By Bart Gazzola
Two individuals whose thinking has shaped mine in confronting Art are Jeanne Randolph and Theodor Adorno: both have a role to play in considering the works of Donna Szőke that open at Rodman Hall on October 10, in a show evocatively titled Cloud. Curated by Stuart Reid, Rodman’s Director / Curator, this continues Rodman’s excellent programming. They just received the Canada Council’s York Wilson Endowment Award to help purchase Mary Anne Barkhouse’s Settlement, currently on display outside the gallery. One can hope that rumours about Brock perhaps not honouring its twenty year commitment to the gallery are exaggerated, as the Canada Council award is significant.
Szőke’s works “explores relational meaning…convey[ing] messages that are sometimes absurd, often humorous, never singular, but existing in relation to other parts of the whole.” This is where Randolph, with her assertions that viewers construct the meaning of most Art they encounter, bringing their own subjectivity to it (like interpreting clouds) matters. Adorno is from the post WWII Frankfurt school whose philosophy attempted to acknowledge the world outside the ivory tower (he famously declared “writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”.…). I cite him here in Clouds for his barbed irony, such as pointing out that the words “museum” and “masouleum” have the same origin, and both are places for “dead things” – or perhaps objects that only live through our animation of them, with our ideas.
Adorno appears in Szőke’s artist statement, with his ideas about how we appreciate music, with memory informing it, and describes one of her print works here as “[becoming] what it is in memory and in expectation through its physical contiguity with its neighbour and its mental connection with what is distant from it.” Whether her Invisible Histories using glowing green irradiated mice as a starting point, or the richly amusing – and sexist – tradition of a Victorian lady’s “fainting couch” that will mesh very well with Rodman Hall décor, Szoke’s work embraces “absurdity, irrationality, immanence, failure and anachronism [as] unifying themes of Cloud… Ideas arise and are fleeting. They form, peak and disappear in sets of relationships to other ideas. Insights echo across instances of ideas.”
Bill Burns is also comfortable with absurdity. Hans-Ulrich Obrist’s Hear Us opens at Rodman on October 25 and I anticipate it highly. Like his Safety Gear for Small Animals, it mocks gently but insistently. Or, perhaps like some humour, it could mask rage about inequality, in the larger art world.
Co-curated by Reid and Jennifer Matotek from the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina (that incarnation was called Beatrix Ruf Protect Us: A Project About Longing), it’s a show that deserves to tour across Canada and further. I say this as in Obrist, Burns parodies — or just admits — a “longing for success, for assistance, for recognition, for a different type of world. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Burns makes overt pleas to art world celebrities, critiquing the politics of power that support them…The pleas take the form of a litany: “priez pour nous”, “protect us”, “délivrez-nous”, “hear us…” Even better, Burns has made a number of bobble-heads of the “art world players” he’s beseeching. Artists might purchase one and pray to it, at a homemade altar, for Art world love and triumph (perhaps there’s one of the Editor of Canadian Art, so I might make rich offerings and dutiful prostrations, and be granted generous mercy to write that feature…)
Okwui Enwezor’s Graciously Guide Us entreated a work in the Dunlop installation. Enwezor was a previous director of the prestigious Venice Biennale. He, with aformentioned Ruf (Kunsthalle Zurich), Obrist (Serpentine Gallery, London), Adam Weinberg (Whitney, New York), Hou Hanru (MAXXI, Rome), and RoseLee Goldberg (Performa Festival, New York) were all reverently “idolized” as bobble heads that we’ll hopefully see at Rodman.
Both exhibitions play upon ideas outside the gallery proper, whether requiring gallery visitors’ own imaginations to enliven the works, or shattering the staid — and hypocritical — primness of the art world with a populist bobble head. Both artists will be speaking here about their works (Burns on October 25, Szoke later on November 12) as part of the Hot Talks series happening through Imagining the City, and that will surely add to your experience both shows.
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.