Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Big Picture 30

In any other context, sculptor Gareth Lichty would be (rightly) diagnosed as an obsessive-compulsive. But the art world is a forgiving world, by habit and from necessity (there’s an understatement).

Lichty’s elaborate, wildly impractical creative processes would make even the most fanatical, detail-crunching artist flinch. Lichty doesn’t just build things, he builds entire manufacturing systems - starting a project not from scratch but from itch, and putting himself through workloads that, by their exaggerated difficulties and foolish meticulousness, cause the process to be as much a part of the work as the final product. It’s a good thing he doesn’t work in film, because he’d probably try to grind his own lenses from geodes and make 35mm stock out of birch bark.

Lichty’s latest project is a perfect demonstration of his inability to cut corners. Ostensibly three large paper sculptures, the works are actually the final result of months spent making everything from the paper itself to the miniature bricks that give the paper it’s distinctive pattern. Here’s what Lichty did, as far as I can figure. First, he hand moulded and fired 250, 000 (as in, a quarter of a million) tiny bricks, each about the size of a thumb. The bricks were then made into a huge sculpture. After the sculpture’s run finished in 2004, he disassembled the work and re-laid the bricks in flat panels. Then, he made his own paper out of pulp, slathered the wet paper over the brick flats, and peeled it off once it dried. There goes another month or so.

Finally, the brick pattern paper was cut into squares and formed into wall mounted sculptures, using only paper clips and thumb tacks. I’m exhausted just writing all that down.

The big question here, of course, is whether or not the ends justify the means? What does all this manic productivity lead to? The answer is, three quite lovely sculptures. The patterned, pressed paper catches the light unevenly, causing tiny pockets of dark to form across the otherwise pristine and glowing surfaces. The texture also gives off a kind of domestic familiarity, reminding the viewer of embossed paper towel.

Of the three sculptures, the large bent log form is the most accomplished, as it looks like a benign growth emanating from the wall, a bit of infrastructure cellulite. The two kidney shaped pieces are pleasingly curvy, but appear to be more the beginnings of sculptures than finished works.

I usually find art about art-making tiresome, too full of the pride of its maker. But the process half of Lichty’s work is so over the top, so spectacularly pointless, that I can’t help but read it as an absurd exaggeration, even mockery, of the work ethic and its wholesome posturing. And nothing makes this Atlantic Canadian’s heart sing more than a hearty jab at the pomposities of the work ethic.


When I was a pot smoking teen, my favourite way to come down from a quarter ounce was to steal the percolator from the kitchen and poke the coffee grounds out of the filter. It took hours to finish, and patterns emerged in the filter. Clouds, trees, the face of Saint Jude ….

Um, anyway, the trigger for this cozy childhood memory is a series of new photographs by Toronto darling Chris Curreri - a young photo-constructionist who became hot news last year when he exhibited a series of archival photographs decorated with delicate embroidery. For his latest series, Curreri reverses his earlier motif and shows us the needle holes, not the threads.

Starting with a collection of vintage photographs of couples, Curreri traces the shape of the figures with pin-sized holes, thus reducing each person to a connect-the-dots outline. He then photographs the back of the original photo, further negating the image’s specificity. What is left is a kind of anti-photograph, a counter to the mimetic exactness of the source image. Curreri’s couples could be anyone. The hole tracings reduce the individuals to cartoons - rounded, amorphous blobs devoid of identifying content or context.

Underneath this intriguing experiment lies an aggression that is not immediately apparent. The backs of the original photographs are a dull paper white, and Curreri’s holes are gentle pricks, not gouges. It all looks so pensive and cerebral, until you consider that what you are staring at is an act of vandalism.

Curreri’s puncture/erasure effectively wipes out whatever history was contained in the original photos. Depending on your mood, these works can be read as a subtle commentary on the frailty of all commemorative devices, or as a violent attack on photography’s questionable claim to capturing history. Or both.


If you hear low moaning and tortured shrieks coming from your neighbour this week, he or she might be an artist going through cable TV withdrawal (among other types).

This time last year, multimedia artist Timothy Comeau received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to purchase cable services for eight artists for one year. The goal, Comeau says, was to see what the artists would make if they were suddenly given access to dozens of channels.

“I feel that we're entitled to as much media/information as possible,” Comeau tells me.

“Cable TV is a library and gallery that media artists, due to their relative poverty, don't have access to. Painters and sculptors can go to museums on free nights, but is there free access to music videos, commercials, or news programs? All are worth knowing about if your medium is video. But most artists simply can't afford a cable TV subscription – so this project became an experiment with one person socialism.”

Performance artist and filmmaker Keith Cole used his time in front of the box to discover that he spends way too much time in front of the box.

“I will not miss having cable! I have wasted so much time – I’m happy to see it go. Although I loved it, I will not mourn it - kind of like this guy I stalked last year.”

Cole plans to make a dance piece and “a truly horrible painting” based on what he learned from reality television about successful stalking. He’s also come up with a starring vehicle for his acting career.

“What about a show with a drag queen /actress who is slightly washed up and overweight but whose career is suddenly revived … with the adorable Paul Gross as my on again/off again boyfriend who is from the wrong side of the tracks?”

Stay tuned.

Gareth Lichty
Redhead Gallery 401 Richmond St. West, Suite 115
Until May 21

Chris Curreri
Circa 1960
Edward Day Gallery 952 Queen Street West
Until May 15