light, washing out to a piercing white. The boy’s expression is hard to read. Confused, perhaps? Or disconnected? The boy is George Littlechild. And it’s easy to see why this photo, Little Indian Foster Boy #4, with the various identities it posits, elides and erases, is part of his reprise of his seminal 1996 multimedia installation. The work, with its text panels and photos, has a much different tone than the vibrantly coloured expressive paintings Littlechild sells through commercial galleries. But he says all his work deals with social and political issues. Art is his tool for resistance – and transformation. Littlechild has faced many struggles in his life. He was part of the Sixties Scoop, when thousands of indigenous children were removed from troubled homes and adopted or fostered, mostly by white middle-class families. Officials at the time may have thought they were acting in the children’s best interests, but an Ontario judge ruled in February that Canada had failed to protect their cultural identity. Littlechild was just four when authorities took him away. He lived with five foster families, enduring racism and, at times, beatings. He lost touch with his siblings and parents, as well as his culture and community. But art helped him survive, giving him a way to express his inner turmoil and feelings of alienation. “I’m very fortunate I had my art,” he says. Littlechild’s installation, Displaced Indians: The Sixties Scoop, is on view until April 28 at Urban Shaman, an aboriginal artist-run centre in Winnipeg. It’s part of a group show titled A Place Between, believed to be the first major Canadian exhibition to look at the Sixties Scoop. The groundbreaking project is complex. It includes more than 20 contemporary artists and various activities, including screenings, artist talks, performances and even a billboard, all aimed at promoting dialogue about a troubled chapter in Canada’s history. More ►

– Portia Priegert

Howie Tsui, "Retainers of Anarchy," 2017, key frame drawing for algorithmic animation sequence, courtesy of the artist

FIVE THINGS

Howie Tsui: Retainers of Anarchy

2

Howie Tsui’s tour de force exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, a collaboration with the Ottawa Art Gallery and the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, is a fascinating fusion of characters and tropes from the world of wuxia – Chinese martial arts fantasy fiction – with events from Hong Kong history and politics. Vancouver-based Tsui, who was born in Hong Kong and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and Thunder Bay, Ont., has long investigated themes from Asian popular culture and history. Whether referencing ghost stories, ancient cosmology and bestiaries, Hokusai’s manga drawings, or erotic Shunga paintings, Tsui’s abiding interest has been how these narratives have relevance to contemporary socio-political events. He explores these themes from the vantage point of a Western-educated Hong Kongese whose knowledge of his native culture came initially from movies and television. As he explains, wuxia was “very popular within the Chinese diaspora because, for many of us, you become disconnected with your culture, beyond the domestic applications of language and home cuisine.” The journey through Tsui’s exhibition, Retainers of Anarchy, on view until May 28, begins in a dark gallery with the sound sculpture Hei Gung Deviation, a wooden structure built to resemble a kung fu training dummy. Motion sensors trigger percussive tapping, mimicking the sound martial artists make when training on wooden dummies. Burnt into the surface of the wood are Tsui’s characteristic grotesqueries, drawings of monstrous and exaggerated faces, animals and objects that represent a visual catalogue of martial arts techniques. More ►

– Rachel Rosenfield Lafo

 

Pilar Mehlis, "Antrofish," 2016, Hydrostone plaster, encaustic medium, canvas, paper patterns, acrylic gels, feathers, fishing line, oil paint and wire mesh, 19" x 6" x 8" (each) photo by Byron Dauncey

FIVE THINGS

Hybrid Sculptures Reflect Immigrant Experience

3

When Pilar Mehlis was a girl in Bolivia, she went to festivals where traditional dancers wore fanciful costumes. “You have these huge groups of people in coordinated dances with musicians and it’s very festive,” says Mehlis. “When you’re little, like I was when these things first made an impression on me, you see a lot of human legs and then the rest of the body is something else that is very magical or colourful, very exotic.” Mehlis thinks that experience informed her latest work Antrofish, on view at the Herringer Kiss Gallery in Calgary until May 6. For each sculpture, Mehlis sewed a fish costume out of canvas, with fins made from tissue sewing patterns firmed up with gel medium. She then popped the fish over human legs cast in plaster, giving new form to age-old ideas of human-animal hybrids. Antrofish, which takes the first half of its name from the Spanish word antropomórfico or anthropomorphic, also reflects on her experience of living between two cultures. Mehlis moved to Yukon with her family in 1983 when she was 12, and returned to Bolivia for her final year of high school and university. She eventually returned to Canada, and studied visual arts at the University of Victoria, before moving to Vancouver, where she now makes her home. More ►

– Portia Priegert

Andrea Kastner, "Home Again," 2017, oil on canvas, 22" x 26"

FIVE THINGS

Urban Rubble and Everyday Life

4

Imagine a city without inhabitants. No stray dogs prowl through back alleys, no weeds sprout through cracks in the concrete. Such unsettling urban vistas are the subject of Andrea Kastner’s show, Shadow Cities, on view at Edmonton’s Scott Gallery until April 29. With such dystopian images, you might think visitors would take one look and turn on their heels. Yet Kastner’s oil paintings, with soft blues or vibrant reds scattered like jewels in the rubble, offer unexpected pleasure. Something new, mysterious and insightful is hidden within this old-fashioned medium. Kastner knows the urban landscape intimately. She has lived in five Canadian cities, including her hometown of Montreal and Edmonton, where she received her Master’s degree in visual arts in 2012 from the University of Alberta. She is not drawn to popular sites where tourists gather. Instead, she explores cities from the inside out. “I have always been drawn to neglected, in-between places and things: alleyways, backyards, garbage, construction and demolition sites,” she says. “There is something vulnerable and luminous about the rubble of everyday life.” More ►

Agnieszka Matejko

Bentley Meeker, "#weedworld," 2017, incandescent lights and dichroic templates, installation view, photo by Stephanie Seaton, Penticton Art Gallery

FIVE THINGS

#Grassland Smoking Up the Okanagan

5

#Grassland, an exhibition with work from some 100 artists who explore the art, history and politics of marijuana, is on view at the Penticton Art Gallery until May 14. Although the Okanagan is best known as wine country, it also contributes to British Columbia’s blooming cannabis industry, a fact not lost on the gallery’s director and curator, Paul Crawford. He grew interested in cannabis culture when he worked at an art gallery in the nearby Kootenay region, where grow ops keep many small-town economies afloat. Now, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau poised to introduce legislation to legalize marijuana by July 1, 2018, the timing for an exhibition seemed right. “It’s a really curious period in history,” says Crawford, who believes it’s the first time a public gallery in Canada has done a major exhibition about marijuana. Public response has been great with people popping in to see an immersive installation by New York lighting artist Bentley Meeker. There are also videos, editorial cartoons and various artworks from as far away as Florida and Brazil. “People are just streaming in,” says Crawford. “I wish it was always this easy.” Crawford found many of the exhibiting artists online, and says he tried to stay away from stereotypical pot culture imagery, except in the college dorm room he recreated in one part of the gallery. The show runs in conjunction with #Glassland, which features a selection of bongs crafted by Patrick “Redbird” Vrolyk, a Penticton glass blower. The gallery has scheduled public discussions with police officers, city officials and mental health experts during the exhibition. There’s no smoking lounge, but the show is enhanced, shall we say, with foliage. More Images ►

Beau Dick, photo by Farah Nosh

NEWS ROUNDUP

Beau Dick Dead at 61

Celebrated Northwest Coast carver Beau Dick has died at age 61. Dick, a Kwakwaka’wakw hereditary chief from the northern tip of Vancouver Island, was known for his masks and political activism. CBC reported that Dick, who lives in Alert Bay, had a stroke several months ago and never fully recovered. His masks are currently on view in Athens at documenta 14, a major international contemporary art exhibition. Candice Hopkins, part of the documenta curatorial team, says Dick had hoped to travel to Athens to meet with migrants forced to leave their homelands. “Beau rose up because he was fearless,” Hopkins writes in an documenta 14 essay. “His work as an artist, his role as a father, and his leadership in his community knew no bounds. True to his nature, he was always sharing his knowledge, skills, stories and songs, mentoring anyone with the time and the interest.” The Box of Treasures: Gifts from the Supernatural, Dick’s groundbreaking 2015 exhibition of rare ceremonial works, along with pieces by other carvers, drew wide attention at the Bill Reid Gallery in Vancouver. Dick’s political activities included copper-breaking ceremonies – a traditional shaming activity – at the B.C. legislature in Victoria and on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He was trying to bring attention to the injustices faced by aboriginal communities.
In other news:

  • Vancouver artist Carol Itter has been awarded this year’s Audain Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts. Lyse Lemieux, also of Vancouver, received the VIVA Award, granted annually by the Jack and Doris Shadbolt Foundation for the Visual Arts. Grant Arnold, a curator at the Vancouver Art Gallery, was given the Alvin Balkind Curator’s Prize. The awards ceremony will be held April 19.
  • Vancouver-based Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore is showing her work as part of documenta 14 in Athens.
  • The father and son duo of Ron and Damian Moppett will show their work in tandem at the National Gallery of Canada from May 12 to Sept. 10. They are part of the Ottawa gallery’s Masterpiece in Focus series.
  • The Art Gallery of Ontario is hosting a major retrospective of American artist Georgia O’Keeffe from April 22 to July 30. It’s the show’s only North American stop.
  • Kimberly Phillips has been appointed curator of the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver. She was the director and curator across town at Access Gallery for four years.
  • American artist Ann Hamilton will speak at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on April 13.
  • The latest online project from the Remai Modern in Saskatoon is a video by Berlin-based Italian artist Rosa Barba.

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