By Bart Gazzola
Emma German’s curatorial venture Shifting Practices at The Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine Arts and Performing Arts is the inaugural show in 15 Artists’ Common, featuring alumni from the department of Visual Arts (a loose connection among these diverse artists). Presented as part of Imagining The City, “these artists have established their careers through exhibitions, artist residencies, graduate degrees, and national awards.”
There’s strong works here installed to augment each other, such as Ben Mosher’s rough assemblages having a formal aesthetic that’s echoed in Bruce Thompson’s assured, direct marks, or also how Mosher’s found objects mesh with Thompson’s making the “everyday monumental”: one example of many correlations here.
Sarah Beattie’s triptych Soporific: A Social Experiment 2.a), 2.b) and 2.c) takes painting, specifically portraiture, in a cinematic direction. It’s unsurprising she’s merited recognition, like the BMO 1st Art! Awards (2012) for her idiosyncratic and immediate (that moment before the sneeze) capturing of her “models”. Her work owes as much to Muybridge as Manet.
Soporific, incidentally, means inducing drowsiness or sleep, and Beattie is next to an amusingly exquisite work by Alicia Kuntze. The Bags Under My Eyes are Packed and Ready To Go are made from old pillow, thread and string. These patterned pouches sit delicately like the bags under our eyes, but denser, like plump repositories of exhaustion.
Across the gallery is Kuntze’s Untitled: a box of tissues upon a low table, requiring you crouch to read dark type on the extended kleenex, perhaps untouchable (Kuntze typed this on all the tissues in the box, and I could pull one, see the same despairing message emerge, and then again, and again and again…). It reads “..Because it really just is one god damn thing after another.” This works formally, as kleenex are uniquely fragile “multiples”, but also useful in exhausting instances like repeated sneezes or coughs…more amusing synchronicity to Beattie’s Soporific.
Suspended outwards from an end wall is Candace Couse’s Pressure, incorporating fiber, copper piping and sod. It requires watering (it fractures the “sterile white cube” with invasive nature, like Carrie Perreault’s I Can’t Eat Anymore, also requiring acts of maintenance – or performance…) Pressure resembles an anatomical display, suspended midair: rich reddish fibers interlace down to the ragged strip of sod, stitched roughly into this excised green and brown clump. Look upwards and see a framework a bit more rigid and architectural, more about enclosed space. It’s reminiscent of Kai Chan mixing organic and synthetic materials, creating environments more so than objects.
Let’s revisit Eat, with its proffered bananas, and performers on two screens, eating and eating and eating bananas; one stoically industrious, the other with a smile giving way to laboured grimaces, before both stop and walk out of the frame, ignoring off screen encouragement / hectoring of Perreault demanding they persist…Mr. Vuthy and Phally performed this in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (bananas are their national fruit).
I’d suggest unending consumption makes heaven hellish, but my sporadic Marxist is showing. There’s surely a taste (sorry) of colonial concerns, whether in the privileging of a commodity or the authorative voice, directing and insistent…Perreault spoke of Eat in the context of aid groups with good intentions yet misdirected actions, excessive and erroneous to local realities. This echoes older manifestations of empire, presuming what’s “best” for the “other.”
Eat a banana. Discard peels on the floor. Spoils of the neo liberal / formerly colonial empire, perhaps, but like any good, ignorant consumer drone, I’ll admit to “visiting” to eat “breakfast” before work…this somehow connects with the “invisible hand” of the gallery attendants, needing to clean up after me — and others — as they also water Pressure regularly.
This is a good point to praise curator German: the show reads as one large installation, to paraphrase Robin Metcalfe’s ideas regarding quality curating, which is about creating an amenable space of related works with ideas that permeate the gallery as a whole.
After that effusive admiration, there’s an issue that may spoil my words for some.
The artists in Practices WEREN’T being paid full CARFAC fees by Brock (initially). Aforementioned artist Perreault: “I’m disappointed in the VISA department and their reconciled stance to not pay CARFAC fees, which are meant to provide a minimum national exhibition fee to artists. This mentality… perpetuate[s] systems of artists not being paid”.
But as I alluded, Brock is, quoting Duncan MacDonald (Director, Center for Studies in Arts and Culture) NOW “paying full CARFAC fees to the artists after a faculty member in the department intervened. For its inaugural year, we are hosting a number of exhibitions and projects that are part of a larger festival called Imagining the City.
The VISA Gallery, however, is a student-run gallery that is meant as a space for learning, research and teaching” – which means (perhaps?) it’s a space that isn’t subject to CARFAC expectations about artist / curator fees….
Now, by no means is Brock like aka “artist run” centre in my old Saskatoon stomping grounds, neglecting artist fees, lying at AGMs and hiding evidence thereof (but prior to their current regime, they were a respecting and respected space). Devaluing artists is a slippery slope (with “wider implications”, to cite Perrault) that’s leading aka to ruin, as a foul harbinger.
Shifting Practices is an excellent show (it runs until October 10, so move now) and I’ll end with Perreault’s voice, that isn’t damning but simply concerned, as we make our endings in our beginnings: “This is not a personal attack on the school or any persons but something that hopefully illuminates the need to provide fair pay for work and the shortcomings that must always be fought…If we all believe the arts to be an essential part of our culture, then we must always say so.”