Monday, June 29, 2009

Recommended: Turn On at the Art Gallery of Hamilton

With a city workers' strike on in Toronto and the garbage piling up, the time (and stench) is ripe for a roadtrip. For this, I recommend stopping by the Art Gallery of Hamilton's summer show Turn On: Contemporary Italian Art. (FYI to non-Canadian readers: Hamilton, an hour away from Toronto, is kind of like Canada's Pittsburgh, with a strong Steeltown history.)

Though Turn On is part of a slightly cheesy all-Italy focus at the museum this summer, I have to say it's a show that makes the theme-arifficness worthwhile. Three prominent Italian artists are featured, with all of the work--remarkably!--receiving its first-ever showing in Canada. Two of the artists also actually making Hamilton-specific work.

First off, it's a treat to see Adrian Paci's films Turn On (2003) and Centro di Permanenza Contemporanea (2007) in person. The former features various men, who seem to be labourers, lingering on the steps of a building in silence. As darkness descends, each one fires up an electric generator which fires up the lightbulbs in their hands. The latter video riffs on similar themes, with workboot-clad folks stepping onto an airplane boarding stairase on a tarmac. As the camera pulls back one realizes that there is no plane attached to the staircase; these people are in a state of permanent transition.

Both these works do well to deromanticize the experience of migration and casual labour work—a point that I also brought up recently in regard to Richard Florida's theories but that Paci addresses in a more universal way here. Paci also seems to make pains to linger on people's faces, underlining the individual stories and souls that lie behind these global trends. (Again, it's hard to believe it's the first showing of these films in Canada... this summer Universal Code at the Power Plant has a Paci image or two from the Per Speculum series, where Hamilton has a slideshow of same.)

Sculptor Patrick Tuttofuoco takes a rather different approach, installing a large room with neon lighting and several interesting, colourful vertical sculptures that represent different places. For the "Hamilton" themed sculpture, Tuttofuoco supposedly produced a massive fiberglass mask that evokes both hockey goalies and phantom of the opera. Compelling.

The weakest works in the show for me came from Massimo Grimaldi, who installed five wall texts--one of them on the street in Hamilton. Though the gallery calls Grimaldi's texts "evocative," they just seemed a bit dull in our text-heavy internet age. It was nice to see the integration of the streetscape into the museum's work here, though.

AGH curator Sara Knelman, who organized this show as well as other strong offerings, like a group show on young Japanese artists and a solo show of Pascal Grandmaison, says she is leaving the gallery this fall to do a PhD at the Courtauld Institute. She has done good things for the AGH and we in the greater Toronto area will be well served if her successor, yet to be named, is anywhere near as energetic.

Image info from top: Still from Adrian Paci's Turn On from PS1; Still from Paci's Centro di Permanenza Contemporanea from 18thStreet; Patrick Tuttofuoco's Cameron from Studio Guenazani; Massimo Grimaldi installing a text work on a James St N hoarding in Hamilton from the AGH

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