With all the deserved excitement around In The Soil 2018, it’s good to remember that there’s many spaces in the downtown – and beyond – that enrich the cultural landscape year round. One of these – that acts as an intersection point for music, literature and numerous other cultural events – is NAC (Niagara Artists Centre). Emma Lee Fleury’s Sprout and About is ongoing in the Plate Glass Gallery and Kurt Swinghammer’s Meanwhile Out on Hudson Bay opened on the 27th of April. Swinghammer’s work offered some interesting thoughts on how “Canada” is defined / deformed by our obsessions with landscape, especially through the lens of the Group of Seven (genuflect or turn and spit, as you see fit).
Both Fleury and Swinghammer offer observations on our realities through our environment (Fleury’s “installation [is] made of recycled mediums and organic matter in response to the current state of Planet Earth.” Sprout rests in the alcove of the Plate Glass Gallery, perhaps a commentary on consumerism and “window shopping.”
If you’ve not already experienced Sprout, another exhibition will open at NAC (reception on May 12th): go see Fleury’s work, as well as Bevan Ramsay’s solo Showroom exhibition.
The conceptual and formal framework that Ramsay employs guarantees an interesting exhibition that will foster conversation about not just his work, but also concerns that are relevant to many in the downtown, and larger urban spaces, of STC and Niagara.
Ramsay is an artist of unique experience: training as a cabinet maker, an apprenticeship in antique restoration and co founding a furniture / design firm. This explains the aesthetic power of work like Jersey Girls or Soft Tissue. The latter plays with revulsion as well as seduction, but all of his works have an aesthetic play informed by larger ideas (along these same lines, what Ramsay will be showing at NAC is the series Lesser Gods). His educational background includes philosophy as well as an MFA in sculpture, and he has lived / worked abroad, though now based out of Connecticut.
The artwork at NAC combines this sensitivity to larger communities and the skill in “making” his education suggests. Lesser Gods (quoting one of my critical brethren, E. Janzen), are “cast portrait busts of homeless persons (one woman, the others men), producing an edition in fine, white statuary Hydrocal plaster mounted on mahogany bases. These portraits, titled Lesser Gods, are objects of fine craftsmanship, skillfully rendered and strikingly beautiful, and they permit us to reconsider these folks not through the screen of stereotypes or statistics, but as individuals, complicating our urge to pity.”
Ramsay’s own words about his work: “My practice is an ongoing dialogue between expectation and frustration in which there can be no clear resolution…I explore themes or ideas with which I have an uncomfortable or ambivalent relationship. In exploring contradictory perspectives of a subject, I create composite conceptual models that do not seek unity, but rather admit paradox as a basic feature of human experience.”
Lesser Gods will be an interesting observation about downtown STC (NAC’s immediate neighbourhood), post In The Soil. Issues of homelessness, empathy, equality and opportunity in terms of economics, and how, by the time you read this, we may have a new Premier in Ontario who smells like Mike Harris (like shoddy, spoiled goods priced as quality), are all things to keep in mind when you visit NAC and experience Ramsay’s Lesser Gods.
Lesser Gods opens on May 11th in the Showroom Gallery: Emma Lee Fleury’s Sprout and About is on display in the Plate Glass space right now, and Kurt Swinghammers’s paintings (lovely work I’ll be posting more thoughts about later) are still in the front space.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, 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.