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