RMVaughanink

Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Big Picture 55

One of the good things about this art critic gig is that galleries, hungry for media attention - any attention - send me invitations to exhibitions and provide me with images of the work on display long before I see the actual exhibition. I have to admit, this saves me a lot of time.

One glance at a postcard decorated with some ugly paintings or an email packed with jpegs of boring sculptures, and I’ve spared myself a bike ride across town, as well as that queasy feeling bad art gives me in the bottom of my intestines.

Sometimes, however, I get fooled. Case in point: when I received the Tatar Gallery’s invitation to Joseph Davidson’s exhibition of sculptures made out of Scotch tape (you can’t make this stuff up), my first thought was not kind. Apart from the fact that the sculptures on the postcard look like peanut butter jars covered with flat white wax, art made out of common clear tape is as much a non-starter (or so I thought) as a film starring Tim Allen. What could be more banal than Scotch tape? Aren’t the landfills full enough?

My second thought was even less Christian: I’ll see this stupid show and trash it. Tape art – ha! Why not make lamp shades out of Popsicle sticks, Alphagetti picture frames, egg carton waste baskets?

Well, I type corrected. Against all my better prejudices, Davidson’s Scotch tape totems turned out to be wonderfully odd, luminous objects that continued to chastise my humbled, judging temperament long after I stumbled out of the gallery with dazzled eyes and a red face. Put simply, Davidson’s office supply art is gorgeous. I love surprises.

Davidson has wisely chosen humble, kitchen sink objects to recast in tape, as anything more fanciful would be overkill (it’s hard enough to believe he made a Palmolive bottle out of hundreds of tiny strips of tape, let alone a dragon, a flower or the Eiffel Tower). But as you wander through the gallery, the dozens of replicas of liquor bottles, salt and pepper shakers, parfait glasses, baby food jars, vases and toothpaste tubes begin to appear less and less ordinary, as if you are looking at the previously unseen skeletons of objects you’ve taken for granted all your life, tubes and jars and glasses viewed at a molecular, not entirely corporeal level.

Davidson’s careful, shrine-like arrangement of his ghostly canned goods only adds to the funereal feel of the exhibition, as does the fact that the physical composition of the sculptures – built-up layers upon layers of light refracting glossy tape – makes each sculpture glow like a phosphorescent mushroom in a dark forest. Light lands on the sculptures but does not settle, sometimes appearing to come from within the works and sometimes from outside. Naturally, the clear tape clouds over and turns off-white as the layers become denser, and viewers will immediately be reminded of alabaster jars (a favourite of ancient Egyptians, who used them to preserve the deceased’s liver, heart and other icky internal parts).

The attendant at the Tatar Gallery told me that Davidson’s tape art flew off the shelves in NYC, where the still traumatized locals naturally read the empty, spectral shells as memento mori. In our context, the works strike me as more aggressive than sombre. To go to such painstaking lengths to create simple dish soap containers and cupcake wrappers out of tape, to make grand the mundane via an even more mundane material, is one very smart way to give the lazy art world a big middle finger, to say to our increasingly banal culture: You want banal, I’ll show you banal!

Whatever the intent, the results are eerily beautiful.

~

My sources tell me that hard core print enthusiasts were less than impressed with young printmaker David Trautrimas’s foray into digital print making. Trautrimas’s silk screens, the argument goes, are much more true to form than his digitals. Purists are such a bore.

Anybody who can walk away from A Confederation of Alloys, Trautrimas’s new collection of computer-enhanced and worm-spit induced prints, without giggling at these inventive, playful works is either a total crank or too busy obsessing over technique to admire the finished product. Yes, yes, the silk screen prints in the show look more like traditional prints (because, uh, they are), and digital printing can’t truly replicate the dreamy washes of saturated colour that silk screen prints lavish on paper – but the images, digital and traditional, are so much fun to look at that I quickly forgot to care.

Viewers of a certain age will see traces (indeed, entire footprints) of Terry Gilliam’s Monty Python cut-and-paste animations in Trautrimas’s wacky collage concoctions - especially in works such as the helicopters made out of oil cans, egg beaters and flatware, or in the flat iron souped up to look like a hot rod car. But in the smaller, less hectic works, Trautrimas sets aside the goofy visual puns and aims for a darker, more melancholy brand of surrealism. In either case, the busy but precise imagery is never less than skilfully crafted, and each work is fuelled by an infectious, buoyant tomfoolery.

Printmakers are an incestuous, often persnickety lot – it’s all those toxic inks infecting their bloodstreams, I suspect – but even they can’t begrudge a young artist’s desire to experiment. Especially when the prints-that-aren’t-“proper”-prints are more lively than the average etching.

~

Feeling under-loved? Is the autumnal urge to nest more powerful than your ability to find a co-nester? Live in loneliness no longer - Denise Oleksijczuk’s installation Perennial Love is a never ending love song you can play to yourself over and over, with one hand (do I really need to finish that joke?).

Simply walk up to the Solo Exhibition window (a rectangular shadow box built into the wall next to Dufflet’s café on Queen West) and give the large wooden handle sticking out of the wall a gentle crank. A scroll covered in love song lyrics rotates between two spools, telling you in too many ways to count, and for as long as your strength lasts, that you are the true blue love of a total stranger’s life.

How affirming, even if the message is coming from a smarty pants art project and not a warm body. At least it’s free.

Joseph Davidson
Scotch Tape Sculptures
Tatar Gallery 183 Bathurst Street, suite 200 Until November 12

David Trautrimas
A Confederation of Alloys
Le Gallery 1183 Dundas Street West Until November 3

Denise Oleksijczuk
Perennial Love
Solo Exhibition 787 Queen Street West Until November 15

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Big Picture 54

When I turned 40 a few months back, a pal of mine (a questionable distinction, given what follows) offered the following observation – or curse – regarding gay men of a certain age: After 40, fags either go leather or blousy.

Dirty minded as I am, I can’t quite make the leather daddy look work. There’s too much gear, too many rules, and my vegetarian heart won’t allow me to wear an entire calf’s worth of hide. Blousy, however, is easy – you just accent every outfit with a scarf.

And scarves I’ve got, aplenty. I’ve been collecting neck knots since I was in my teens, and have dozens of hideous wraps to prove it, in all the toxic colours unknown to nature. Imagine, then, my joy at discovering Dance of Pattern, a luxurious new exhibition of ornamental fabric works at the Textile Museum of Canada. I had to walk through the show with my hands shoved into my pockets, to keep me from trying on the shawls.

Curator Patricia Bentley has cleverly organized Dance of Pattern around four universal motifs that appear in costume and decoration around the world: the stripe, the diamond, checkerboards, and centres. From this simple format, Bentley builds a multi-layered, informative (and very pretty to look at) exhibition that showcases universal patterning practices and tracks each motif’s metaphorical, cultural, and even spiritual role.

Exhaustive but never tiring, the exhibition successfully mashes together some very diverse but obviously interrelated materials – from checkerboard quilts made in rural Atlantic Canada in the 1840s to contemporary Malaysian skirts. If the resounding “It’s a small world after all” message of the show is a bit of a cliché, that does not detract from the abundant proof Bentley offers that all humans share an innate need to create patterns, and the patterns we create are therefore similar from continent to continent. My blousy fate, I’m relieved to know, is shared by men from Borneo to Bathurst.

Highlights include a collection of gorgeous, blood red Peruvian ponchos, lively green and yellow dress wraps made by the Asante people of Ghana, Congolese raffia pile clothes decorated with dense, tufted embroidery, fantastically intricate batik prints from Java, quilts from India that are indistinguishable (at least to this untrained eye) from quilts made by Canadian grannies, and sexy kemben (Javanese “breast wraps”) decorated with sword patterns that symbolize strength and ward off evil.

In between covetous dreams of accessorizing your sweater with a jaunty foulard from Sumatra, you can also learn how to weave reeds into material as tough as cord, the correct way to wear a Mexican coat blanket, the painstaking knotting process that creates startlingly elaborate Persian carpets, and, my favourite bit of textile trivia, where to look for the tiny imperfections in Indian quilts - “mistakes” intentionally inserted by quilters who believe that creating a perfect pattern is asking for bad luck to strike.

Smart and visually arresting, Dance of Pattern is a sensual delight, a parade of eye-popping colours and hypnotic patterns. My only complaint, and it’s one that I frequently have with museums, is that the show appears under-lit. Some corners of the exhibition are almost dark enough to develop film. I understand that many of the artefacts on display are light sensitive, and that bright light only hastens their decay, but the dimness is frustrating and makes you feel like you’re walking through a summer garden in full bloom wearing welder’s goggles.

Nevertheless, Dance of Pattern is worth the cost of a bottle of Visine.

~

One exhibition that doesn’t have to worry about decaying materials is Michael Davey’s Re:Forestation , a tiny arbour made entirely of indestructible, and grossly inorganic, plastic crap.

Like many artists who live on the hippy-infested Toronto Island, Davey is very concerned about the future of our natural world. But that doesn’t mean he’s lost his sense of humour. Re:Forestation, a parti-coloured grove of trees made of discarded coat stands, footballs, pool noodles, all manner of cheap Asian-slave-labour-produced toys and plant pots, is a scruffy jungle gym for the eco-sensitive. Despite the grim message that fuels the installation – namely, that we are filling in all our open spaces with irreducible garbage – the work, maniacally crammed into a tiny back room at York Quay Gallery, is actually rather pleasant to look at, a surrealist forest as bright and cheerful as Pee Wee’s Playhouse.

Arguably, the grungy found materials Davey employs are meant to convey an unmistakably menacing tone, as most of the props are as dirty as the bottom of a dumpster. But I couldn’t help finding Davey’s clever assemblies oddly cheerful. Call me simple minded, but art made out of Playdough-coloured toys is happy art. Perhaps the didactics of Davey’s forest are meant to self-deconstruct, to be as playfully seductive as they are foreboding? After all, most of us are drawn to cheap, brightly hued dollar store junk for a reason – because it’s pretty, affordable, and instantly gratifying. And therein lies the problem.

Whatever larger message you take away from Davey’s Tinkertoy timberland, the many ways he finds to build a tree from a toddler’s pink baseball bat or a bent hoola hoop are, at the very least, entertaining. All this exhibition needs is a family of live squirrels, or a rubber dingy tree house.

~

Curator and critic Philip Monk is not known for his openness. A shy, quiet sort, Monk approaches his projects with all the emotional attachment of a lab technician prodding a rat. But his latest book, Spirit Hunter, may soon change his reputation for being, as the writer Gerald Hannon once put it, the Robespierre of Toronto art.

Spirit Hunter is ostensibly a collection of meditations on American artist Jeremy Blake’s “Winchester Trilogy”, a series of video installations based on the fabled Winchester House (a mad, spooky nineteenth century experiment in “architectural spiritualism” paid for by Sarah Winchester, the guilt ridden heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune) – but the book is really about Philip Monk and his attempts to find larger meaning for a life spent looking at, thinking over, and writing copiously about art.

While Spirit Hunter certainly does its day job by giving Blake’s project a thorough once, twice, and thrice-over, the book really comes alive when Monk allows himself to wander off the prospectus and speculate on the things that worry him most – increasing American aggression, the way past violence haunts the present, and the unavoidable conclusion that, art be damned, the world really is coming to a speedy end.

It is in these passages, these moments of panic and poetry, that Monk’s latent humanism shines through. Aiding this strange diary of dilemmas is Lisa Kiss’s luminous, picture-packed design, which will help you get through Monk’s occasional egg-heady outbursts.

All these years of being intimidated by Monk the Inquisitor, and it turns out he’s just a humble country parson fretting over the chickadees in their nests.

Dance of Pattern
Textile Museum of Canada 55 Centre Avenue Until March 27, 2006

Michael Davey
Re: Forestation
York Quay Gallery, York Quay Centre, Harbourfront 235 Queen’s Quay West
Until November 6

Philip Monk
Spirit Hunter
Art Gallery of York University press. Distributed by D.A.P.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Big Picture 53

To say that people have problematic relationships with their clothing is like saying Peter McKay knows a little bit about the pitfalls of social climbing (not to mention melodrama). The many ways in which we choose to cover ourselves are as fraught with psychological complications, and outright conflicts, as our food choices, with the added bonus that everyone can see the results.

We have clothes we wear for comfort, clothes that make us feel sexy, clothes for business, and clothes to disguise our business. And who doesn’t own a pair of “fat pants”, for those days when one feels bigger than life? Choosing what, or what not, to wear provokes as much distress as it does pleasure.

Given these conundrums, I’d love to see the inside of Teri Donovan’s closets. The Toronto multi-media artist’s gorgeous and deliciously creepy new exhibition, Skirts, explores the dark side of self-ornamentation via a series of grisly, yet oddly pretty mixed media works depicting a much-put-upon, bright red skirt.

Donovan’s innocent garment (are there any innocent garments?) gets the complete Francis Bacon bloody carcass treatment. Hung from meat hooks and trussed up tighter than a freshly shot deer, the skirt sometimes appears in bad need of rescuing, like one of the hapless, gored teens from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and at other times it appears perfectly in sync with it’s surroundings, as if it were meant to be strung up like a duck in a Chinatown butcher’s window. The fact that any of Donovan’s images of distressed skirts could easily be mistaken for a legitimate fashion advertisement is an uneasy reminder that fashion and horror film campaigns often look the same, because each rely on visual strategies designed to place the viewer in a passive position – which makes sense, as both industries are in the business of selling anxiety.

Donovan herself sees the skirts as metaphors for women’s choices, and reminds me that while the violence in her work is obvious, there is also a more contemplative element.

“My mother had some clothes that she saved from the late 40s and early 50s, a number of which were skirts, particularly one red skirt, which I kept. My mother came of age in a time when women’s identities were limited, and if you watch movies from that time, women were referred to as “skirts” - a skirt was an item that stood in for a woman, it was a metonym. So, the skirt in these works embodies that limitation, and also reminds women of the limitations we still carry today.”

“A woman’s identity tends to be read by what sort of clothes she wears, and women’s (and some men’s) fantasies are connected with fashion because women’s identities have been fused with fashion. Women are reluctant to entirely let go of that fusion, as far as we’ve come since feminism, and certain connotations continue to linger.”

And yet, I remind Donovan, the skirts in her work are undeniably beautiful. How, then, did she tackle the tension between the obvious attractiveness of the skirt and the skirt’s unattractive metonymic and symbolic history?

“Clothes from that era are gorgeous, without a doubt. But I didn’t really look at the clothes as objects in themselves. I think the fact that the skirt is still beautiful in the works is a reflection of how things still are – the skirts do look nice, but are also representatives of limitations. Women play with self representation in their clothing choices, because all women know that they can assume different identities with different clothes. Like all clothes, the skirt has that double function.”

“Part of my reason for doing this project was to find out if other women think about these things like I do. Do other women face their abundant choices today with the same dissatisfaction that I do?”

“There’s an idea that we should be happy now with all our choices, shut up and be satisfied, and there’s definitely pressure to feel satisfied, or at least appear satisfied. But what if the skirt doesn’t quite fit?”

~

Glass artist Stuart Reid must have been an alchemist in a previous life, if not a full-on witch, because his new series of chemically-treated glass panels on display at Material Matters is nothing short of magical.

Using staining techniques dating from 14th century Europe – silver nitrate washes, copper dips, cobalt infusions and golden acid etchings – Reid coaxes out rich and luxuriant hues that are actually embedded in the body of the glass, not merely lacquered on the surface. The difference, though subtle, is that the works appear to have been made in a single stroke, as if the colours, shapes and radiant splashes were there at the original firing of the panels.

The figure studies and texts that decorate the panels are literally eating their way into the hard liquid of the glass, albeit at a glacial pace. Subsequently, they quietly hum with life, especially when the sun pokes through the gallery’s large front windows and ups the kilowatts. Rich blood reds infect the fringes of the burnt gold, and the blue stains twinkle with royal purple.

But you don’t need to know anything about Dark Ages glass fabrication to appreciate all the pretty colours and dancing light (I barely understood the chemistry lesson myself, and Reid was there to walk me through it). Wait for a bright day and plunk yourself in front of the glowing spectacles. Reid’s crystallized incense is aromatherapy for the eyes.


~

Toronto is a lonely town. TTC patrons sit stoically on the subway like aristocrats being bustled to the guillotine, hands in their laps and eyes averted. Restaurants play loud music to prevent spontaneous inter-table conviviality, and nobody knows their neighbours.

Katharine Mulherin’s new installation at Fly Gallery (a store front window space for public art) is a simple but effective attempt to re-sensitize our numbed hearts. Mulherin’s long time neighbour, Johnny, passed away recently and Mulherin realized that even though she had lived beside him for years, she’d never gotten to know him. To reconcile herself to this cold fact, Mulherin has created a wallpaper printed with the obituary details of hundreds of real, deceased men named John – some famous, some forgotten.

As you read the long lists of dead Johns, and the small bits of information about their lives, the list becomes an incantation, a séance in print, and the anonymity of the late men becomes impossible to uphold - each forgotten John is fortified and made whole again by the presence of the others, by the simple fact that once a name is recorded, its bearer cannot disappear entirely.

Ancient Egyptians believed that carving a name into stone granted immortality to the bearer of the name. It’s worth a try.


Teri Donovan
Skirts
Propeller Centre for the Arts 984 Queen St. West Until October 23

Stuart Reid
Torn Curtain/Tangled Lines
Material Matters 215 Spadina Avenue Until November 6

Katharine Mulherin
The Estate of the Late John Young
Fly Gallery 1172 Queen Street West (window space) Until November 10

Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Big Picture 52

Those of you who’ve been counting - there’s me mum in New Brunswick, and … well, that’s about all – will note that this column is my 52nd. My first year anniversary!

And what have I learned in a fun filled, action packed year of writing about art in Toronto? I’ve learned, the hard way, that many, many, dammit most Toronto galleries need some serious instruction in media relations.

It’s not that the gallerists are unfriendly, although I have met a few gate-keepers who’ve successfully kept me out (and, unlike Fred Flintstone’s cat, once I’m put out, I stay out), or intentionally negligent, or entirely stupid – they just don’t have a clue how newspapers work.

Fair enough, newspapers are not their game. But if one has entered into agreements to represent artists, part of that agreement is the handling of publicity, and that means talking to newspapers. If artists knew how badly the majority of galleries in this city handle media, there’d be a booming business in self-representation.

The thing is, publicity is not really all that complicated. Rule number one, for instance, is make sure the gallery is open when it’s supposed to be open. I tried seven times this year to see shows at a young gallery on Queen West, but the place was always closed during its alleged business hours. And now it’s closed for good. Mr. Cause, meet your new friend Mr. Effect.

Rule number two is even simpler: be nice. Attitude is only useful for selling high end clothing, because anyone who will pay $700 for a pair of slacks is a masochist. Look at it this way - you’ve sent out invitations, the front door is unlocked, and there’s a sign in the window, so why are you shocked and bothered when people enter the gallery?

Rule number three is another basic. Answer the phone. Pick it up. It’s ringing. It might be a buyer, or me. C’mon, pick it up.

Rule number four is perhaps the most important, and yet the least understood: newspapers print pictures, pictures of the art that you are trying to sell, and - how Circle of Life can you get? – quality pictures of a product actually help sell said product. Zeller’s knows this, why don’t you?

So, when a critic tells you he/she needs a picture of the art by, say, Tuesday, don’t send it on Saturday and then get all upset when the photo doesn’t find its way into print. Running a newspaper is not like making art – it actually does matter that you get your poop in a group on time. The art world is very forgiving, but newspapers are merciless.

Finally, a personal request. Please don’t follow me around the gallery pitching the art. If I wasn’t already interested in the work, I wouldn’t be there.

Here’s how to tell if I want to listen to 45 minutes of breathless art speak while I’m trying to work: I’ll ask for it. Otherwise, let this poor hack wander around and make up his own mind. That’s what they underpay me for. And offering me free art in exchange for a good review is very bad manners. If I want to feel cheap and corrupt, I’ll go to Church street.

~

Speaking of odd gallery behaviour, I was practically drop-kicked during my last visit to Sandra Ainsley Gallery. Ms. Ainsley’s diminutive but feisty mother, who is twice as scary as any guard dog and has a far meaner growl, demanded to know who I was, why I was there, and what exactly I thought I was doing in her gallery taking notes. The nerve of me! Apparently, the Ainsley Gallery is besieged by dangerous rogue academics.

I adore fearless elderly women - I hope to be one myself someday - so my appreciation for the Ainsley Gallery’s new exhibition of gorgeous ceramic sculptures by Bennett Bean was not diminished in the least by the mama tiger treatment. Bean’s work is pretty enough to calm Brian Mulroney.

The best works in this multimedia show, which includes delicate carpets designed by Bean, ceramic sculptures shaped like fans, and a series of collage works I found hypnotically awful (some art is so gaudy and overcooked that it becomes entrancing, like the terrible eyes of a cobra), are Bean’s small, cereal bowl-sized vessel sculptures that resemble dissected nautilus shells or fractured tea cups.

Glazed in shimmering gold and silver and painted with abstract patterns in bright primary colours, the sculptures are so obsessively covered in visual information that they reminded me of elaborate, bejewelled chalices, the kind you see hidden behind glass in the better Catholic churches. Under the careful, pin-spot lights of the Ainsley Gallery, the vessels glow like fancy table lamps. I kept wondering where Bean had hidden the electric cord.

Viewers may find Bean’s sculptures too garish, and there is a decidedly 80’s look (in the wrong way) being worked, and worked again, in the choppy, cut and paste graphics and clashing New Wave colours. It is also arguable that Bean’s busy surfaces mask, to their disadvantage, the evocative, strong shapes he has coaxed from the kiln.

But I counter argue that since the vessel pieces are not much bigger than a grapefruit, the layers and layers of glaze and paint force you to look closely at each sculpture, to stare into their inner folds and curves – an experience akin to examining a detailed miniature portrait or ornately carved keepsake box.

Not that I dared get that close with Ma Barker hanging around.


~

If you are still in autumn denial, Ariel Rubin’s spectral photographs of dead trees, stagnant lakes and winter-burnt meadows will send you to the closet for a fluffy sweater. Or your anti-depressants.

The subjects of Rubin’s gaze are solemn enough, but Rubin ups the Sleepy Hollow factor by attacking her negatives with (I’m guessing here), a straight razor, a muddy garden rake, a meat tenderizer and a lighter. Gouged, crisped, gored and otherwise mangled, Rubin’s images resonate with barely suppressed rage, and no small amount of remorse.

The excremental colour scheme - created by both the natural browns of the wood and the dead grass plus a bit of stagy enhancement - and an overall rotten orange peel hue only serve to infuse the landscapes with a creepy, horror movie glow.

Don’t get me wrong – these are all reasons to enjoy the exhibition. Despite the funereal tone, the works are flamboyantly gothic and operatic. And nobody ever went broke in Canada making art about trees. To the moors, Heathcliff!

Bennett Bean
New Works
Sandra Ainsley Gallery 55 Mill Street, Building 32, Distillery District
Until October 22

Ariel Rubin
Decomposition
Pikto 55 Mill Street, Building 59 Until Halloween (!)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Big Picture 51

My brief tenure in Cub Scouts – long enough to buy the uniform, not long enough to actually wear the uniform to a meeting – left me with only two lasting memories.

I remember being asked to squat down on the floor and howl at a plastic wolf’s head, which I enjoyed immensely and am convinced helped make me the superstitious pagan that I am today, and I recall, vividly, a game called “jump or smack”, wherein the Cub leader made us all stand in a circle while he stood in the centre and swung a nasty strap at our legs. If you jumped, you were “learning valuable wilderness survival skills”. If you didn’t jump fast enough, you were clearly another one of life’s pain-stricken losers. You can guess which team I was on.

If the Cub Scouts pack I joined was even half as much naughty fun as the one depicted in Toronto printmaker Daryl Vocat’s new folio, A Boy’s Will, the bruised thighs would have been worth it, and I’d be a better man today. Or at least a kinkier one.

Vocat’s obsession with paramilitary boy cultures, such as the Scouts, street gangs, and cadets, and the sexual and power dynamics that fuel them, has influenced his work for years, but his new folio (a loose term for a suite of prints meant to be viewed in a single folder, like an art book) brings all that latent libidinous energy and passive/dominant role playing into sharp, provocative focus.

The boys in Vocat’s imaginary scout troop, who look like angelic young heroes lifted from a Horatio Alger novel, except for their tattoos, pass the time massaging each other, playing homo-erotic capture games, giving each other new tattoos, and, of course, tying up their willing leaders. One former Scout I consulted, a happily married father of two, told me cheerfully, “we did all that stuff, and worse.” Now they tell me.

“I was involved in the scouting movement for 12 years, way longer than most
people seem to stick,” Vocat admits.

“I started when I was 5 years old and joined the Beavers, then went on to Cubs, Scouts and Ventures. So, I keep coming back to the Boy Scout illustrations and ideals because they played such a huge role in my life when I was growing up. At the time Scouts just seemed like something fun to do more than anything - it wasn't until later, and when I had left that environment, that I could look back at it critically and rethink what was going on.”

Is, then, A Boy’s Will a critique of the movement? The goings-on in the prints certainly subvert the wholesome Scout image.

“I use the Scout imagery because I'm very familiar with it, but also because there is a built in nostalgia to it, a sort of universality that people recognize. A great deal can be projected onto the characters and scenarios that take place within the pages of Boy Scout handbooks. But, overall, the basic message of Scouts is that we should be kind to each other and help each other out. In the work I kind of pervert these ideas, but I don't intend to completely discredit the philosophy. I admire the goals as much as I make fun of them.”

~

After watching Deanna Bowen’s beautiful, hallucinatory video (truth)seer, I was tempted to call her up and sing REO Speedwagon’s 1975 hit Dreamweaver, but good taste prevailed. Not that Bowen’s work needs any musical augmentation – (truth)seer is a floating, lyrical escapade as otherworldly, nocturnal and bedeviling as a Satie song.

(truth)seer follows a young, black-clad Asian woman as she negotiates a dark, barren space filled only with symbolically loaded, animated visions and manifestations. The roughly drawn visions – of everything from guns and crosses to chromosomes - appear randomly across the screen, sometimes covering the woman’s mouth, her laser-bright eyes, her forehead, or all of her body. Occasionally, bits of text appear, such as samples from psychological tests and Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, but we can never be certain if the woman is acting or being acted upon; much as we can never be sure during our own dreams if we are the protagonist or merely a spectator.

Bowen is a master at timing. I will never forget a compelling video she made of a candle flame being buffeted and almost extinguished by breath, which ended with the flame being snuffed out at just the exact moment when the viewer was about to lose patience. In (truth)seer, Bowen takes her time building and layering the pieces of her animated dream language, seducing the viewer in slow steps until we are wholly immersed in the film’s world and the apparitions begin to reveal an innate logic and rhythm.

Better than an afternoon nap, Bowen’s video will replenish your serotonin and leave you pleasantly befuddled. Bring your own pillow.

~

The gaps in my education are as wide as, well, many other parts of me, but there’s no excuse for the fact that until John Geiger’s book Nothing is True Everything0 is Permitted landed on my lap, I knew nothing about the exploits of Canadian artist Brion Gysin – no excuse but that I am Canadian, and, typically, was taught all about Gysin’s American collaborators instead.

Gysin’s art caused him to cross paths with just about every person you’ve ever read about, from William S. Burroughs, his life long friend, to Jane Birkin, Phillipe Starcke, Alice B Toklas, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollack, Cy Twombly, and on and on. He painted, he designed book jackets, he wrote books, he served with the Canadian Intelligence Corps in WWII, he traveled the Middle East, and his ashes were scattered by no less than Paul Bowles. And that’s just a sampling (another art strategy he is credited with co-inventing) of Gysin’s life.

Comprehensive and briskly written, Geiger’s biography is a fascinating read, yet it mysteriously doesn’t include any reproductions of Gysin’s art works. If there are any enterprising curators out there looking for a great subject for an exhibition, look no further.


Daryl Vocat
A Boy’s Will
Limited Edition Folio, available from Art Metropole 788 King Street West

Deanna Bowen
(truth)seer
Trinity Square Video Gallery
401 Richmond Street West, Suite 376 Until October 26

John Geiger
Nothing is True Everything is Permitted
Disinformation Books $37.50