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Action & Reaction

By Bart Gazzola

The side lounge area at Rodman Hall Arts Centre is somewhat of a moribund space (the recent Deck The Halls gala challenged this with silvery wallpaper and disco balls). This is something that the current exhibition combats in a unique way, with bright yellow “slabs” and arrangements of artworks that provide splashes and spots of vitality. But, oddly for a (theoretically) visual space, its the words and phrases scattered about the room that enliven it the most. Visual Appropriations and Rewritings has been on display there since January 12.

Asta McCann’s poetic declaration that “Our inert gaze is detatched yet intrusive” could be easily applied to Nicola Ciaramella’s Untitled (Abstract Taxonomy), with petite doll arms and the vaguely geographical fragment atop a hard edged diagonal of vibrant flatness. “We taste the ink of black and white and see the sound of the past, to be”:  these words of Anjelika French’s mesh nicely with Melanie Prentice’s Untitled (Nurture), with its transparencies and flat play on monochromes. But French’s words hang on the wall under Faith Brown’s amorphic wintry purple blue washes, all tiny rectangulars with fine white torn borders. You’re invited to mix and match the words as you move around the space, as befits an exploration of what appropriation / rewriting can mean, or be. Not all the (very strong) writing is so literal. “The nuclear family is as nuclear a bomb as the American dream” is from Bria Surtel’s contribution to this collaborative endeavour. This is, in many ways, my favourite line of all.

These are some of the highlights of Visual Appropriations and Rewritings, which mixes some uniformity (the yellow uniting the space) with significant differences (the artworks, though under the umbrella of painting / drawing, are clearly from a variety of hands). To sample the words of Catherine Parayre, one of the two Brock professors behind this exhibition: “Two classes were participating: one in Visual Arts (Shawn Serfas’ Intermediate Painting) and the other in Studies in Arts and Culture (myself, Interpretive and Critical Writing in the Arts).We wanted to continue exploring interactions in creative writing and visual arts [but we] added a new element, namely blending our two courses during four weeks when students from both groups worked together in the painting studio.Our intention was to encourage visual-arts students to get involved in creative-writing practice and vice-versa, and to have all our students work simultaneously in order to produce collaborative pieces. This was a very new experience for them, fun and challenging at the same time. It showed them that collaborative work involving individuals with very different skills, practices and likes often result in complex and intriguing realizations.”

The visual works were juried by Parayre and Serfas, with input from painter / educator Geoff Farnsworth (who has a current exhibition at Rise Above) and (in full disclosure) I also expressed an opinion (solicited, as opposed to my usual, uninvited contributions to our local artistic environment).

However, whenever bringing divergent and diverse works into a space, flexibility and change are always a challenge. But this exhibition is more a work in progress, a changing and evolving creation (appropriation is by definition a reactive action). Fittingly, it will reform when it travels to the University of Innsbruck, Austria, this summer and an online catalogue will also follow. But here’s part of the didactic panel to further illustrate the process that led to this place: “In fall 2015 we read interviews [in the quarterly magazine Border Crossings including ] from Stephen Andrews…Will Gorlitz…Alex Katz, Arnaud Maggs…Raymond Pettibon…William Wegman…Janet Werner. In each interview we isolated a few words, removed them from the interviews, brought them on a piece of paper to the painting studio, and illustrated them – freely. The rewriters among us then expanded them as they wished in order to really push them out of context. The original words are now the titles of our visual works”.

“Every waking moment can be categorized into easily digestible status updates,” avers Asta McCann, and I can hear the sarcasm and criticism that so often occupies smart “rewriting” in her voice. This considered critique also echos in the interactions between the smaller sampled and sampling pieces that dot the walls. These “appropriators and rewriters”, as Parayre has affectionately described them, will have their efforts on display until February 21.

Written by Bart Gazzola

Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, FUSE, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.

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