Saturday, April 26, 2008

Interview: Subconscious City in Winnipeg

I spent the first eleven years of my life in Winnipeg, and I'm always interested in the swath of great artists that seem to come out of the place. So I was excited to talk with Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan about their latest survey of 'Peg productivity, Subconscious City. You can read my National Post interview with them here.

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Review: Kurt Bigenho @ PM Gallery

What can I say? At his current PM Gallery show, it seems Kurt Bigenho is trying to blind art with science. But does he succeed? Read on here for my NOW Magazine review.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Canadian museums: Decidedly not free at last

Lately, I've been doing some more cultural commentary blogging for One of my self-chosen beats is museums and museum access issues. It's a good time to be writing about these things, as the ROM made an access announcement this weekend. You can read my most recent critiques herehere and here.

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At the Galleries: King & Spadina

My latest gallery hop for the National Post's Toronto section took me to the intersection of King and Spadina for a mix of work both old and new, like the nabe. Click here to see my pick of the lot, like John Kissick, above.

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Interview: ARENA @ the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia

Stanley Cup fever is hitting some areas of Canada hard right now. But if you're sick of the usual play-by-plays there's another way to enjoy hockey right now: namely, through art at a Halifax museum. ARENA is a massive show on hockey-themed fine art (and it's not just Wayne Gretzky posters, natch). Read on here for my National Post interview with show curator Ray Cronin.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Feature: Crossing Communities in Herizons

Living in the Big Smoke, my sense of what's going on art-wise, and especially art-as-activism-wise, in Canada tends to get obscured by Toronto-centric buzz. How happy I was, then, to encounter the work of Crossing Communities, an impressive Winnipeg arts org, this fall.

Crossing Communities has provided art studio space and training for women and youth at risk of imprisonment for roughly a decade. This January saw a public-awareness leap forward with a showing of their project "Pictures of Self-Harm" at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. In this extraordinary project, women with experience of addiction, homelessness and sex-trade work tell their own stories through film and video.

I was lucky enough to get to speak with project founder Edith Regier in late 2007; the resulting interview informs a feature article in the current Spring 2008 issue of Herizons. Read on here to order a copy of the mag, and read on here to find out more about the org.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Interview: Eddo Stern

Eddo Stern is a well-known figure in the worlds of game design and electronic art. Me, the last video game I actually mastered was Donkey King (a cut-rate version of Donkey Kong for the all the TRS-80 Radio Shacksters). Still, Stern took the time this week to explain his works in a way tech-plebes like myself can understand. An extremely condensed version of the interview was published in today's National Post. Once I figure out my own computer, I will post the full transcript.

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Review: Susy Oliveira @ Peak Gallery

This week for NOW, I reviewed recent Waterloo grad Susy Oliveira's first solo show at Peak Gallery. I got a big kick out of her clumsy realism; to find out why read on here.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Audio Interview: Stephen Waddell

Vancouver- and Berlin-based artist Stephen Waddell works in the spaces between photography and painting, casual and formal. Recently, a survey of his work, curated by Roy Arden, opened at Vancouver's Contemporary Art Gallery. I had the chance to interview him about his unusual way of working and his influences on March 31. Click here to listen in courtesy of Canadian Art Online.

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Interview: Jack Bishop

While I really enjoy interviewing senior curators and artists across Canada, it's also great to sneak in a young, relatively unknown person from time to time. Jack Bishop is one of those relative unknowns who's been making a big splash on the East Coat with his colourful paintings of retail environments. The National Post ran my interview with him on April 3. 

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Exhibition essay: James McDougall @ Open Studio

I've had the opportunity to do a few exhibition essays this year. One of the most special for me was an essay for my old friend and Montreal-based printmaker James McDougall, who is having his first Toronto solo show at Open Studio. See it!

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Review: Christina Battle @ YYZ

Christina Battle is a Toronto-based video artist whose works have been shown in the Whitney Biennial. This spring, the Images Festival brought some of her art home, in a sense, with an exhibit at YYZ Artists' Outlet. Click here to read my review, which ran in NOW on March 27.

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Audio interview: Jens Hoffmann

One of the things that I do is edit and write for Canadian Art's new weekly e-edition. Last month, this gave me the opportunity to call San Francisco-based curator Jens Hoffmann and discuss his ideas about curating as elaborated in the Spring 2008 print edition of Canadian Art. Click here to tune in.

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Interview: Grit Schwerdtfeger

Grit Schwerdtfeger is a German photographer intrigued by the ways that distance can help us see life more clearly. Recently I had the pleasure of talking with her about her process and philosophy in relation to an exhibit at Toronto's Jane Corkin Gallery. The National Post ran an article based on our interview on March 27. 

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Interview: Emily Falvey and "Buildup" at the Ottawa Art Gallery

The Ottawa Art Gallery has done some great shows in the past few years. "Buildup" is another show in that tradition. The National Post ran my interview with show curator Emily Falvey on March 24 where she talked about the ideas behind this eclectic and engaging array of works.

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At the Galleries: Old Town Toronto

Goodwater Gallery is probably one of Toronto's most unique art-hosting spaces. Neither officially commercial nor officially nonprofit, this outside-the-day-job labour of love for John Goodwin gives artists the chance to experiment with different techniques. The space was one of the highlights of my Old Town Toronto gallery tour, which the National Post published on March 22.

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Exhibit: "Golden Years" @ U of T's Barnicke Gallery

What does it mean to be in college and an artist at the same time? Are these really the best years of a person's life, or is that idea just a nostalgic myth? These were some of the questions driving my curation of "Golden Years," a University of Toronto student show on at the Barnicke Gallery from March 17 to April 20. Check it out! 

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At the Galleries: Grange Park

A March 8 gallery hop in Grange Park had me looking beyond the Frank Gehry redesign of the AGO to other local creative-space stalwarts. Mark Adams's photographs of tatau culture in New Zealand were a highlight. Read about the rest here in this National Post.

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Review: ORD @ Eric Arthur Gallery

Sometimes a well-put-together little show can really soar. ORD: Documenting the Definitive Modern Airport is one of those shows. NOW Toronto ran my review of this little gem on March 6.

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Interview: Simon Starling @ The Power Plant

This year, on the cusp of a Toronto spring, the Power Plant unveiled the results of its commission from Simon Starling. The National Post ran my related interview with the Turner Prize winner on March 6.

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Interview: Kutlug Ataman

Kutlug Ataman has made a big stir with his video and film installations worldwide, from his native Istanbul to the international art-world schmoozefest at Venice. An exhibit of his work at the Vancouver Art Gallery afforded us a chance to talk. The National Post ran the resulting interview on February 29. Full text now after the jump too.

Q&A Kutlug Ataman
National Post, February 29, 2008

There are many ways we identify ourselves, from the political (Liberal or Conservative?) to the generational (Lohan or Monroe?). And Turkish artist Kutlug Ataman has made an internationally acclaimed career by investigating how we bolster those identities. Now, with two major artworks on display in Vancouver—one, Kuba, on a small Istanbul nabe, and the other, Paradise, on SoCal--Ataman tells Leah Sandals what labels apply to himself, if not others.

Q All your films focus on people talking, with no other action. Why?

A While talking, people construct their identities. Since the beginning of my art career 10 years ago that’s been one of my main ingredients: interest in how people construct themselves, how they use their stories to create their own characters in front of the camera.

Q The two groups in these artworks—one poor in Turkey and the other privileged in California—seem very different. What do they have in common that drew you in?

A Well, they’re both communities, both groups of people rather than individuals.

With Kuba I saw a group of people organizing themselves, even if subconsciously, around this mythology of belonging a small shantytown neighbourhood. I became interested in the mechanics of it: Do they get together and make a manifesto and plan to construct their stories accordingly? Or are there other ways this progresses?

Later, I thought I’d go to another community that actually dominates talk, that creates the mythology of the whole world, and investigate its community structures too. In Southern California, people are much more affluent, educated and creative than in Kuba. Yet the mechanics of a community recreating mythologies is exactly the same. Both communities organize along a common mythology, whether it’s around being poor and martyred in Kuba or creative and envied in California.

Q Your California interviewees range from clowns to lingerie salesmen. How did you meet your subjects?

A Actually, it was harder to get people for Kuba, because Kuba is a squatter community in danger of being eradicated. They don’t want to be on public view, so it took a year of going around and knocking on doors without a camera. But in California people are happy to be in front of the camera, mainly because they feel it’ll promote their businesses. Usually I went through friends, and one person led to another. But in one case, I was driving on the freeway and I saw a clown driving a car with a built-in carousel. I pulled in front of him and took down the phone number on the truck. Turns out he’s the world’s oldest working clown.

Q You studied film at UCLA some years ago; is California paradise to you too?

A I love California and I love some of its inventions. But would I live there now? No. I’m more interested in living in Turkey because it’s still in the making. If I can put a little bit of salt in the dish, add to that development, that’s exciting at this point in my life. California is already on the table, already constructed, so at the moment it’s not my idea of paradise. I like reality!

Q Why do you present these films on several separate screens, rather than just one?

A Conventional film requires captive audience. But these don’t. Here you take in only as much as you choose, and that’s more like real life. Say you saw accident on the street; you look at it and walk away. Two other people might stay longer. You do your own editing of how you are taking the world in all the time. And in these installations it’s the same. I think that experience is more important than sitting down and hearing a predictable truth, precooked-TV-dinner style.

Q I read, though, that you’re still working on feature films.

A Yes, that’s my day job. I’ve always been fascinated with filmmaking, with constructing illusions and stories. Feature films led me to see parallels between a screenplay and life, between a character and a real-life person, and to see that we all as individuals are the heroes of our own movies that we write and create as we go on.

Q Vancouver—or “Lotus Land”--is Canada’s California. Do you see anything paradisical about it?

A No; it’s cold so it’s not really my ideal. But it’s a part of the world I like to revisit for its natural beauty. The last time I was here I drove to Alberta, across the Rockies. Also, the food is great.

Kutlug Ataman: Paradise and Küba continues to May 19 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (

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Interview: Charles Mason and the Man-Eating Tiger @ Gardiner Museum

Historical ceramics aren't everybody's idea of accessible art. But this can change when you actually sit down to talk about them a little bit. Recently, I did just that with Charles Mason, a curator at the Gardiner Museum, about the institution's current show of Staffordshire figurines. The National Post ran the resulting article on February 28.

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At the Galleries: Leslieville

Every couple of weeks, the National Post's Saturday Toronto section runs a column of my gallery picks for a given T-town nabe. On February 23, my sights turned to the ever-up-and-coming Leslieville. Good fun, good eats and good sights.

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Review: IA25

Interaccess artist-run centre celebrates its 25th birthday this year. On February 21, NOW Toronto ran my review of IA25, its very succinct retrospective-type show.

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Review: Black Creek United

Also on February 14, NOW Toronto published my review of Black Creek United, an exhibition of a community arts project coordinated by the Art Gallery of York University. And here is Philip Monk's response to my review the following week (just scroll down a few letters). 

While I appreciate of Monk's rebuttal, my review has not changed. While I think this program is valuable and should be continued, I was very disappointed in the presentation and production values of it. From what I've seen at their main gallery, the AGYU obviously knows how to mount a professional looking show, and how to devote considerable financial and installation resources to it. Given this past success, it's clear to me that in this instance they failed (the project participants, as well as viewers) rather sorely. 

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Interview: Geoffrey Farmer

On February 14, the National Post published my interview with Geoffrey Farmer on the occasion of a major survey opening at the Musée d'art contemporain de Montreal. He was very articulate about his work, as destabilizing as it can sometimes be.

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