Friday, December 24, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I think even my computer wants me to start my holiday, because it auto-published this post a few times before I even typed anything.... soooooo.... HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Or just at least HOLIDAYS!!! I hope ya'll get some time off. I'm planning on trying to take off until January 3. If you're in dire need of online art fellow-feeling in the meantime, I recommend the following:

See you in the new year!

(Image of SWA Group's Chainsaw MassACRE installation from InHabitat)

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Of Crochet and Cartoons: Q&A with Shannon Gerard out in today's Post

Toronto artist Shannon Gerard won international attention a few years ago when she decided to crochet life-size "dinks and boobs" as cancer-detection training tools and general cancer-awareness raisers. And she won further local Toronto attention with the project when a university bookstore had a related display removed from its store.

But while that "dinks and boobs" project (which I found kinda cute, actually) might be what some best know Gerard for, the fact is that she has been active on the zine, printmaking and graphic-novel fronts for many years before and since. Recently, she blew up some of her zine characters to life size, using wheatpaste to affix them to the walls of Open Studio's gallery. She's also, over the coming year, using large-scale wheatpaste to create slow-motion animations on a wall outside YYZ gallery.

And across it all, she's still keeping up the yarn-work with her awesome xmas gift idea, "Plants You Can't Kill."

Last month, Gerard took some time to chat with me about her multifacted practice, from crochet to cartoons and beyond. A condensed version is out in today's National Post. An excerpt:

Q: Your new book, Unspent Love, is prefaced by the quote: “People tend to create small towns wherever they are.” Why?

A: That quote’s been important to me for a long time. It’s from Kathleen Norris, one of my favourite writers. Basically, Unspent Love shows the people in my life who form what would be a small town — even though we live in this big city. I like that idea of being located in a place really deeply, and I wanted to put it at the beginning of the book because it was such a guiding principle to what the stories ended up becoming.

Q: So who are these particular people?

A: Well, there’s two stories that feature my sister. One has an older version of myself. Mostly friends, a couple of ex-boyfriends. My son, which is not unimportant.

I wanted to be really specific about using particular people, because it’s related to what the stories are about. But also I liked the idea of these particular people being like avatars for anybody’s experience. I kind of hesitate to use the word “avatar” because the movie and the word is so techie, where this stuff is not technical at all. I just wanted, through the lens of my own experience, to talk about human experience in general.

You can read the rest of the interview and find links to Gerard's comix and animations here.

** ** **

Also, as a bonus, I'm including below something I couldn't find space for in the article: some of Gerard's further thoughts on crochet--something, it should quickly become apparent, that I know nothing about:

Q [You mentioned crochet is very mathematical.] How is crochet about math?

A Oh, it’s so mathematical. It also relates to printmaking. Basically, every point of anxiety and every point of interest that I have in making art is addressed in crochet.

So you’re just doing one thing and you do it repetitively. And you kind of build a three-dimensional or two-dimensional kind of plane based on repetition of the same thing and if you introduce a mistake or a change or a new stitch or you double up, within a few rows or accumulations of pattern it introduces geometry. So it’s like non-Euclidian hyperbolic space. But it’s, like, conceptualized in this material form.

And I’ve used it in the past to understand space or understand problems. Like I had a health problem about a year and a half ago and I crocheted this uterus to kind of start to think about that. I thought my fallopian tubes were like, connected to this ovary but now you're telling me there’s this gap? So I was trying to understand that kind of abdominal cavity so I just crocheted the whole thing and I could suddenly conceptualize exactly where the fault was in my own anatomy.

It’s like, you can model any idea but you can also model any shape. So you can just use it as a process to get at an understanding of how to navigate the world and think about the interiors of things. So it’s mathematical in that way and it’s just like a problem solving kind of process.

Q Cool.

A It’s so… I can nerd out about it forever.

Q You also made recently these "plants that don’t die" out of crochet. Is that because you’ve slayed a lot of plants?

A Yeah. My friend Lauren is this amazing gardener has these huge lighted shelves that are filled with plants, and her house smells amazing. I’m like, so jealous of that. And my mom is an avid gardener. That’s what she does at the end of the day to unwind. She makes this beautiful space that is so cleansing and so great. But I can’t do it! I’ve tried so hard to do it in the past and it is not possible for me to keep plants alive.

So that’s another thing about crochet, it really mediates a lot of anxieties. I feel like it’s very soft and it’s very relatable and often humorous when you use it to make these humorous statements. People are always at my table at craft fairs laughing or talking and it creates a lot of joviality--a lot of really fun conversations.

But for me in everything there’s also essentially anxiety. Like, one craft fair when I had those “Plants You Can’t Kill”—also “Plants You Can’t Kill” has an internal rhyme that is really satisfying—so I had them out and then this woman picked them up and said, “Shouldn’t you call these plants that don’t grow?” and I was like "Um, yeah," and I felt like so blown away, like, “Oh, shit! Everything I do is about failure!” I said, “Yeah, but ‘don’t’ doesn’t’ rhyme with ‘plant”. And she just walked on.

Then for the whole day I was obsessed with that idea, like “Oh my god, they don’t grow, they don’t grow!!! Nothing I do grows!” Ha!

Q Yeah it’s easy to take that stuff to heart, I guess. But that’s really interesting. Sounds like a good practice.

A It’s such a good practice. Some people are like “Oh, I’ve been knitting for years and I can’t crochet.” And others are like, “Oh, don’t you LOVE crochet?” I think people have a relationship to it that’s also anxious, like “I can’t do that! It’s too hard!” or “You're so fast!” It mediates so many human conversations.

I wanted to make sure I posted these stories because (a) I never thought about crochet this way (b) I love anything that helps people talk about anxiety (c) the gap between the ovary and the fallopian tube has always seemed a mystery to me as well and (d) I struggle to keep plants alive too, and can easily see how that could become pathologized by a simple comment. Woot!

(Image from Shannon Gerard's Open Studio installation courtesy of the artist)

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Friday, December 17, 2010

At the Galleries: Gift Guide Edition

Holiday shopping and gallery hopping needn’t be mutually exclusive. My latest At the Galleries column for the National Post lists three exhibitions are just steps from the mall and have in-house gift ideas handy. (None are commercial galleries either... psych!) Here's an excerpt:

Kai Chan at the Textile Museum of Canada
55 Centre Ave., to May 1
This 1975-to-2010 survey of China-born, Toronto-based artist Kai Chan is astounding — a real must-see. Though he keeps a low profile around town, Chan’s skill, sensitivity and steadiness are internationally top-rate. By precisely grouping simple materials like thread, buttons and toothpicks, Chan creates artworks that are at once elegantly minimal and heartbreakingly human. His rhythmic Mirage, stained-glass-like Link and curvy Marilyn spin major, wall-sized magic out of humble strands, piling, knotting and hanging them laboriously to spectacular effect. And Chan’s feats aren’t just for the eyes; they also offer a gentle, corporeal interactivity. (Just walk up to one of those delicate hangings and you’ll start to see it sway with your breath.) In an accompanying video, Chan, who originally studied biology and interior design, says he wants his art to reflect both the fragility of human bodies and the strength of human will. He has well achieved that solemn goal — incorporating some surprising doses of humour along the way. Need some touching prezzies? Explore the TMC shop for artisan scarves that convey the warmth of handcrafted objects.

You might also think of this column as "A Forum In Which Leah Yet Again Freaks Out About the Kai Chan Exhibition At the Textile Museum." And it occurs to me now, that, in case you didn't know, if you do an article in December, there's an 80% chance it will be (a) a year end list or (b) a gift guide. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

(Detail of Kai Chan's Mirage from the National Post)

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Friends, Fiends, Fine: Otto Dix Q&A out in today's National Post

You know who came to mind for me when I was trying to think of contemporary artists who continue the tradition of Otto Dix? Ryan Trecartin, mostly because he seems to make even people he loves look kind of horrible. Also, because of the social critique family to which they can both belong. I ask Montreal Museum of Fine Arts curator Anne Grace about these kinds of things in today's National Post, because the MMFA has a massive exhibition of Dix's art on at the moment. Here's an excerpt:

Q Otto Dix’s paintings are stunning, but they can also be kind of horrific, even when depicting people Dix loved. Why?

A We can’t separate Dix from the era in which he lived, and he lived through the atrocities of the First World War [as a German soldier]. So the exhibition, which covers the period from the First World War to the beginning of the Second World War, is completely informed by this experience — it colours everything he sees.

As one critic, Sabine Rewald, put it, Otto Dix and other artists of the era were “injecting bile into their paintings as a way of coming back from the dead.” They had seen such horrors that they couldn’t ever get back the idealism they had going into the war. Everything they saw was through this lens of the extremes of humanity in the 20th century.

Q How does Dix’s work relate to our own day?

A It certainly relates. We opened this exhibition at the end of September, exactly the same time our government was talking about how to compensate soldiers who had been affected by more recent wars. All these questions of war are very much part of our everyday lives.

But Dix isn’t a moralist; he’s not necessarily an anti-war artist. What he does is present us with images of what he lived through, what he experienced. When we present his art today, we’re invited to look at this harsh reality that affected Germans like him but that represents as well the political situation today in Afghanistan and other countries.

You can read the rest (and see more nice pics) over here at the Post.

Because she's a historical curator, Grace declined to name any contemporary artists who might continue the tradition of Dix. Also, I find Dix's work a lot more beautiful than Trecartin's. Still, something about the comparison stuck with me. What do you think?

(Image of Otto Dix's Reclining Woman on Leopard from the National Post)

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reassured by Objects: My Top 3 Year-End Picks at

You know what I discovered in putting together my top-3 year-end picks for Canadian Art's website? It's that, the longer I work online (or with other dematerialized realms, like, well, text) the more impressed I am with work that resonates on a physical, corporeal level. Here's an excerpt from my list:

1. Shary Boyle: Flesh and Blood at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Is it just me, or has it been the year of Shary Boyle? There’s this major solo show—which feels like the most space the AGO has given to a single Canadian since its reopening—the Hnatyshyn Award, the big room at the National Gallery’s “It is What It Is,” the sold-out performances, and the mini-showcase of new ceramics at the Gardiner. Throughout, Boyle balances delightful and disturbing like nobody’s business, translating her themes with an increasing commitment to craft that conveys serious gravitas. Remarkably, Boyle even turns the problems of this AGO venue—four historical-collection rooms jammed between two wings of ancient Christian icons—to her advantage by seguing haunting historical works into the first room of her exhibition and juxtaposing her ecofeminist-tinged imagery with a classic Bernini crucifixion scene. As always, it’s an open question as to what the curator, Galerie de l’UQAM’s Louise Déry, contributed in terms of this striking installation solution. But barring a few wobbly points—like Boyle’s relative inexperience in larger-than-life sculpture—this outing showed a major domestic talent at the top of her game. Why can’t the AGO do solo shows of Ontario artists on this scale more often? And maybe even… curate them itself?

The other two are here. And worthy-of-a-read picks from other Canadian Art editorial staff are here. (Stay tuned next week when contributors from across Canada share their favourites.)

All that said, it's pretty much CanArt listmania time, no? This is something I'm happy about, as I inevitably learn about a whole lotta worthy stuff that I missed during the year. So far I've enjoyed the beginning of Sally and LM's open-call seasonal lists (Joe McKay shouted-out the original Tron! Yes!) and the Akimblog cross-country roundup. (That Akimblog link seems tricky right now, but hopefully should speed up soon...) Remember that list submissions are welcome at Sally and LM! Submit! The world needs your list passion!

(Image of Shary Boyle's White Light 2010 from Canadian Art)

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Aesthetic Room for Rent

I just happened to like this little scene on St. Clair West. And it made me wonder yet again: Where is the PhD thesis that explores the line between "esthetics" and "aesthetics"? Or the dozens? There's a lot on beauty here, folks. I'm waiting.

On another note, there's a lot of kind of unexpected stores along western St. Clair. One example: St. John Fish Sandwiches and Antiques. Perhaps worth another thesis outing?

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Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cool School: Feature on Art School (Dismissed) Now Up at

"We don't need no edjumacation!" That's the way I feel a lot of the time if I'm surly. The other lot of the time—well, a lot of a lot of the time—I tend to hold education and all its trappings (classrooms, teachers, notebooks, text, etc.) pretty close to my heart.

Sooooo. My teacher's pet self was excited about the opportunity to explore Art School (Dismissed), a three-day, 52-project exhibition that happened in a long-closed public school this past spring. The result is a cover story for the Winter 2010/11 edition of Canadian Art, which focuses on the theme of artists who teach.

The article looks pretty nice in print given all the snazzy images by photographer Christopher Wahl. But you can also read the full text online at in a slightly less snazzy format. An excerpt:

It’s a perfect spring Sunday in Toronto—17 degrees, with sunshine and a mild breeze. Trinity Bellwoods Park, Queen West’s de facto backyard, is full of playground-clambering youngsters, pasty-skinned picnickers and Bugaboo-pushing couples. Clearly, it’s a day for outdoor R and R—a time to forget the salt and slush of winter, and to anticipate the lazier, hazier days of summer to come.

But just a few blocks away, people are lining up to get into—of all things—a school. Granted, it’s a looker: a stately, three-storey, red-brick-and-sandstone behemoth, with expanses of gently rippled vintage glass windows. But it seems faint competition for a little déjeuner sur l’herbe.

Why are so many people—kids and adults—eager to go to school on a day like this? It could be the paper airplanes flying out of a second-storey window, launched by smiling, fold-happy hordes. It could be the eerie tones emanating from a basement bathroom, where a soprano’s song sends light beams twisting. It could be the topsy-turvy classroom where horizontal lines spill from a blackboard, ricocheting in a thousand directions. Or it could be any number of other lovely surprises—a sick-room cupboard lined with primary-coloured crayon drawings, or (on the other end of the sensory spectrum) a small, Gollum-like figure frozen mid-step in a janitorial closet.

The answer is all of the above, but most of all it comes back to the person who has brought these wonders together: a wiry, brown-eyed woman with silver-streaked hair—clad for the moment in headmistress gear—who campily addresses a crowd in the school’s grand, 15-foot-high foyer. She’s the curator and producer of “Art School (Dismissed),” an exhibition of 52 projects that have taken over this long-closed public school for three days—and she’s got a few lessons for exhibition-makers across Canada.

You can read the rest here.

You can also view six extra pics here.

I feel bad about a lot of great stuff that couldn't make it into the article. Hopefully I can post a bit more on that in the weeks to come.

Image of the winter cover of Canadian Art featuring Art School (Dismissed) installations by Monica Tap and Gordon Hicks from Photo: Christopher Wahl

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wondering: Whither the Toronto Biennial Report?

Lately, I've been wondering what happened to the Toronto biennial report that was due to be released months ago by the MOCCA and the Power Plant.

The report was due to be released on the heels of the biennial-themed symposium that MOCCA and the Power Plant sponsored way back on April 17. In a MOCCA press release dated April 27, these same institutions promised to make the report—a summary of the day penned in large part by critic/panel moderator Peggy Gale—available by the end of May.

Yet there's no sign of the report six months later. Nor any sign of the video footage of the daylong event that they had also promised to put online. At least (isn't this always the caveat with Unedit My Heart?) as far as I can tell.

I have inquired repeatedly with the press people at these institutions, who have politely said "we'll tell you when the report is available" and I asked Gale herself in October, when she told me she had filed her part of the report some time ago.

I have also asked the institutions' press folk what the status is of a potential Toronto biennial event. Many I've spoken with in the wider art community believe the biennial to now be a "done deal," with the "community panel" in April, as well as any promises of further dialogue or reports, simply window dressing. But the institutions, as far as I can tell, are still mega-mum on this point.

The result is a bit of a disappointment for those who want to have some faith in our publicly funded art institutions. I know planning takes time, and institutions have their reasons for embargoing upcoming show information. And I have enjoyed a lot of the shows at these institutions, and respect a lot of the curatorial work that happens there.

But when you promise to make a summary report—basically meeting minutes—available online after a day where the community has come out in good faith, it's really nice to see that followed through. Same goes for the video footage. This isn't rocket science. And the longer these institutions delay posting the report, the harder it is to tell whether the cause is incompetence, subterfuge, disregard/contempt for audiences or some combination of all of the above.

So--Murphy's Law being what it is--I have a sneaking suspicion that I will publish this post and then immediately will receive a press release to the effect that the report is now online. A collary to this is that tomorrow I will look through the paper and someone will have published a big scoop on "Toronto biennial 2011." But this roadblock to information has persisted for so long, hey, I'm willing to play the fool to point it out.

If you are wondering what happened at the panel in the first place, feel free to consult my (noncomprehensive) take from earlier in the year as well as that of Richard Rhodes.

For some opinionated background on the much-tortured issue of whether a Toronto biennial is in order, also check out Murray Whyte's piece on the subject from last year.

Also of interest: Terence Dick reflects the views of many when he writes that the biennial is a foregone conclusion.

Anyone with questions, insides or psychic hunches on the matter, feel free to comment.

Image from

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

More Poe than Po-Mo? David Hoffos @ MOCCA, Bill Burns @ MKG127, T. Lansdowne @ Le

Frequent readers will likely have picked up on my affection for alliteration. (See! There it is again!) In my latest set of reviews for the National Post, I unleash this addiction again, for good or for ill, on David Hoffos' show at MOCCA (as well as, to a more limited extent, Bill Burns @ MKG127 and Tristram Lansdowne @ Le). Here's an excerpt:

David Hoffos at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
952 Queen St. W., to Dec. 31

For the past few weeks, David Hoffos’ Scenes from the House Dream has been generating lineups at MOCCA. And for good reason — Hoffos, who’s toiled in Lethbridge, Alta., for the past 20 years, has an output that’s distinctive in both its sense and its sensibility. His material technique precisely arranges analogue TVs, picture frames, mirrors and dioramas to create a unique, physically immersive virtual reality. And his moods are steadfastly eerie, with a touch that’s more Poe than po-mo. The result at MOCCA is several small, magical scenes: a man throwing rocks off a cliff at night; a strange light landing at a town’s edge; a ghostly trailer-side apparition and more. Shadowy life-sized figures lurk in the dark as well. Though frightful at times, it’s all good — one of the most compelling tensions in Hoffos’ work is the way his melancholy, noir content contrasts with his seeming delight at its elaborate staging. Interestingly, the exhibition itself also has a chimerical, now-you-see-it quality — though Hoffos has shown extensively to acclaim in other parts of Canada for years, this is pretty much the first time Hogtowners have gotten a good look at him. Lesson learned: The “hinterland” has an artistic who’s who, too.

Read on here at the Posted Toronto blog for the other reviews. (The story will also be in print on Saturday if you prefer it that way.)

(Image from David Hoffos' Scenes from the House Dream, Winter Kitchen via Posted Toronto)

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

UPDATED Of First Nations and Fubar: Q&A with Terrance Houle out in Today's National Post

Fubar humour meets First Nations history in the wry artworks of Calgary's Terrance Houle. His unique approach is earning the Blackfoot/Ojibwa artist increasing notice, with shows now on at New York's National Museum of the American Indian and Toronto's Art Gallery of York University. (Seriously, he's a busy guy! Also showed at SAW Gallery's Art Star video fest this fall and performed at Gallery 101.) So I was thankful Houle took time to chat with me about a few aspects of his work recently. The resulting Q&A, condensed for space, was published in today's National Post. Here's an excerpt:

Q It seems like you're everywhere this fall. How are you dealing with your increasing success?

A The biggest thing I get out of it is meeting people and finding out the impact that the work has on them. That's the reason I got into this, to advocate for First Nations people in my own way. Also, I grew up an army brat and powwow dancer, so it's like getting back to my old days of travelling all over the place and performing.

Q What do you most want to advocate for in terms of First Nations?

A Our position within North America, especially in the West, where I live. In Calgary, our presence as aboriginals is sort of there but sort of not. It's in the roadways: There's Deerfoot Highway and Crowchild Trail. But does anybody really know who Deerfoot is? That he was the runner who ran between forts and was a messenger? And the answer is no, a lot of people don't know that. I find that really odd.

Q How do you deal with diversity within the First Nations community? Some of your art plays on related tensions, like urban vs. rural or traditional vs. contemporary.

A Yeah, that's something drawn from my own experience. I grew up being called an "apple" whenever I went to my reserve, which is like, you're white on the inside and red on the outside. It's a derogatory term trying to say, "Well, are you native enough?"

And y'know, this didn't make it into the interview, but I'm serious about the Fubar connection. Not only does Houle have a lot of humour in his work (something we discuss later in the interview) but the name for his current touring show, GIVN'R, came about when he was hanging out with Dave Lawrence, who plays Terry in the movie. Houle says that while the term had joke qualities, it also "kind of fit my career. It’s just the [distillation] of the last 4 to 6 years: working hard and partying hard. And we’re prairie boys and grew up always saying it." Houle has also helped Lawrence out--specifically with representations of native people in Lawrence's upcoming film A Legend of Whitey. Like, small world, eh?

If you're in the GTA want to see Houle's work in person, get thee to the AGYU, where Houle's GIVN'R closes on December 5. And if you want a look anywhere, it's worth checking out the NMAI's online exhibition for HIDE, which features Houle's work.

**UPDATE** Soon after I posted a link to this Q&A on Twitter, artist Duane Linklater (@duanelinklater) raised a valid criticism that I thought was worth sharing here:

"Going off the reserve" its really called that? nice interview but really? RT @leahsandals My Q&A... National Post -

This was my response:

@duanelinklater Totally fair critique, Duane. Unfortunately, I don't get to write those headlines. Usu. Editors of publications pen those.


@duanelinklater I hope it's clear in my last tweet that I think *your* critique is valid, not any critique implied by the headline!


@duanelinklater If you have any other thoughts or concerns, pls let me know. Letter to the editor is another good option for lots of readers

Obviously I need to be a little more concise in my responses! Anyway, it's all to say that I appreciate Duane's concern. If anyone has other worries, critiques or comments, please feel free to let me know via twitter, blog comment, email or otherwise. I also mentioned letters to the editor (as I have in the past around reader concerns for any publication) because it's a way to let those in charge know directly how you are feeling about their publication.

(Image from Houle's Urban Indian series from Musée d'art de Joliette)

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