2007

Smokescreens | Levin Hegel & Daniel Olson | November 16 to December 15, 2007


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Smokescreens
Levin Haegele and Daniel Olson

“...time is just the stuff it is made of.” i- Henri Bergson

In the text Creative Evolution Henri Bergson discusses various perspectives related to the idea of duration. Bergson’s understanding of duration is based on an assumption that the world has only a past, an accumulated history which continuously evolves and expands. This idea is at odds with many of our common perceptions of time as a linear continuum. For Bergson time is a thing, an object, a life-form; it grows, evolves and foremost endures. So too does time become a thing in the works of Levin Haegele and Daniel Olson, the artist’s featured in Smokescreens at TRUCK Gallery. For both of these artists time has a presence, a resonance that propels mysterious and profoundly simple investigations into material, site, perception and thought.

The title of the exhibition implies a ruse, a subtle subterfuge intended to misdirect. In Daniel Olson’s two single-channel works Illumination and Smoky Haze the feeling of a mysterious agenda is tangible. In both works there is a Noir, filmic quality suggesting fragmented narrative arcs. In Smoky Haze Olson smokes a cigarette off camera, exhaling puffs into the frame while a wind-like sound track plays. The audio is actually a slowed down recording of the artist whistling a series of random notes. In the second piece, Illumination Olson lights a matchbook in a dark space, allows it to burn, and then blows it out. What is common in both of these videos is a sense of intuitive cinematic alchemy where fragments and props become more than just passing details. Rather, the objects and materials are imbued with a sense of secret importance through the artist’s mediation. Ultimately, Olson encourages us to spend time unraveling his little mysteries. Only after careful consideration do we find that the pieces have more to do with the construction of meaning itself than any specific story or idea.

Levin Haegele’s work similarly investigates the various tensions and levels of suspended disbelief inherent to the ephemeral, but whereas Olson’s work is somewhat secretive and seductive, Haegele’s two videos utilize the openly ambiguous space between recognition and illusion. In Fuse Piece (Calgary) Haegele uses Visco (a fireworks wick) to create a looped video around the area of Truck Gallery. This fuse constantly burns, but never reaches its destination, provoking a feeling of anticipation that is ultimately unfulfilled. His second work Cigarette Piece films the red embers of a cigarette as they fall through a dark space onto the floor. The effect is reminiscent of a fireworks display, albeit without the pomp and festivity. Alternatively, we are induced into a more contemplative reading that defers from violent spectacle. Like Olson, Haegele suggests that within everyday materials resides a complexity that can be revealed through juxtaposition, re-contextualization and protracted consideration. Haegele’s two videos smack of a humble engagement with the world that is both mesmerizing and sensitive, coaxing us to further evaluate common places and objects.

Of course Smokescreens also makes reference to the generally combustible content that dominates the exhibition. Because both artist’s share commonalities of media, theme and intent the show could at once seem an easy fit and a dangerous conflagration of the artist’s work and ideas. In actuality the impact of this similarity opens up dialogue surrounding each of the artist’s individual projects. Effectively the

four videos establish an environment with an overall emphasis on brevity, understatement and contemplation. Consequently, the videos taken as a whole or in part are indicators of a larger set of concerns that feed and augment each other. Olson and Haegele’s videos become fuel for each other’s fire, igniting new trajectories while extinguishing old ones, all the while guiding a subtle investigation of the fleeting and enduring aspects of life.

i Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson, Dover Publications Inc., Mineola, New York, USA. 1998. P. 4.

Scott Rogers is a visual artist and writer based in Calgary. As a youth he was a part-time arsonist.

Sisters of the Cross | Dominique Rey | October 12 to November 11, 2007

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At a time in which critical discussions of gender in relation to visual art production seem to have retreated into the background, the work of Dominique Rey is a compelling reminder that the question of gender is still as relevant as ever. Against the backdrop of third wave feminism—a term associated with the diverse strains of feminism that originated in the early 90s, informed by poststructuralist theory and critical of the essentialist and puritanical tendencies of a previous generation of feminists—Rey has developed a body of work that examines constructions of female subjectivity and sexuality, most recently in relation to specific female sub-cultures.

In 2003, Rey traveled to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where she gained access to the Crazy Horse strip club and began photographing and videotaping the women working there. Images of the womenʼsʼ reflections in the mirror as they transform themselves into objects of male consumption are set alongside polaroid snapshots initially taken to label the consent forms the artist asked them to sign. A documentary style video records the women carefully applying their make-up—that serves both to heighten their sexuality and create a protective barrier—and talking about aspects of their everyday lives that are repressed in the performativity of the dance, which is, significantly, never shown in this body of work. In images that are heavily and self-consciously mediated in an attempt to get at the real women behind the spectacle, Rey peels away at the layers of social conditioning only to arrive at a fragmented and slippery notion of subjectivity.

The current exhibition follows a two-year investigation that examines a very different group of women: the nuns from the Sisters of the Cross order in Winnipeg. This move from the sexually charged environment of the strip club to the austere and static space of the convent inevitably brings to mind the virgin/whore dichotomy that has historically reduced women to one extreme or the other and forms the very basis of Christianity. In this work however, although Rey again utilizes lens-based media to penetrate the intimate space of her subjects, she does not photograph the nuns themselves but the empty, silent spaces they inhabit—a sitting room, a dormitory, a chapel. Instead the artist has chosen to paint her subjects in a series of watercolor portraits in which the face of each sitter is depicted in detail against a stark white background into which the rest of her body fades and disappears. It is almost as if the photographic image would have been too invasive here. While Rey had inserted her own image alongside the women she had previously photographed in order to address the ethnographic impulse of such an operation, here the moment of identification lies on the plane of spirituality—the reflection and self awareness that the artist associates with her own practice of Vipassana meditation.

There is also an element of closure here as most of these women are elderly and approaching death. In a sense this work functions commemoratively in relation to their individual lives but also to a vocation that seems to belong to another historical moment. And while history has seemingly liberated us as women from the confines of an archaic notion of sexuality, todayʼs image obsessed culture seems equally repressive. Sometimes it even feels like a backlash making it as urgent as ever to talk about gender.


Michèle Faguet

Endgames | Michael Coolidge, Craig Le Blanc, Mike Paget, & Laura Wilson | September 7 to October 6, 2007

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ENDGAMES

 

In the game of chess the term endgame refers to the final stages of a match, often only a few playing pieces are left on the board. Differing from the beginning or the middle game, the endgame often takes on separate characteristics; strategies are modified in anticipation of a final outcome or resolution and players have correspondingly different strategic concerns. The endgame, in chess, often relies on a player challenging the rules and setting a new strategy of play in the final resolution of engagement.

In Endgames, so too do Michael Coolidge, Craig Le Blanc, Mike Paget and Laura Wilson challenge the strategies, activities, and outcomes of game culture and gamesmanship in its multiple forms: leisure, sport, and entertainment. Rewardingly, this challenge is met with clever, witty, and innovative moves at every turn. 

Craig Le Blanc’s strikingly precise sculptures propose new forms and functions through hybridized architectures and gaming equipment. Accordingly, Le Blanc offers insightful propositions on the future of public and private affectations of sport and the continually shifting notion of spectacle. Phaser, a work by UK based Laura Wilson, seeks to engage through the simplicity of its found materials. The work’s interactive appeal is courtesy of the artist’s poetic economy of materials: allowing a simple plank of plywood, and a homemade sound-generating device to captivate and, refreshingly, allow for play.

Alternately, Mike Paget’s charmingly absurd self-programmed arcade games and curiously altered gaming platforms approach a technically ambiguous gaming culture. With arcade titles like Acid Spill Paget invites the viewer to determine their own narratives within his own perversely satisfying environments. Michael Coolidge’s contribution to Endgames consists of a series of deceptively minimal photographs: documentation of his architecturally engaged Free Bowl project. Potential and chance drive this activity, while Coolidge, as facilitator of the tournament, allows participants to complete the work through their own choices and activity. It is a game in which the rules have the ability to generate themselves. 

Despite a disparity of strategies these artists not only share a sensitive understanding of what it means to be engaged, as artist’s and in the multiple forms of ‘the game’, but also rise to the challenge of the endgame, craftily proposing strategies which courageously forward the pawns, queens, and kings of their respective arsenals with the unequivocal aim of challenging a response.

 

-Jason de Haan

Salvaging Utopia | Lisa Benschop, Stéphane Gilot, Sarah Jane Gorlitz, & Wojciech Olejnik | June 28 to August 4, 2007

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Salvaging Utopia
Written by Jean-René Leblanc

“We announce the birth of a conceptual country: Newtopia. Citizenship of the country can be obtained by declaration of your awareness of Newtopia. Newtopia has no land, no boundaries, no passports - only people. Newtopia has no laws other than cosmic. All people of Newtopia are ambassadors of the country. As two ambassadors of Newtopia, we ask for diplomatic immunity and recognition in the United Nations for our country and its people”.[1]

From the perpetual motion machine to Habitats in cyberspace, nearly five centuries of utopian paradigms have played an active role in the development of Western thought, exemplifying the belief in providing a model of social and economic perfection. “Michel Foucault refers to utopia and heterotopia as peculiar spaces that at once relates and contradicts with other sites, and also, as "Other spaces" that deviate from the everyday”[2]. It is in this spirit that each body of work presented in Salvaging Utopia opens a dialogue on the fluidity of intersections between the private, the public, the restricted and the imaginary as representations of contemporary utopias.

THREE DISCURSIVE UTOPIAN SPACES

In Lisa Benschop’s, installation, ...yore, the predominant green avocado color, the scale and the carefully placed composition all work to aesthetically link the objects. Such an axiomatic relation offers the viewer a space for reflection and/or contemplation on such issues as gender roles and consumption in both post and cold war eras. In Untitled (signs) (2006), the three framed, ornamented tapestries with the handwritten green texts: “please do not touch the display”, “seriously” and “please stay out” seem to destabilize any fixed reading of the hierarchic nature of the institutionalization of art object into “high and low art”. By playing with such conventions Benschop is carefully constructing an ambivalent relation to the utopian institution of Art.

Just add Water by Sarah Jane Gorlitz and Wojciech Olejnik explores the hybrid nature of constructing Reality and Truth. Like illusionists, they take us on a poetic visual and sonic voyage into a ‘non-space’, symbolically represented by an underground subway station. The flickering lights of the slowly flooding space confront the spectator with erratic stop-motion images. “With each passing frame the medium of stop-motion brings attention to its own being, to its own form, away from the measure of time, away from its jurisdiction”.[3]

Inspired by cyberspace and the pragmatic domestic architecture of the seventies[4], Stéphane Gilot’s installations address the notions of perception and reality. More precisely, they explore the ways in which we live vicariously through our constructed illusions, “therefore [becoming] a hybrid, paradoxical space where the lack of privacy intermingles with freedom, detention and utopia”.[5]

By placing the spectator in front of a series of poetic contradictions, each body of work engages the viewer toward a self-introspection on the complexities between perceptions and the communication of one’s own values and desires.

Jean-René Leblanc Ph.D. is an artist and professor of Digital Arts at the University of Calgary.

1 John & Yoko, in a press conference concerning their deportation trial with the American government
2 Hasegawa, Y. (2003) Heterotopias (Other Spaces), (page consulted on June 15, 2007) http://www.jpf.go.jp/venezia-biennale/art/e/50/02.html 3 Gorlitz, S-J., Olejnik, W. (2007) Just add water.
4 Duguet, A-M. (2006) World 2, Berlin Transmediale.
5 Gilot, S. (2001-2003) Escape Plans number 3, Montréal, the Pavillion for Sensorial Reorganisation.

Hound’s Tooth, Forsooth! | Hazel Meyer | May 18 to June 23, 2007

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The Rules of the Game

Amish Morrell, May 2007

In Hound’s Tooth Forsooth two miniature papier-mâché zebras occupy a playing field tiled in hound’s tooth weave, a pattern of identical and interlocking black and white checks. Letters from the exhibition title extend into the playing field - forming goal lines - and the viewer is invited to complete the space of the sports arena by sitting on the bleachers at either side of the room. Within this absurd arrangement, in what Meyer calls a “textile stadium”, are mirrored or repeating forms: the two opposing teams, the position of the audience in relation to the playing field, the stripes of the zebra, and the interlocking black and white weave of the hound’s tooth playing field. Hound’s Tooth Forsooth sets a metonymic constellation of forms into motion that interrupt the ideologies upon which social reality is conventionally organized.

Hound’s tooth check, developed in the early 19th century as a result of the invention of the mechanical loom, filled a desire for a fabric that was aesthetically and practically versatile.1 Connoting sport and leisure within the expanding middle-class, hound’s tooth tweed became symbolic of a privileged social position. While hound’s tooth served historically to suggest one’s class status, it works as a metaphor for social organization on another level: As a repetition of forms, it is suggestive of an emerging mass culture, organized through Taylorist labor practices within industrial workplaces, and further describes the resulting class antagonism that these conditions produced.

The pattern of hound’s tooth weave mirrors what Sigfried Kracauer termed the “mass ornament,” a surface level expression of economic production.2 The mass ornament produces a physical arrangement where the individual is subsumed to the structures and ideologies of industry, the state, and social class, constituting what he described as the “empty and rational form of the cult.”3 Individuals are

1

thus immersed within a set of ideologies and a power structure that Meyer cleverly re-routes in Hound’s Tooth Forsooth.

In previous works, such as her 2001 installation, Unnecessary Roughness - an audio intestinal sports opera, Meyer conflates the rituals of sport with that of the digestive process, via the rules of a football game. In her 2005-2006 project, Deer Heads, participants wore papier-mâché deer heads and migrated between urban wading pools, and accidentally wandered through World Cup play-off celebrations in Toronto where they aroused bemusement and confusion among flag ensconced revelers, who didn’t quite understand which team the deer were supporting. Meyer’s choreographed absurdist actions and use of handcrafted materials highlights rituals of collective belonging as a performance and critiques the rational logic upon which such forms are organized.

All teams define themselves in relation to their opponents as one class or ethnicity defines itself in opposition to another. This is the dialectic that Hound’s Tooth Forsooth complicates. In his history of the use of stripes in textiles, Michael Pastoureau asks; “Is the zebra a white animal with black stripes, as the Europeans have so long claimed, or a black animal with white stripes, as the Africans have always recognized it to be?”4 Meyer’s work proposes that oppositions cannot be resolved, and the zebra is thus an apt mascot. Reproducing rituals of collective organization through handicraft and camp exaggeration, Meyer intervenes into a taken-for-granted order, hijacking it in order to undermine its authority and propose alternative and imaginative forms of engagement. 1

* Thanks to Hazel Meyer and Diane Borsato for their comments and suggestions.

2

Sources

Hageney, Wolfgang (ed.). Hound's Tooth - Designs, Patterns & Ideas. Rome: Belevedre Books, Inc. International Publications, 2003.

Kracauer, Sigfried. The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Cambridge & London: Harvard UP, 1995.

Pastoureau, Micheal. The Devil's cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Trans. Jody Gladding. New York and Chichester: Columbia UP, 1991.

1 Hageney, Wolfgang (ed.). Hound's Tooth - Designs, Patterns & Ideas. Rome: Belevedre Books, Inc. International Publications, 2003.
2 Kracauer, Sigfried. The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Cambridge & London: Harvard UP, 1995. Pp. 78
3 Ibid., pp. 84.
4 Pastoureau, Micheal. The Devil's cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Trans. Jody Gladding. Columbia UP: New York and Chichester, 1991.

C'mon C'mon | Jo-Anne Balcaen | April 6 to May 12, 2007

C'mon C'mon take me to the rock show Written by Naomi Potter

This is the biggest band you'll find,
It's as deep as it is wide,
Come on and join together with the band,
Hey hey hey hey hey hey, well everybody come on.

-The Who

THE WHO lyrics - "Join Together"

In one of those strange and unexpected twists in life, I became something of a babysitter for bands touring to the small Czech town where I used to live. As a result I have spent a lot of time in dark clubs waiting for yet another band to get on stage and rock out. Save the occasional brilliant performance, it’s boring stuff, an endless chain of anticipation that would generally fall apart after the first guitar solo. Many a night I wondered how these guys could get up there with such promise and deliver nothing. What kept me going back was the distraction of watching bands and their fans absorbed in something so pointless, united with an absolute sincerity and conviction to the music and the image. Metal, punk, alt-rock, hip-hop, you name it, each comes with a style that defines their musical lineage. I love music style - a calculated equation perfected to create an image that exposes their sound before the posters hit the street, the fans meet at the club, or the boys strut on stage.

Let’s now step up to Jo-Anne Balcaen’s stage, or rather into her club.
Lured in by the promise of a great show, wrist stamped, ready for the assault, we are slapped with the crazy re-mix of razor-styled metal and early rock’n’roll fan hysteria.

C'mon C'mon is about falling prey to the outrageous signs of desire and expectation that music of any genre constructs and then delivers at high volume. This twisted idea that “there will never be another one as desirable as you” is the edge on which most rock gods balance, and the place from which their total package is designed, assembled, and shipped out to the hungry.

The fan, as true outsider to the main spectacle, struggles to conform and, as such, to find meaning through identification. It’s a losing battle. The combined confusion of obsession and fantasy, seizing even the most level-headed, transforms them into screaming, hair-pulling, dress-ripping lunatics. Overwhelmed by the untouchable show and larger than life persona of the rock star, the fan is the epitome of frustrated desire. A desire that is continually administered like a slow drug, causing addiction, obsession, and in the end a crash as the all-dreamy guitar grinding climax is never achieved or allowed. It’s the almost hope-filled flash point that keeps the fantasy lover alive even after the lights go up and the dry ice-filled illusion reveals itself for what it is: a dirty, over-used guilty pleasure.

But in the end, what better things in the world are there than a rather nasty, secret, heart-thudding guilty pleasure? C’mon C’mon ! Let’s go see the show.

- Naomi Potter

Dwelling Along | Evan Broens & Hye-Seung Jung | February 23 to March 31, 2007

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Dwelling Along
Written by Sarah Adams

“The ironizing of nostalgia, in the very act of its invoking, may be one way the postmodern has of taking responsibility for such responses by creating a small part of the distance necessary for reflective thought about the present as well as the past.”
-Linda Hutcheon

Negotiating nostalgia in the wake of recent history seems a tricky territory. We can long for “the good old days” prior to obesity epidemics, celebrity derelicts, and looming ecological ruin, but never without the tainted understanding that we are intentionally fabricating our idyllic histories. We know that our past was nothing more than symptomatic groundwork for our imperfect present, and we have been conditioned through apathy, nihilism, and disillusionment to know that our nostalgia is convoluted and likely based in our fear of the future, yet we dwell regardless. Like a child wildly imagining the future, we wildly imagine the past, and hopelessly reaching for one crystallized moment of good, we create our beautiful memories.

Sprouting out of a postmodern archetype and into a new millennia of extreme and disparaging self-awareness, our distilled sentiments of nostalgia can only be received by first endowing them with precise measures of a contemporary force-field, irony. Irony, however, seems to have evolved into an idiom apart from the proverbial shoe-less shoe salesman that grade school taught us. Irony has somehow seeped into our general consciousness, situating itself intoour everyday responses, causing us to see droll contradictions and quaint paradoxes at almost every turn.

Being connoisseurs in all things ironic, we are keenly able to recognize its victims, and have adapted its uses, protecting our own sincerities from becoming nothing more than fodder for droves of savage cynics (a cannibalistic group to which we belong and whose subtleties we know well). This isn’t to say we shrug our sentiments before anyone else can — exposing our stripped and shivering affections and laughing at their inadequacies to prove we are, rest assuredly, in the know (although this is sometimes the case, but is a practice unappreciated by the true savages). More likely, we are simply so well versed in the nuances of irony that even a knowing wink has become too obvious. A picket fence, familiar only because of television and storybooks, precisely “broken” to reveal an ephemeral world of toy airplanes and golden wheat (Broens’ Fencing Planes); a web of strings indicating a place long forgotten yet precious to the artist (Jung’s Chebudong Project); such productions softly weave through diminutive ironies, at once sincerely representing and elusively exploiting the delicacies of nostalgia.

We have learned the art of exploiting ourselves; the artist presents the world with his or her innermost longings, and rather than propping it with a punch line, simply stares at it like everyone else. If someone were to mention to the artist that the work seemed particularly nostalgic, the artists’ response might be, “Maybe. I suppose. Do you think so?”

Linda Hutcheon, “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern.” Methods for the Study of Literature as Cultural Memory, Studies in Comparative Literature 30 (2000): 189-207

-Sarah Adams is an artist and visual arts writer based in Calgary, AB.