2009

Voir Dire | Tammy McGrath | November 13 to December 10, 2009

I love books. They are the only objects in my house that I have willingly and lovingly (okay, sometimes begrudgingly) packed, hauled and unpacked repeatedly since my early twenties. Throwing them out feels like sacrilege, and thoughts of giving them away creates feelings of anxiety over future regrets. But what about burning them, or modifying them? On what basis may these choices be made, and by whom?  

In Tammy McGrath’s recent installation, Voir Dire, viewers are faced with similar questions. The artist collected over a thousand books from people whom she knows well or is acquainted with, and they all donated these cherished items with the full knowledge of their fate: to be sacrificed to the fires. No longer readable, these objects of adoration have been utterly and permanently transformed into piles of ash and delicately charred sculptures for our objections and contemplation. Oh, the shame!

Books are considered purveyors of knowledge; the sacred keepers of free thought, creative genius and most especially, delicious rainy days curled up on the sofa indulging in the dangerous and sinful thoughts of others. Book burning has a sordid past. As early as 212 BC, volumes of ink-stained paper were burned in order to control the flow of information and enforce the values and beliefs of a corrupted or delusional leader. The book-burning scene from the infamous poem, Don Quixote, is a delightfully daring epitaph carefully constructed to mock the indulgences of those damned book-burning Spanish Inquisitors while also revealing the author’s own literary likes and dislikes. Even on the imaginary plane Cervantes had limits on what he could bear to burn, even though he was unabashedly able and willing to condemn the books he disdained to an eternal, imaginary hell.

In a similar fashion, Voir Dire is an exhibition that unfolds in a conundrum of paradoxical metaphors. Is the message one that rails against those who destroy books in ignorant and malicious ire, or does it give rise to the ideal that humanity can and will rise anew from the cruel and irrational flames of destruction?

Hovering above the artist’s vast piles of ashes and burned books are three ominious creatures with vast leathery wings, dangerous talons and vertebrae-like tails that protrude four-feet out from their thickly tarred and feathered bodies. Neither bird, nor reptile, it is difficult to discern whether these mythological beasts have descended from the skies as the protectors of the persecuted books, or as the provocateurs of their evil demise.

There is an elegiac quality to this exhibition that both laments and pays homage to the book, either as it stands as a trashy piece of pulp fiction or as a work of great literary genius. Despite the discomfort a viewer might experience from smelling and gazing over this mass of burnt books, it is impossible not to be enraptured by their aesthetic transformations into gorgeous and delicately charred paper sculptures. The artist’s role in society is often a daring one, even deviant, and if the underlying message is one of lament and celebration, then in this context, the act of burning books can be appreciated and understood. In alchemy, all the processes – especially the regressive ones – are governed by the idea that it is a necessary provocation to improve or refine matter. Like the mythical Phoenix, the seed must rot and the body must burn to ashes before new growth and glorious resurrection.

Lissa Robinson, 2009

Homologous Fields | Dil Hildebrand & Tyler Los-Jones | October 9 to November 5, 2009

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In Homologous Fields Hildebrand and Los-Jones both employ technical ingenuity to disrupt traditional forms in painting and sculpture to accentuate the error of interpretation of the viewer. The end result allows for an expanded conceptual and visual experience that suggests that the confluence of the parts reveals a greater whole that finds its sum within the substance of the viewer.

Sleepless Nights: Visions from Western Canada | Group Exhibition | September 5 to October 4, 2009

Sleepless Nights: Visions from Western Canada 

Robin Arsenault (Calgary, Alberta), Ken Buera (Calgary, AB), Kay Burns (Calgary, AB), Jason de Haan, Craig Le Blanc (Calgary, AB), Kris Lindskoog (Calgary, AB), Walter May (Calgary, AB), Phillip McCrum (Vancouver, BC), Robin Moody (Calgary, AB) 

Runs from September 5, 2009 through to October 4, 2009

@ Kling and Bang Gallerí at Laugavegur 23, 101 in Reykjavík, Iceland

Born near Vídimyri, Iceland in 1853, Stephan G. Stephansson immigrated to the United States as a teenager and later moved to Markerville, Alberta towards the end of the nineteenth century.  As a farmer he worked the land by day and, an insomniac, by night he honed his craft as a poet.  Referred to as “The Poet of the Rocky Mountains”, he never left Canada to visit his native country until he was well into his sixties.  Nonetheless, despite a nearly lifelong residence in North America, his prolific output and broad acclaim gained him recognition as one of Iceland’s most celebrated literary figures.  In 1908, Stephansson’s oeuvre was documented in a six volume publication entitled Andvökur, or Sleepless Nights.  

Sleepless Nights: Visions from Western Canada, a group exhibition that brings together nine contemporary artists from the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, looks to (re)engage the cultural and historical connections between Western Canada and Iceland.  This exhibition not only borrows from Stephan G. Stephansson in its titling but, as well, draws inspiration from his unique poetic style, which through experimental means looked to blend divergent cultural influences in the merging of traditional Scandinavian metre with the philosophies of North American freethinkers of the period.  Stephansson’s use of intricate metaphor and neologisms, and his interest in themes such as the romanticized landscape and the transient nature of life, resurface in new a meaningful ways through the current explorations of the artists included in this exhibition.  

Sleepless Nights: Visions from Western Canada was developed in response to Sundogs: Contemporary Art from Iceland, a 2008 exhibition that saw the work of artists Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir, Erling T.V. Klingenberg, Hekla Dögg Jónsdóttir, Pall Banine, Ragnar Kjartansson and Sirra Sigrun Sigurdardottir on display at TRUCK in Calgary, Alberta.  Curated by David Diviney, a Nova Scotia based artist/curator, these two exhibitions serve as a continuation of his collaborative research with Icelandic artists and institutions that began over a decade ago.   

This exhibition is produced by Kling&Bang Gallerí in partnership with TRUCK and is supported by Alberta Foundation for the Arts’ Cultural Relations Project Grant Program, The Embassy of Canada to Iceland in Reykjavik, and The Consulate General of Iceland in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Many of the artists in the exhibition have received individual travel and/or project assistance from various provincial and federal agencies including Alberta Foundation for the Arts and Canada Council for the Arts.    

Through Thick & Thin | Eric Cameron & Deborah Margo | September 4 to October 1, 2009

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Through Thick and Thin pairs works that, upon the surface, appear to be two sides of the same coin, a Doppelgänger coincidence, kissin’ cousins that threaten the embarrassment of turning up at a party wearing identical outfits. In the end, it is not their many outer physical similarities that delight and reward their coupling. Instead, we revel the opportunity to contemplate works from a related start head off in polar directions, night and day, same only different. An “Iron Chef” showdown with the mystery ingredient: candy.

Both artists lavish attention upon unlikely objects of affection. Their tributes are not targeted at the elaborate figurative chocolatey creations or the bejeweled decorative inventions of the master confectioner’s art. They choose to transform the plain-Jane, ordinary, gumball, gumdrop and licorice-all-sort into eye candy. Simple spheres, ovoid and lumpen shapes are the common foundation. In this way, both extend the dialogue with a taste for a post-minimalist palette. They invoke procedures taken from the post-conceptualists cookbook by utilizing grids, structure and strategies to impose rational order upon an unruly organic process. They coax the extraordinary from the ordinary and reveal secret pleasures to be found by giving new consideration to things ostensibly mundane that we over-look within our workaday surrounds.

To commence their process, both artists subject their oral treats to a physical alteration (or degradation) from food product to food for thought. A course of action is selected upon, and then enacted unwaveringly through to its conclusion, logical, illogical or otherwise. The artists faithfully accept the visual consequences generated as outcome of the pre-determined action plan, an entropic process that accrues over the passage of time allowing the forces of nature (or human nature) to make of it what it will.

Cameron methodically paints each candy drop with layers of gesso, alternating between white and gray. After thousands of applications the original form is subsumed within its new burgeoning, larger outer shell (is this candy-coated art?). These are 2009 ‘new releases’ of Cameron’s ongoing 1970s project: The Thick Paintings, (to be continued). As a veteran of this form of enterprise, Cameron may now be better able to envisage how he might suspect a selected object will transform through its coating. Given this, one might imagine that these tiny sweets proffer meager prospects for significant transmogrification, or do they?

Margo slices, abrades and dissolves giant jawbreakers and Okeydoke candies with various liquids, solutions and methodologies. Effectively she reveals the under-painting of the original, and through the process, creates an outcome that simulates geometric art of the mid-twentieth Century: from Noland to Gene Davis, Claude Tousignant and beyond. They are her own Duchampian readymade Rotoreliefs: one might say her veritable 'Standard Gobstoppage'. As consequence of her complex set of interventions she exposes the sedimentary layers of flavourful colours that many a transfixed youngster must experience only through the passage of time as each successive layer is savoured away to reveal the next. The variety of actions taken and their consequent aesthetic results are as mesmerizing as the manufacturer’s bizarre impulse to make a candy so large that you can’t consume or ingest it. Others virtually explode into expressionistic disarray, a chemistry experiment run amuck. Despite their prosaic source, they generate objects of great beauty, subtle pastel colours and huge variety of shape and configuration. They reveal a sensibility that respects the tradition of the well-crafted object, refined, understated and dignified.

Margo’s art impresses us with its elegance, refinement and gaiety of spirit. Cameron’s suckers are borderline nasty. His work appeals to another side of Duchamp’s box of treasures, they induce recollection of marble sugar cubes, his sexually provocative wedges and intellectual-philosophical gamesmanship, the mind-tickle of “With Hidden Noise”. Cameron is the over-painter, layer upon layer, obsessive obliterations, a self-imposed ritual corrective to expunge the transgressions of oral fixations and fancied gratifications. Liquor is quicker; but candy is dandy.

Jeffrey Spalding, 2009

Basecamp | Alexandre David, Atom Deguire, Michael Fernandes, & Ashley Neese | July 1 to July 30, 2009

Addressing contemporary art practice as a technique for reflecting upon and intervening in public space, TRUCK Gallery in Calgary will present a series of projects by Canadian and international artists during the month of July 2009, which take place entirely outside of the gallery space. The gallery space itself—as opposed to being an exhibition venue—will instead take on the role of a base camp. This will offer the artists involved in the exhibition a place to develop elements of their project, present documentation regarding their work, and engage visitors to the gallery in dialogue concerning art making and public space. Through this process the meaning and purpose of the gallery will be shifted, allowing TRUCK to contextualize and support practices that might otherwise be challenging to present within the traditional frameworks of an exhibition.   

At Variance | Marcy Adzich, Christine Cheung, & Beth Howe | May 15 to June 18, 2009

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The transitory concept of ‘Place’ is explored in the three-person exhibition, At Variance. Using the notion of the landscape as a point of departure, Marcy Adzich, Christine Cheung, and Beth Howe explore contradictory ideas of space.

Adzich develops sculptural objects that reference man-made and natural environments, evoking a sense of isolation and dislocation, while Cheung paints the space where one’s consciousness and dreams become slowly intertwined. Through sculpture built from a decidedly ubiquitous and urban material—office photocopy paper—Howe dismantles the way the built environment dictates our travel paths. The imagined and the real collide in this exhibition, creating an alternate sense of place.

The Neon God We Made | Keith Murray | April 3 to May 7, 2009

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QUEER CITY

My family is from Calgary: my father was born there and before him his father was born a little further south, to my great grandfather, first missionary to the great Blackfoot tribes: the Blackfoot  burnt his house to the ground, and his church, and his missionary school, and he fled north to Calgary, where the Sarcees were said to be less warlike. And there my father was born to my grandfather, and brought up on the reservation. My father ran away from home when he was fourteen, and worked as an assistant to a cook in a logging camp; and then after a few years became a cowboy on the range, chewing on a wisp of straw, just like one of the stars of Brokeback Mountain. When the war broke out, he became a pilot in the air force, and bombed Cologne for the entire duration of the war, a handsome Canadian with his copilot, a handsome Frenchman: they were always together, like lovers, my mother used to say. My mother was married to the Frenchman, and when he was shot down over Cologne one day (my father had been sick that day, and decided not to fly), my father and mother turned to each other in their grief, and married six weeks later. That’s the story as best as I’ve been able to reconstruct it. My father and mother were both good at keeping secrets.

Keith asked me to write this text as a kind of Invocation of the Queer Spirits: an invitation to queerness to reveal itself here in Calgary in 2009. And I began to think about the queer histories that collide in Calgary: the all-male populations of cowboys, loggers, and trappers. The railway men, too, and the military, and the priests, and the wandering artists, cooks, and male nurses who watched over them all. And before them the shamans and medicine men, keepers of the doorway between the living and the dead, between the gendered and the ungendered.

In the mid-70s I had a friend, Ralph, who moved to Calgary because the sex there was hot and wet. I never heard from him again. I heard a rumour that he died there in the 80s, like so many, not only in Calgary. Let’s not forget their spirits either.

I invoke the queer spirits of Calgary, where the plains and mountains meet: the spirits of the medicine men and shamans, the explorers and trappers, the loggers and cowboys, those who built the railways, the military men and the clerics, and all the men who supported and served them: all these inhabitants of an all-male world, I invite you. And those who followed: the rodeo riders, and the oilmen, and the queer boys of the 70s and 80s, those who were outcasts and rejects, those who were beaten because of their sexual ways, those who were murdered and those who killed themselves, those who died of AIDS. I invite you each to join us, to return the power of your collective queer spirit to this place and time.

AA Bronson (New York, NY)

Mutual Surrender | Brendan Fernandes | February 20 to March 26, 2009

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In the exhibition Mutual Surrender, Brendan Fernandes will exhibit sculptural and video installations that examine the notion of his return to his birthplace of Kenya. Through written narrative, appropriated documentary footage, and stereotypical imagery of Africa, the artist explores what he has become after living in Canada (the West) for the past twenty years

Born in Kenya of Indian heritage, Brendan Fernandes immigrated to Canada in the 1990s. He completed the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art (2007) and earned his MFA (2005) from The University of Western Ontario and his BFA (2002) from York University in Canada.