Monday, September 14, 2009

Honk if you Love Geeky (or is that Geesy?) Graffiti

If there is one thing I love without adulteration, it is truly geeky graffiti. And it doesn't get much more geeky than this pasteup of a Canada goose that I spotted Saturday on the Dundas West rail overpass. Honk honk indeed!

The goose was a good omen of sorts for gallery-going that happened later that day.

Totally knocking my socks off (or honks off, perhaps?) was Cedric Bomford's work at Red Bull 381 Projects. The gallery space at Red Bull is part of an office, and usually is contained to a first-floor lobby. But Bomford's massive tower structure, built largely out of construction-site discards, brings viewers up to the second level, to a vantage point from which one can survey Red Bull's glass-walled executive offices (including posh, super-designey furniture) as well as the view of Queen Street West outside that these execs peruse daily.

Climbing up Bomford's tower and sneaking into related cubbyholes felt a lot like climbing on playground equipment or treehouse structures as a kid, which was great. But at the same time, the more serious implications of Bomford's structure—one that lets viewers surveil their surveillors, or lets the lower classes meet the upper, do come through. So does the sense of Foucault's ol' panopticon, in that Bomford provides a physical manifestation of a surveillance-soaked society; it's both neat and kind of creepy that you can see so many people out on the streets, but they can't see you from your high, distant, internal perch. Also on the darker range of references was the sense of it being a hunting blind. (Or hell maybe that's just my waterfowl state of mind at the moment? Who knows.)

In any case, it's also nice that Bomford extends the structure out of the gallery somewhat as well, planting a surveillance hut on the sidewalk outside like an ersatz border crossing. This show is getting a ton of attention, and it's all well deserved. Definitely on the best of 2009 contenders list.

Mercer Union also provides two shows that feel good and conceptually expansive: one exhibition from Diane Borsato in the front gallery and one from Taku Dazai in the rear gallery.

Borsato's learning collaborations with people in non-art fields, like mushroom enthusiasts, astronomers and paramedics, are documented in a low-key way. It's the ideas she has--like trading her mycology knowledge for stargazing sessions--and the fact that she carries them out, that is really lovely. (In the photo above, Borsato, who finds language lessons boring, is learning Italian by unconventional means: having a physics grad explain black holes to her in Italian.) Sometimes it feels like contemporary art in general can be too much about itself, too hermetic and self-reflexive, and Borsato gently pries the side of art's sealed box open, letting the air of science and language and life mix in a bit. And no, it doesn't get too twee, which is a testimony to the level of skill involved.

Taku Dazai is represented by three sculptures featuring taxidermied animals. One is a tiny mouse head mounted as a deer head might be. Another consists of two mountain goats jumping towards each other, knives clenched in their mouths. And the last work--and the best, in my opinion--shows a small owl seemingly propping open the mouth of an attacking rattlesnake using a stick. This last sculpture, and the narrative it depicts, is the most remarkable, and hopeful, with the idea of something lethal and evil being potentially and unexpectedly conquered by ingenuity and quickness. Fairytale to some perhaps, but welcome in the still-confusing times we live in.

Images following Goose Graffiti: Cedric, Nathan and Jim Bomford The Office of Special Plans (installation view, Vancouver Art Gallery) from Red Bull 381 Projects; Diane Borsato Italian Lessons 2009 from her website; Taku Dazai Snake vs Owl 2009 from Mercer Union website

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