Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Head of Nail, Meet, Uh, Hitting Implement: OCAD Director Pegs TO as Too Self-Contained

Just wanted to relay a little something worth repeating from the Canadian Art Gallery Hop panel that happened on Saturday at OCAD.

On the plus side, the presentations by artists Adad Hannah and Emily Vey Duke were very strong. Hannah told the crowd more about his awesome re-creation of the Raft of the Medusa performed by teenagers from 100 Mile House in BC. And Vey Duke spoke pretty nicely to the difference between good irony (saying two things at once and meaning both quite sincerely) and bad irony (saying two things at once and believing both to be false, hopeless, weak, fail and totes ridonk).

AGO curator David Moos' presentation was a little more troubling. In it, he spoke a lot about Toronto and how he feels like it's finally a really exciting time in the city again--an excitement, in his mind, signalled mainly by all the construction cranes that dot the landscape. He talked also about how he'd like to increase the gallery's focus on Toronto in the future.

I kind of cringed at Moos' descriptions because (a) the idea that cultural excitement need be correlated to new buildings and architecture is a fallacy that has recently cost Toronto an unfortunate crapload of cash money and (b) the AGO is actually a provincial institution and, on that count at the very least, should be working extra hard to see beyond the Toronto-centrism that tends to pervade our city's cultural scene.

So while I was cringing silently, OCAD president Sara Diamond spoke up and hit the nail on the head, saying that the Toronto scene (and related AGO foci) is, in her experience, much too self-contained—-and that it suffers from that self-containment quite severely, in part by sacrificing potentially helpful international connections.

Though I don't always see eye to eye with Diamond, I gotta say, she was spot on with this. I would also add a lack of national--and even regional--connections is a disadvantage that most Toronto-sited cultural institutions happily put themselves in. Since the whole Windsor-to-Ottawa corridor is home to some quite productive and exciting artists--not to mention the whole Vancouver-to-St John's span--I hope that Moos opens his mind a bit... or at least gets his presentation points thought through a bit more next time around.

Image from the City of Toronto

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Damien Hirst meets the Dollar Store: A Q&A with Laura Kikauka

Ontario- and Berlin-based artist Laura Kikauka prompted quite a few chuckles at the Toronto International Art Fair last year when her Berlin gallery, DNA, distributed posters with her gaudy, sequiny, low-rent version of Damien Hirst's For the Love of God printed on them.

With Kikauka returning to show some of her dollar-store crystal skulls at MKG127 this fall, I knew I wanted to line her up for an interview to see what her reasoning behind these witty works was. Our condensed conversation is published in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q Your sculptures, as you've suggested, can be thought of as critical of Hirst. But is there anything you admire about him?

A I think he's an excellent businessman. I really liked how he auctioned his own work at Sotheby's last year, making his gallery buy it from him at top dollar. I thought that was a smooth move. His way of working in the art world goes against the grain, but I think it can be good to shake things up. What kind of artist can get attention these days not by splattering blood, but by actually having something to say?

Image of Laura Kikauka's Eye Candy from the artist and MKG127

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Out today: Unofficial Nuit Blanche & Rues des Refuses in the National Post

What can art rebels do when major exhibitions move out of the box and into streets? Go right along with them.

That's what the Toronto project Rues Des Refuses is doing with respect to Nuit Blanche, taking the longstanding Salon Des Refuses tradition out of the box and into open air.

You can read more about the project in my piece in today's National Post.

In the piece, I also try to point to the fact that there are tons of unofficial projects running during the Nuit Blanche time slot that have no affiliation with the corporate-sponsored fest—-nor any desire to join a "refuses-style" initiative.

One of these latter types of projects is "Out of Site", a show organized by independent curator and critic Earl Miller and sponsored by the Queen St West BIA.

Unlike RDR, "Out of Site" sports artists more in the respected-gallery-circuit vein, like Lisa Neighbour, Kerri Reid and duo Daniel Borins and Jennifer Marman. It will also likely turn heads with its use of Queen West storefronts, including that of the much-loved, recently defunct Pages Bookstore.

More coverage of Nuit Blanche is bound to dominate the local media this week--including welcome snark and snappiness from Artstars*, who promise to cover the Nuit as it unfolds. Stay tuned.

Image of Teeth's saloon-doors project from Rues des Refuses

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Interview: Emily Vey Duke on Art Futures and Fears

Today, an audio interview I did with Syracuse-based Canadian artist Emily Vey Duke was posted at The interview relates to Duke's appearance on a panel happening tomorrow about the idea of "promise" and future stuff in the art world. Though the interview had to be pretty severely edited, I think what comes across overall is Duke's fairly radical-in-a-good-way-in-the-current-context opinion that art should have a moral impulse as well as a critical one. It's about six minutes long. Here ya be:

Two notes:

1) Man, I have to totally get better at audio-recording stuff. The quality is quite crappy, and for this I apologize to the artist and listeners (same going for the Myfanwy Macleod interview I posted earlier this week)

2) The panel Vey Duke is on happens from 11am to 12:30pm tomorrow (Saturday the 26th Sept) at OCAD as part of the Canadian Art Gallery Hop. I'm a bit of a shill for this event because (a) I work a bit at Canadian Art and (b) I'm doing a talk and tour as part of the Hop tomorrow, starting at 1:30pm at Diaz Contemporary and visiting the Tecumseth Street galleries. It's all free and I will even let you leave anytime you want if you deign to join me. Promise.

Image of one of Emily Vey Duke's collaborative installations created with art/life partner Cooper Battersby from their website

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Duly noted: William Thorsell leaving the ROM in 2010

OK, so I was going to lay off the museum stuff for a while, but I just wanted to duly note a brief item from today's Toronto Star——namely, that Bill Thorsell is retiring as CEO of the ROM next August. As reported in the print edition of the Star (not to be found online):

"I knew my contract was coming up and that prompted me to think about what we've achieved over the past decade," Thorsell, 64, explained in an interview yesterday. "This seemed like the right time for me to make this move."

Sal Badali, chair of the ROM's board of trustees, said Thorsell's decision comes as a shock because of the key role he has played since taking on the job in 2000 after serving 10 years as editor of the Globe and Mail.

The Globe and the Canadian Press also ran items today, and the ROM issued a related press release yesterday.

But the most interesting media to come out of this news item for yours truly was one I missed last year and found while Googling around this evening—a profile in local queer mag Fab, which opines:

A gay man takes over an old building and what’s the first thing he does? Drops a quarter-billion in renovations.

In 2000, William Thorsell, who had been editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail since 1989, took over as CEO of Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, the fifth-largest museum in North America. That makes him one of this country’s top antique dealers. Of course, the collection he oversees is priceless.

Thorsell is one gay man for whom the word “crystal” has a positive connotation. Nobody can walk by the corner of Bloor West and Queen’s Park Crescent without marvelling at the 2800-tonne steel skeleton of what will eventually become the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, the ROM’s current expansion project designed by world-renowned architect Daniel Libeskind.

The project is nothing short of spectacular, and it could not be any gayer. This is drag architecture at its finest: it’s not just about being noticed, but about having the most stunning gown at the ball. When New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) completed its recent expansion, it struck the Manhattan cityscape like a well-tailored power suit amidst a sea of ready-to-wear. MoMA had a straight person at the helm. The ROM is led by a man with two white sofas in his office.

A pretty different reading of the whole ROM/Thorsell collision than any other one I've read. Good to see & recommended.

Image of Thorsell in 2007 from the Canadian Press

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Yep, That's Pretty Much It

Noted in the comments book for Elizabeth Seigfried's show at Stephen Bulger Gallery:


My name is Nare from Korea

I like your art

Your picture have soidjfosdji pain

Thank you!

Yep, sometimes that's pretty much it, in a nutshell, eh?

Image from

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Know You've Got Your Head Too Much in Museum Politics When... start to get excited/agitated about press releases like this:

The National Gallery of Canada Foundation announces the launch of The American Friends of the National Gallery of Canada
New organization facilitates support of the Gallery by US-based donors

Ottawa, September 23, 2009 – The National Gallery of Canada Foundation is pleased to announce the launch of The American Friends of the National Gallery of Canada, its affiliate in the United States of America. The new organization was established to strengthen the Foundation’s presence in the United States and to expand its ability to reach US-based art patrons.

“As a result of the close cultural and economic relationships between our two countries, millions of people residing in the United States have personal ties to Canada,” said the Chair of the National Gallery of Canada Foundation Board of Directors, Thomas P. d’Aquino. “The National Gallery of Canada offers them a wonderful opportunity to stay connected to or learn more about Canada’s cultural heritage and we are pleased to facilitate their support of the National Gallery.”

Internationally renowned, the Gallery’s collections include the most comprehensive holding of Canadian art. “Among other things, our national collection tells the evolving story of Canada and makes that story accessible nationally and internationally,” noted NGC Director, Marc Mayer. “A great example of this is the presentation of the exhibition Yousuf Karsh at 100: Portraits of Artists at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, DC, which marks the launch of The American Friends. We hope that it will stimulate interest in Canadian art and in our institution among our neighbors.” The exhibition is on view until December 18, 2009.

Patrons filing their income taxes in the United States can now be issued a tax receipt by The American Friends of the National Gallery of Canada, which is recognized by Internal Revenue Services (USA).

But, you know, I did get excited/agitated about this announcement anyway.

Why? Well, it was basically kind of fun to examine my own instinctive reactions, namely: Whaaaaaaat? You think Americans are or will be interested in Canadian art? Enough to donate to Canada's national gallery?!? Whaaaat? Why would they do want to do that? Why would they care? etc.

Basically, I've never seen a move like this on the part of a Canadian museum or gallery before, and part of the reason is that most of us assume there's little interest in us south of the 49th. Or that if there is, you usually move south of the 49th yourself, not parka-wrap yourself up here.

On a more measured note, I'm basically like, "Whatever raises more money for the museum, from those who can afford it, sure, National Gallery of Canada, go for it." Who knows? Maybe some money could, after all come out of it. (Crazy kids!)

One more brain-tangent that emerged from all this: perhaps I'm accustomed to Canada's national gallery pursuing partnerships with European funders, sites or institutions rather than American ones. France is kind of a natural given the whole Quebec thing, and the UK, well, hell, the Queen is still our official head of state and all, so I guess it feels more natural to expect a little cultural cash flow from the Commonwealth. Approaching the US is more unusual on a cultural front, perhaps also because it's the pop-cult megaforce that state-funded Canadian institutions are explicitly attempting to contend with.

It was also pointed out to me that NGC head Marc Mayer, not yet 12 months on the job, did work in the States for a while, making the NGC likely more open to such "Canuck-radical" activity.

In any case, I'm interested to see what funds might come out of this all in the future—and if so, which other institutions might try to follow suit. Any thoughts?

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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Out Now: Audio Chat with Myfanwy MacLeod

One of my freelance gigs of late has been working on materials for the Canadian Art Gallery Hop. Today, this involved posting an audio interview with eclectic Vancouver artist Myfanwy MacLeod about the work (pictured above) she donated to the event's auction—a discussion that branched out into ideas around MacLeod's upcoming Olympic Village art installation and a description of the work (life-size moonshine still!) that MacLeod is creating for her upcoming show at Catriona Jeffries in Vancouver.

Here's an embed of the interview:

Image: Myfanwy MacLeod, 1981, 2009 Detail Courtesy of the artist and Catriona Jeffries Gallery via

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Royal Ontario Museum Review Transcripts Now Posted

A quick note to follow up on my previous post about the Ontario Legislature's review of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The transcripts of the committee review session are now up on the Ontario Legislature site.

In the part of the morning session I had to miss, I was interested to see the ROM representatives talk free admission—but mainly to say that daily free admission would be unrealistic.

Well, that's true from a current economic perspective. But my position remains that the ROM does have the resources to perform better on public access—in the form of restoring free evenings, at the very least.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

Picket Lines go up at Ottawa Museums

As reported by the CBC and the Canadian Press today, workers walked off the job at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum. The dispute seems to be in part over the use of contract workers. As the worker union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, puts it,

The 420 workers are demanding the same protections that are in place for other museum workers in the Ottawa/Gatineau region. The Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation (CMCC) continues to deny their demands for workplace fairness and protections against contracting out.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization and the War Museum had the highest attendance and brought in more revenue than any other museum or gallery in the National Capital Region last year. Meanwhile, workers' salaries at the two museums are lower than all of the other federal museum workers in the Ottawa/Gatineau – in some cases 40 per cent lower.

According to the museum, certain activities—ironically a few associated with this coming weekend's Quebec Journées de la Culture—will be cancelled, but the museum will stay open. According to the museum's press releases,

CMCC's final offer included increased job security provisions and wage proposals that would see salaries rise by between 12% and 17% over four years. PSAC's latest wage and benefit demands would see salary costs increase upwards of 30% over the same period.

I hope this dispute can be resolved equitably.

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Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Queen West Art Crawl Sans Queen West?

This weekend, the annual Queen West Art Crawl is on the go. But there's a bit less fanfare about it this time around—-Queen West has changed a fair bit since the crawl was initiated 7 years ago, and so has the Toronto art scene.

As noted here and elsewhere, many Queen West galleries have recently closed or migrated further north along Ossington, Dundas West, and even Bloor. There are, of course, galleries still worth dropping in on along the Queen strip; they're just fewer in number than there used to be even a year ago.

Also, there's more Toronto art fests of note to steal QWAC's fire these days. Nuit Blanche seems to have taken over as the major public art event of the year, and the Toronto Outdoor Art Fair continues to grow, being the prime outdoor fair for artists to market their own wares at.

I will be dropping by the QWAC strip today, trying to get a better sense of what the status of area fests like this becomes when the art scene, in many ways, moves on from a given area.

On a somewhat related note, the Canadian Art Gallery Hop, which I'm involved with, is happening next Saturday, September 26. To me, the hop's tours and talks schedule really reflects the dispersion of gallery geographies in Toronto: the Distillery, 401 Richmond, Queen West, Ossington, Dundas West, Morrow Ave, Yorkville and Tecumseth St (which I'll be touring) each get their own treatment.

Times like this I yearn for a nice, centralized Belgo Building to call our own--lucky Montrealers!

Image from Toronto Craft Alert

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Thursday, September 17, 2009

Duly enjoyed: Kelly Lycan @ TPW, Office as Medium @ XPACE

A couple of those all-caps galleries on Ossington have some quite enjoyable exhibitions going on right now.

Over at TPW, Kelly Lycan's "White Hot" offers a kind of minimalist mayhem, stockpiling objects that are white, clear or neutral in colour. Piles of doilies get thrown behind shelves, plastic bags are tucked between Flavin-esque wall elements and carved-out carpets are stacked up to spell the word "save." The overall meaning was elusive but to me there was something going on about the feeling of purity that can come with hoarding/shopping/accumulation of used or reused objects—even if you're not going to use them. Make sense? Dunno. But it's like soothing tapioca to September-opening stressed eyeballs.

Next door at XPACE, four artists decide to use the officey aspect of the gallery to the max, creating works from grey carpets, UHU sticks, and best of all from the artist-run-centre angle, old back issues of art magazines, for a show called "Office as Medium." Oh, the kinetic sculpture of the floor-skimming ceiling fan in the back is also particularly worth a look. Strangely, however, there were no post-it-note works in sight. Too cliche at this point? Or did someone preemptively steal them all might happen in a real office? Can't tell, but it looks like the artists had fun with this one, refashioning cube-dweller accessories to their own ends. Coffee-break-ariffic.

Image of office-y sculpture from Xpace

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Out now: Q&A with Valérie Blass

The new issue of Canadian Art is out, and in it you can find my interview with Valérie Blass, the awesome Montreal sculptor I gave much praise to earlier in the year. Though the article itself is only in print, there is a concise portfolio of Blass's works up on the Canadian Art site. She definitely remains one to watch.

Valérie Blass Mon baton préféré tenu par l’homme ciment 2008 Courtesy Parisian Laundry / Photo Guy L’Heureux from

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cute Alert: The Canadian Art Gossip Generator

I was tipped off tonight by @Latitude_53 and @PrairieArtsters on Twitter about a very cute little art project: The Canadian Art Gossip Generator. Though it currently only exists in two editions—the Visualeyez/MST edition and the Saskatoon edition—I could imagine this handy piece of software sweeping the laptops across the nation, if only for a much-needed chuckle. (After all, considering solely the latest Portrait Gallery of Canada scandal and the BC arts funding cuts can lead to depressive states, dontcha know.)

One notable aspect of the generator, even though it is specifically targeted, supposedly, to events in Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatoon, is the cross-Canada flavour that emerges. For this, kudos goes to creator seems to be SK artist Megan Morman. Travel (or frequent moves) are part of life for certain prominent names in the CanArt scene, and the CAGG reflects that reality quite ably.

Says one quip, "The panel moderator won't hang out with [Toronto artist] Monty Cantsin," while another says, "The Cheeseater shagged [Montreal artist] Chris Lloyd at some ungodly hour." (Can someone please tell me what the Cheeseater is? On second, thought, maybe don't.)

Others snippets of computer generated gossip stay truer to their chosen locale, like, "Those chicks from SNAP Gallery had sex with The guy from Harcourt House in the lobby."

Though this seems to be a Western Canadian initiative, I'll just put my two cents in and say I'd love to see one for Toronto events Nuit Blanche and the Toronto International Art Fair.

And yes, the gossip generator can quote me on that.

Image from the Otherside Group

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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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Saturday, September 12, 2009

TIFF's Future Projections: 3 in review

The Toronto International Film Festival is in full swing, and is pretty much dominating all coverage of Toronto arts stuff right now. Yes, that includes galleries too—for the past few years, TIFF has put together a free program called Future Projections in art spaces. Today I reviewed three of these for the National Post's Toronto section. Here's an excerpt:

Christopher Doyle @ INDEX G
50 Gladstone Ave.
Often, we go to the movies to immerse ourselves in other lives and worlds. And during the course of his career, Christopher Doyle, director of photography for such films as In the Mood for Love and Rabbit-Proof Fence, has likely served up a couple of the sweeping, lose-yourself epics you’ve seen. However, in his Toronto gallery debut, Doyle explicitly refuses to plunge viewers into the pleasures of cinematic escape. Rather, in his feature video, Doyle distances viewers, using several approaches to build a kind of cinematic moat. Visually, Doyle inserts raw film-editing graphics like “Picture Start” over the top of clips, interrupting their imagery. Aurally, he applies a soundtrack of a British-accented man repeatedly recounting a routine of Guinness and Cornish pasties, while our eyes see scenes from an unnamed Asian city. Conceptually, Doyle repeats the same clips in different sequences, refusing the easy connection of a beginning, middle or end. (What story can be gleaned would seem to be a sad one, featuring an Asian family with an ill, immobilized mother figure.) Prints accompanying the video reinforce these techniques, with the overall experience coming off as emotionally unappealing, yet interesting — a man who’s lived a good part of his life through cinema’s lens appears here to rebuff its charms. And that could be a compelling story in itself. To Oct. 11.

The big-buzz offering for Future Projections is Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno installation and screening, but unfortunately it wasn't set up till after my deadline.

Image of one of Christopher Doyle's prints from TIFF

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Friday, September 11, 2009

Q&A: Adrian Paci

Earlier this year, I posted about the exhibition Turn On at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, which features three contemporary Italian artists--including the first Canadian showing of a few works by Adrian Paci which I thought were just great. More recently, I had a chance to chat with Paci on the phone. Our condensed Q&A starts here and continues after the jump. (Unexpected fun fact: Paci's sister lives in Burlington!) Also, Turn On is closing this weekend--last chance to check these works out!

Q There is a very strong sense in some of your works in Hamilton—Turn On and Centro de permanenza temporanea—of concern for migrant labourers, who travel the world to support their families. Is this a conscious concern for you?

A Yes. But it’s kind of an attraction more so than a decision to look at those kinds of people.

It has to do with their faces, with how their stories are somehow signed into their faces. You can see on their faces things of their experience of life—it interests me how that can be discovered in a portrait.

Image: Adrian Paci's Centro di permanenza temporanea 2007 video still courtesy Francesca Kaufmann Milan

Q Does any personal experience of yours contribute to your attraction to these themes?

A It might be connected with my education, or my jobs. Interest in these kinds of faces was part of my practice even as an art student. In both Turn On and Centro… there is interest in a wide discourse… in both of the works you feel this attraction to a kind of humanity.

Q Where do you find these people? What appeals to you about them?

A Well, basically, for these works we found them on the street. They are mostly unemployed people. So for Centro… we found them mostly in the streets of San Francisco. And for Turn On we found them in Shkoder [Albania's second largest city, and Paci’s birthplace].

Q The images in Turn On are very beautiful, but the sound after a certain point is very loud and abrasive. What were you trying to do with that contrast?

A Normally when I make a piece it’s important to find a moment of tension. In Centro… it’s between possible departure and arrival moments. And in Turn On it’s about this disconnection and connection between this noise and the light it is helping to produce somehow.

Q Do you locate that tension in your own life as well, between arriving and departing? After all, it was hard to reach you for this interview because you are so on the go this summer.

A Well, yes. I went through the experience of migration like many other people. But I didn’t want to make it a question of reflecting my personal state. Of course, the fact that I went through that experience personally gives these subjects a more personal touch. But I am also interested more generally in this moment of inbetweenness and this moment of identities that are in a state of possible movement, but not totally arrived yet.

Somehow I find it interesting to collaborate with this migrating state of being. I don’t think I’ve found the solution by any means. The works are just some moments of reflection.

Q In your work, I noted, some people might read concern for the treatment of labourers. But some might also ask, are you simply exploiting these workers anew? How do you respond?

A The fact is that most of these people were unemployed, and of course I paid them for their work in these films. And to my mind the piece speaks through them, even if it is not speaking about them exactly. But of course they were paid for it. For Turn On, a lot of these people were just hanging around the streets, looking for work. When I’ve returned lately, they are still there.

Q Did you know that Hamilton, where these works are showing, is a very labour-oriented city? Have you ever been there?

A I have been there, but I didn’t see that much in the city. I actually have a sister living in Burlington so I spent time with my sister and my mother. It was my second time in Canada.

Q What are you working on next?

A Now I am working on a short film. I’m not ready to talk about it right now, but want to show how life can be put together in different situations, how it can all stay together in a certain absurd combination. It is shortly going to shoot in the end of September and hopefully we’ll show it in June in Zurich in the museum there.

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Two Thumbs Up: Lisa Steele, Kim Tomczak & Kelly Mark @ Diaz Contemporary

Why don't art reviewers make as good use of thumb-quality-measurements and TV-series-style chatter as movie reviewers do?

That's a question for a another post, I s'pose.

But in the meantime I'm going to give two thumbs way up to Lisa Steele, Kim Tomczak & Kelly Mark's current shows at Diaz Contemporary.

As I note in my review in the current issue of NOW, Steele & Tomczak quite effectively provide a glimpse into the backpackless emotional baggage that many high-school students have toted off to class this semester. Fears of parents dying, of being a failure, of not getting a good job are imprinted over pics of the teens, making me reevaluate the (sadly curmudgeon-styled) thoughts of "what is it with kids these days?" that tend to crop up in my greying-of-hair, crowfeeting-of-eye inner reflections of late. I hope it provides the same cautionary about-take for others.

At the same time, Steele and Tomczak's works also reflect some of that weird harshness of high school life, with most of the text about "funniest thing I ever saw" for these kids involving friends tripping, falling, or pretending to die.

The duo also provides a couple of images of an office building, and what seems to be the answers of a couple of "adults" overlaid. Also revealing and interesting.

Kelly Mark, as expected, provides very funny and smart works. (A brief aside: Mark showing at Diaz is itself a bit of news; for many years she's shown at Wynick/Tuck. Now Diaz will be her Toronto dealer.) Again, as noted in the review, Mark uses text in a particularly charming way, building it up only to have it absurdly fall apart. Her six-foot neon sign reading “Nothing is so important that it needs to be made in six foot high neon” is one example of this. A circular sign reading, “It’s just one god damn thing after another” also fits.

To me, the most unexpected Mark works were her Letraset drawings, which aesthetically look quite different from her other works. In these drawings, Mark uses what seems to be the entire materials of one Letraset package to create abstractions, sometimes what could even be thought of as a text mandala of sorts. The more visually abstract quality of these works places them at quite a distance from other Mark works, which play more on narrative (or at least the promise of a narrative) than on form.

Do make sure to "see this one while it's in theatres. It ain't no rental."

Image of Kelly Mark's It's Just One God Damn Thing After Another from NOW Toronto

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

News Flash: The Royal Ontario Museum Is Still Performing Poorly on Public Access

In a decided switch from my usual gallery-and-laptop scene, part of my day today was spent making a presentation to the Standing Committee on Government Agencies at the Ontario Legislature.

The committee is currently undertaking a review of the Royal Ontario Museum, which is one of its agencies. From what I understood, the review is not for any special reason, just part of a regular review rotation that the committee has for its agencies.

My news flash to the committee can be summarized as follows: The Royal Ontario Museum is Still Performing Poorly on Public Access.

In other words,

  • The museum is mandated, as one of its "primary and defining reponsibilities" to provide physical and intellectual access to its collection to Ontarians, Canadians and international visitors, including the minimizing of economic barriers to access
  • Nevertheless, the ROM has what my research shows to be the most expensive admission-fee structure in Canada, and one of the most expensive admission-fee structures in the world: $22 for adults, $17 for students (high school only) and seniors, $15 for those aged 4 to 14
  • Furthermore, the ROM has rejected common-practice museum techniques for overcoming admission fee barriers and providing for public access, most notably free one-evening-a-week admission and family-package pricing
  • What access measures the ROM has instead—1,800 passes per month distributed through agencies like the Toronto Public Library, the United Way and the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, along with a couple of other token measures—are well-intentioned, but are not sufficient to filling the access gap in the least. (Ontario has 12 million people, a median income of $27,000, and its highest jobless rate in 15 years going on right now—meaning that these access initiatives are reaching less than one percent of the people who by rights should be able to access the ROM collection. The current programs are also extremely Toronto-centric, mostly unavailable outside of the GTA.)
  • To raise the ROM's performance on its public access mandates to a satisfactory level, I recommend, at a minimum (a) reinstituting a free evening (the ROM had this as recently as 2002/3) (b) reducing general admission fees to movie-ticket levels (c) instituting family package pricing.
  • Finally, though the ROM may find improving its public access a challenge, it is a challenge for all museums—and, according to my research, the vast majority of other museums regionally, nationally and internationally have figured out how to meet that challenge much more satisfactorily than the ROM. So it's fair to conclude that improving access at the ROM is just as feasible as it has been at other museums.
I don't know how the committee will use the information I presented, but it was certainly an education attending the session. The other presenters—the ROM director and board, as well as ROM partners like Earth Rangers, Tourism Toronto and Attractions Ontario—were all pretty rah-rah about the museum's performance.

Some of the material and research that I handed off to the committee members is posted after the jump. I also found this article on free admission from the American Association of Museums a good read.

Image of the ROM from Designlines Magazine

Museum admission fees and access programs: A brief sampling compiled by Leah Sandals
Approximately ordered from most expensive to least expensive, or from least public access to most public access

Royal Ontario Museum
$22 adults
$19 students (high school only) and seniors
$15 children aged 4 to 14
Half-price Friday nights from 4:30pm to 9:30pm
Free admission for Canadian post secondary students on Tuesdays
MAP Pass program (partial)
Cultural Access Pass program
Selected free tickets given to United Way for distribution

Ontario Science Centre
Adult $18
Senior $13.50
Youth 13 to 17 $13.50
Child 4 to 12 years $11
Free/$2 tickets for organizations serving low-income people (arranged in advance)
Free for special needs people if arranged in advance
MAP pass program (partial)

Vancouver Art Gallery
$20.50 for adults
$16 for seniors
$15 for students
$7 for children aged 4 to 14
Family admission fee of $50 for two adults and two children
“By donation” Tuesday evenings sponsored by Sun Life Financial, 5 to 9pm

Museum of Modern Art, New York
Adults $20
Seniors $16
Students $12
Children 16 and under Free
Free admission Friday Nights from 4 to 8 pm sponsored by Target

Guggenheim Museum, New York
Adults $18
Students and seniors $15
Children under 12 free
Pay what you wish Saturdays from 5:45pm to 7:45pm

Art Gallery of Ontario
Adults $18
Seniors $15
Youth 6 to 17 $10
Children 5 and under Free
Family (2 adults and up to 5 youths) $45
Free Wednesday evenings from 6 to 8:30pm, sponsored by the Catherine & Maxwell Meighen Foundation
Free for Ontario teachers with valid ID
Free for Ontario high school students with valid ID Tuesday to Friday 3:30 to 5:30
MAP pass program (full)
Cultural Access Pass program

Art Institute of Chicago
Adults $18
Children over 14, Students and Seniors $12
Children under 14 Free
Discount of $2 for Chicago residents with proof of residency
Free for Chicago police and firefighters
Free for active members of the US military
Free for disabled US veterans
Free evening Thursdays 5 to 8pm all year
Two free evenings per week during the summer (Thursday 5 to 9 and Friday 5 to 9)
Free the entire month of February
Each school group participant receives a free family pass to return free with his or her whole family at a later date
Free admission for holders of the Chicago Public Library museum passes.

The Field Museum, Chicago
Adults $15 ($13 for Chicago residents)
Children ages 3 to 11 $10 ($9 for Chicago residents)
Students with ID $12 ($11 for Chicago residents)
Seniors $12 ($11 for Chicago residents)
Free very second Monday of the month all day, sponsored by Target
34 more free admission days, mostly in fall, winter and spring
Free admission week February 1 to 6
(Basic admission includes seeing the world’s largest and most complete T rex)

Glenbow Museum
Adult (18+) $14
Senior (65+) $10
Student (with valid ID) $9
Youth (ages 7-17) $9
Family (2 adults, up to 4 youth) $28
Child (Ages 6 and under) Free

McCord Museum of Canadian History
Adults $13
Seniors (65 and over) $10
Students (full time) $7
Children 6 to 12 years $5
Children 5 and under Free
Families (4 people max 2 adults) $26
Free admission the first Saturday of each month from 10am to 12pm.

New Museum, New York
Adults $12
Seniors $10
Students $8
18 and under Free
Free admission for Youth sponsored by Target
Free Thursday evenings sponsored by CIT

Canadian Museum of Civilization
Adults $12
Seniors and Students $10
Children aged 3 to 12 $8
Families (5 people, maximum 2 adults) $30
Free every Thursday evening from 4 to 8pm
Free on International Museums Day (May 18)
Free on Canada Day (July 1)
Free on Remembrance Day (November 11)

Canadian War Museum
Adults $12
Seniors and Students $10
Children aged 3 to 12 $8
Families (5 people, maximum 2 adults) $30
Free every Thursday evening from 4 to 8pm
Free on International Museums Day (May 18)
Free on Canada Day (July 1)
Free on Remembrance Day (November 11)

Australian Museum
Adults $12
Child 5 to 15 years $6
Child under 5 Free
Family (2 adults, 2 children) $20
Family (1 adult, 2 children) $18
Additional children $3 each
Seniors, students, unemployed & disabled $8

Canadian Centre for Architecture
Adults $10
Seniors $7
Students Free
Children Free
Free Thursday evenings

Dallas Museum of Art
Adults $10
Senior citizens $7
Students and Military Personnel $5
Children under 12 Free
Free First Tuesday of each month
Free Thursday evenings from 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Art Gallery of Alberta
Adults: $10
Seniors/Students: $7

Children 6 to 12 Years: $5

Children 5 Years and under: Free
Family (2 adults + up to 4 children): $20
“Pay What you May” Thursday evenings 4-8pm

Royal Tyrrell Museum
Adult (18-64) $10.00 (one day) $15 (two day)
Senior (65+) $8.00 (one day) $12 (two day)
Youth (7-17) $6.00 (one day) $9 (two day)
Children (6 and under) Free
Family (2 adults and their children to a max group size of 8) $30.00

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Adults $10.00
Seniors $8.00
Students $5.00
Youth (6-17yrs) $3.00
Children (5 & under) free
Family Rate (2 adults & 3 youths) $20.00
Admission by Donation every Thursday evening from 5 to 9pm

Vancouver Maritime Museum
$10 for adults
$7.50 for seniors
$7.50 for youth aged 6 to 18
Family admission fee of $25

National Gallery of Canada
Permanent collection adult admission $9 (for special exhibitions as well, $15)
Permanent collection senior and student admission $7 (for spec exb as well, $12)
Youth 12 to 19 $4 (for spec exb as well, $7)
Family (2 adults, 3 children) $18 (for special exhibition as well, $30)
Children under 12 Free (special exhibitions are free)
Free admission to the permanent collection every Thursday evening, 5 to 9 pm
Free Monday May 18 – International Museums Day
Free July 1 – Canada Day

Louvre Museum, Paris
Adult 9 euro during the day
Adult 6 euro Wednesday and Friday evenings
Free for all people under 18 years of age
Free for those under 26 on Friday evenings
Free for handicapped persons and their assistants
Free for the unemployed and those on social benefits
Free for all the first Sunday of every month

Manitoba Museum
Adults $8 (w/ Science Gallery $13.50)
Youth 3 to 17 years $6.50 (w/ Science Gallery $10)
Student $6.50 (w/ Science Gallery $10)
Senior $6.50 (w/ Science Gallery $10)
Family $26.50 (w/ Science Gallery $45.25)

Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art
Adults $8
Seniors $6
Students $4
Families (4 people, at least 1 adult) $16
Children under 12 free
Free admission every Wednesday evening from 6 to 9 pm
Unlimited admission all year for $10

Prado Museum, Madrid
Daytime Adult 8 euro
Daytime EU citizens with large families 4 euro
Daytime Foreign students under 25 4 euro
Daytime Youth card holders 4 euro
Children under 18 Free
EU citizens over 65 Free
EU citizens who are unemployed Free
EU students under 25 Free
Free to all 6 to 8pm Tuesday to Saturday and 5 to 8 Sunday

Canada Science and Technology Museum
Adults $7.50
Students and seniors $5
Children aged 4 to 14 $3.50
Family (2 adults and 3 children) $18
Free from 4pm to 5pm daily
Free admission on May 18, International Museums Day
Free admission on Canada Day

The Rooms
Adults $7.50
Seniors $5
Children (5 and Under) Free
Children/Youth (6-16) $4
Students $5
Family (max. 2 Adults, 2 Youth) $20
Free admission Wednesday nights from 6pm to 9pm
Free admission the first Saturday of each month (November - May)

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Permanent collection – free at all times to all
Special exhibitions adult $15 ($7.50 on Wednesday evenings)
Special exhibitions student $7.50
Special exhibitions seniors $10 ($7.50 on Wednesday evenings)
Special exhibitions children under 12 Free
Special exhibitions Family (four people, max 2 adults) $30 ($15 on Wednesday evenings)

Musee National des beaux-arts du Quebec
Permanent collection – free at all times to all
Temporary exhibitions adults $15
Temporary exhibitions seniors $12
Temporary exhibitions students $7
Temporary exhibitions youth aged 12 to 17 $4
Temporary exhibitions family rate (5 people, max 2 adults) $30

Cincinnati Art Museum
Free every day it is open (Tues-Sun)
Free daily admission is sponsored by the Richard and Lois Rosenthal Foundation.
Saturday's free admission is made possible by the Thomas J. Emery Free Day Endowment.
Free general admission for children is made possible in part through an endowment established by Cincinnati Financial Corporation/The Cincinnati Insurance Companies.

Natural History Museum, London UK
British Museum, London UK
Portrait Gallery, London UK
Tate Modern, London UK
Victoria & Albert Museum, London UK
Permanent collection free for all
Sponsored by the British Government

Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Free for all at all times

Smithsonian Museums, Washington
Free for all at all times

Museum of Natural History, New York
Admission by suggested donation at all times (can enter for free)

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Admission by suggested donation at all times (can enter for free)

Baltimore Museum of Art
Free admission to the permanent collection for all visitors all the time
Occasionally, additional admission fees for special temporary exhibitions
Year-round free admission is made possible this year thanks to generous grants from the City of Baltimore and Baltimore County, with additional support from The William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, the Joseph and Harvey Meyerhoff Family Charitable Funds, and the T. Rowe Price Associates Foundation. Ongoing support for free admission at the BMA has been provided through generous endowment gifts from the Cohen Family Fund for Free Admission, Lord Baltimore Capital Corporation, and Mary J. and James D. Miller.

Frye Art Museum, Seattle
Always Free

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sad to Hear: Helen Pitt Gallery Closing

I never thought it could be harder to post than while I was away on vacation, but it turns out (ha ha!) that going back to work is what truly reduces the blog juices.

In any case, while multiple deadlines loom, I just wanted to give a shout-out to the West Coast, where formerly reliable arts funds are drying up just as (paradoxically) huge amounts of Olympic cash invade the city.

Here, the struggling: Helen Pitt Gallery to close (from the Globe)

And here, the (supposedly) stupendous: The Cultural Olympics Digital Edition (CODE 2010)

Go figure!

Image from Helen Pitt Gallery

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Friday, September 4, 2009

Last Chance: Judy Chicago @ Textile Museum

You know what's kind of a bad thing about being the kind of writer who does preview Q&As with artists?

It's that it can take you a long time to actually see the show once it's up, sometimes.

Such is the case with me and the Judy Chicago show, When Women Rule the World, at the Textile Museum of Canada. It closes this weekend, September 7, and I finally went to see it today.

Bottom line: I'm sorry I'd waited so long to see it. Though I'm familiar with Chicago's work and legacy, what makes the show shine is

1) the unexpected, quite large scale of these works, something that does not come across in reproduction and

2) Allyson Mitchell's very capable curation and helpful texts.

While my NOW colleague Fran Schechter was right to point out in her review is astute in noting Chicago's lack of representational skill, and while Chicago's work can seem cliched to some, I really recommend the show as worth seeing. The videos showing the collaborative process between the (often controversial) Chicago and the needleworkers who complete the pieces are also really interesting.

Also, the earliest work in the show, Red Flag (1971) still maintains its punch, underlining the ways that many women's experiences (in this case, menstruation) remain largely unaddressed in the art canon.

Image from Art Knowledge News

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Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Nationalist and a Generalist; Like an Officer and a Gentleman?

Today, posted of one last fragment of my recent East-Coast journeys--a review of "Republic," an exhibition at the Rooms in St. John's that touches on the resurgence of separatist sentiment (however ironic) in Newfoundland.

What I learned from writing this review (or what, well, came into sharper focus) is that I am a nationalist and a generalist. I feel excited about Canada and its constituent parts, as well as art that addresses same. I'm also a bit of a dilettante—I love to see exhibitions that grab from many different areas to make their point.

"Republic" was satisfying for me on both these tendencies. In St. John's there are repeated underground battles between various parties raising the old Newfoundland-nation tricolour flag on a hill overlooking the city and those who tear down that same flag. It was great to see an exhibition addressing these very Canadian-styled tensions.

Also, the show integrates consumer products from today, like "Free Nfld" T-shirts, with archival citizenship documents and contemporary art. I freaking love this kind of eclectic approach wherein many different forms of visual culture are brought together in an investigation of something that is, when scattered, kind of invisible.

So there ya be. Next up: I become both an Officer and a Gentleman. Maybe.... Not.

Image of Angela Antle's Mishta-Shipu 2009 from

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Out Today: Q&A with Tree Listener Alex Metcalf

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound? British artist Alex Metcalf thinks so—even if the timber never falls in the first place. Metcalf, you see, has become famous for attaching headphones to hardwoods, allowing humans to hear the sounds that trees make every day. Today the National Post published a condensed chat I had with Metcalf about his work, which is showing at Oakville Galleries to November 1. Right now, the article is print-only; here's an excerpt:

Q What on earth possessed you to attach headphones to trees?

A When I was studying at the Royal College of Art in London, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be interesting to listen to trees?” And since I couldn’t find a device that could do that, I designed one that did.

The listening sensor I designed looked like an old-fashioned silver hearing trumpet. Essentially, it was a contact microphone. And at first, it was only for me to use. It wasn’t until I heard the sound of the trees myself and realized it was so rich and interesting that I thought others might like to listen in as well.

So for my final show at the college, I implemented the headphones, which provide recordings of the tree they’re attached to—unfortunately, the sensor is too delicate for extended live use. Thousands of people came through. Since then, I’ve been doing the project in gardens, arboretums and galleries worldwide.

Image of the Alex Metcalfe's Tree Listening Installation at Oakville Galleries by Kristina Trogrlic

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Very Deep and Philosophical Question

Dear Reader, A Very Deep and Philosophical Question For You:

Is it wrong for me to wish that Star Trek: The Exhibition was opening at the AGO this fall instead of King Tut? Even though I know little about Star Trek, aka am not a Star Trek obsessed person? Even though Egypt is one of the cradles of human civilization? Even though such a show would pretty much have zero art value? Even though my developing preference for pop culture over the classical canon might be worrying?

Feel free to weigh in on that one as you please.

Still, if I could figure out how to clone myself Star-Trek style (and I'm *sure* Star Trek: The Exhibition would explain same), I also must say I would wish to visit Vancouver and take in Speaking Truth to Reconciliation (a project in two parts), an event and exhibition that promises to boldly riff on the following questions: "What are the possibilities of talking about race today? It is critical that we continue to challenge the conditions of racism, marginality, exclusion, and xenophobia. But how does one approach talking about a subject whose archaeologies of knowledge have been laden with histories of conflict and contestation? And how does one do this with a commitment to generosity, truthfulness, and reconciliation?"

You can also feel free to weigh in on those questions as you please.

So far conceptually, "Speaking Truth..." looks great. Would love to see the results in person while my clone fulfills everyday duties here in Toronto. Until then, it's back to parsing the exhibition announcements in my inbox. Happy September!

Image from Star Trek: The Exhibition (!)

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Final St. John's Farewell: Rhonda Pelley's Bus Shelter Interventions

I'm back from my foray to St. John's, but wanted to flag one more Newfoundland art find before I move back to more mainlander-centric fare.

While walking around St. John's, I was struck by some subdued colour photographs, like the one above, inserted into ad spaces in various St. John's bus stops. The photo-posters direct viewers to a site that provides more information about the project, "Spirit Rooms" by Newfoundland photographer Rhonda Pelley. As Pelley explains on the site,

Five photographs of interiors are installed in the illuminated advertising spaces in bus shelters along bus route 2 throughout St. John’s. The photographs illustrate an emotional journey through the life-threatening illness and four seasons long recovery of my mother. During this time I took public transit on a regular basis and the bus became an important part of this experience. Waiting for and riding the bus was an enforced pause in a time of crisis – the eye of the storm – a break from a time that was filled with fear, anxiety, and sadness.

For me, these images represent a missed loved one whose presence is remembered in the room’s surfaces but whose body is not found. In their absence, the missing one becomes the subject of the photograph. This emptiness once shaped itself around the person who is now threatening eternal absence. The photographs are an attempt to investigate these spaces after the animated soul leaves them behind.

This narrative of illness doesn't come across completely in the installations, but the meeting of quiet, subdued, private imagery with public space is definitely something like the visual equivalent of an earworm--would that be an eyeworm? (ewwww). In any case, though the site says the project finished up June 20, there are still some of these posters to be found around the city. Worth a look-see if you're around those parts.

Photo by Rhonda Pelley from her Jpgmag site

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