Friday, May 20, 2011

Long Weekend Reviews: Joanne Tod, Max Streicher & Alex McLeod @ Harbourfront

Starting on Victoria Day weekend, let's face it: nature usually beats out culture around these parts. Torontonians head in masses to the water and the wilderness (pseudo or otherwise) be it at the Hanlan's Point clothing-optional beach or Huntsville-area cottage country. My personal goal for the summer is to get outdoors more often, for sure.

Luckily, some culture can still be squeezed in along the way to the shore at Harbourfront, where the free York Quay exhibitions always make for an easy drop by. Today, I review three at Posted Toronto; they'll also be found in print in tomorrow's National Post Toronto section. Here's an excerpt:

Joanne Tod at York Quay Centre
235 Queens Quay W,. to June 12
The first Toronto showing of Joanne Tod’s Oh Canada — A Lament reads a bit differently now from when it opened in April. Featuring 154 painted portraits of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, it’s hard to look at this now and not have Osama bin Laden’s death, or its military-strategy implications, come to mind. Still, the power of Tod’s portraits reaches beyond recent events. Most fascinating are the personalities that come through in each of the artist’s five-by-six-inch panels. These faces (and Tod’s skill at rendering them) suggest many temperaments: goofy, shy, stern, wistful, confident, churlish, wary, friendly, self-satisfied, romantic, alert and more. Interspersed with these faces are painted fragments of the Canadian flag, a gesture that’s heavy-handed, but that underlines centuries-old questions: How do individuals decide to trade their lives for a country? Is this trade a fair one, and by which measures? How do we honour these individuals when they don’t return? Tod explains in a wall text that her uncle, a private in Princess Patricia’s Light Infantry and an aspiring artist, was killed in Sicily two months before the end of the Second World War; his photographs and letters, inherited recently, are what prompted her to start this ongoing project three years ago. Though Tod’s not the first Canadian artist to attempt a memorial project for our soldiers, she is one of the most accomplished ones to do so, and her interest in the loss of individuals — like the uncle she never met — makes her project stand out. Chillingly, room left at the project’s edges reminds us there are more losses likely still to come.

For reviews of Max Streicher and Alex McLeod's shows at York Quay, read on at Posted Toronto.

(Detail of Joanne Tod's Oh Canada A Lament installation from Harbourfront Centre)

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