Separation Point (art review)

Sean Caulfield and Royden Mills. Source: The New Gallery

Full disclosure: I’m on the board of The New Gallery

Separation Point opened a little while ago at The New Gallery. It’s the work of Sean Caulfied and Royden Mills, and builds on previous work they’ve collarated on before, some of which was shown in the Perceptions of Promise exhibition at the Glenbow last year.

I really like art along this line, which is dealing with scientific topics – or rather, scientific epistemology, so I liked seeing the work at the Glenbow and I’m glad to see this work as well (different works but they’re in the same vein). The works are Caulfied’s arcane biological drawings of fictional flora and fauna, and Mills’ arcane sculptures that become the lab equipment used to study the drawings. I like the contrast between the delicacy of the drawings and the potentially brutal quality of the sculpture –  it’s the sort of lab equipment where you might be scared about what it could do to you.

I do find it interesting that the equipment is studying the drawings – the drawings aren’t the result of scientific inquiry, they are the subject of it, as if they are the animals and plants they depict.

Check the show out!

PechaKucha #9: Verge

A couple weeks ago I went to PechaKucha Night Calgary #9: Verge. I’m going to give you a rundown on the things that really excited me during the talks:

Jasmine Antonick of Beakerhead

I am really excited for Beakerhead. I love projects that bring arts and science together; in the past few years I’ve become more and more interested in science as another way (like the arts) to have my mind blown. Now I just need a project! Engineers, let me know if you have room for an artist.

Arts Factory and King Edward School

Reid Henry from CADA and Stephen Schroeder from Calgary Arts Factory spoke on the King Edward School project and Arts Factory. Both are projects to create more arts space, both exhibition, workspace and workshops. I am very excited because there’s such a lack of workshop space in Calgary, and I really miss having a shop. I’m also excited about the opportunity for skill-sharing between arts disciplines in Calgary and the idea of a materials bank in the Arts Factory.

Dr Paul Fedak

I love learning about totally on the edge medicine. It’s so fascinating! I hear about a lot of this sort of thing (including HeLa) via the amazing Radiolab, which if you don’t listen to, do.  I had seen Anthony Atala’s TEDMED 2009 talk on the subject of regenerative medicine, and it’s just absolutely mindboggling, so it was realy exciting to see a Calgarian talk about the work he’d doing in the feel.

All in all a really good PechaKucha.

Absurdesque (& 2011 Rodeo Wrap Up)

I got to see Absurdesque on Sunday! (I love my new theatre job!) I’ve had a really great time at the High Performance Rodeo this year and since I’ve been remiss in blogging about any of it, I thought I’d do a round up.

I went to: Swallow-a-Bicycle’s Freak Show (Thurs Jan 6), Compagnie Drift’s Soundmachine (Thurs Jan 20) and Theatrelabor’s Absurdesque (Sun Jan 30). I really wanted to see Catalyst Theatre’s Nevermore (which is of course still possible — and happened and I’ll post about it) and Snowblower, which I missed because it was cold that week and I’d frozen myself easrlier that week for DemoCamp and didn’t want to do it again.

I liked that Freak Show was both performance art and theatre at the same time. In some ways the tone wasn’t completely my bag … sometimes I found it sort of silly-sexual and I go in for absurd more than silly. But it was a really interesting format and I loved the use of the bowels of the EPCOR Centre for the tour. The first skit-tableau we saw was a “tribulations of pregnancy’ skit and I thought that was really entertaining. I also liked the Alice In Wonderland monologue (love Alice In Wonderland). I was there alone but with a group of friends I think it would be really hilarious and would love to see more theatre in this format.

Photo: Compagnie Drift / High Performance Rodeo

I was really glad I got to see Soundmachine. I thought the idea of “hearing the unhearable” but sometimes I thought the sounds weren’t … investigating the meaning of what they might be hearing? You know? So that became hard to get out of it and it was sort of whimsical experimentation with sound instead of hearing the unhearable. It was still really fun though, and the singing techniques and live sound mixing with recorded instrumentals were quite interesting. I also loved the singing and wished I understood the French. Another reason I may have not been as impressed by the connections between the sounds and the “unhearable” is that I had recently been listening to a Radiolab episode mentioning that people had recorded what sounds the electrical activity in mice brains make. Which really is sort of hearing the normally unhearable, and is awfully hard to follow with made up sounds.

Last Sunday I went to Absurdesque, by Theatrelabor.  I like shows like this that are hard to follow, though I haven’t seen a lot of classic absurd theatre. I think one of my favourite sections of Absurdesque was when one of the actors got on the table and was reciting what sounds like something from a theatre textbook on absurd theatre. It’s always interesting as you’re watching absurd theatre to navigate between how your life is absurd and then back to life being not absurd, really. It’s absurd but only to a certain extent. And so I think I find it … poignant, but also absurd and funny in and of itself.

I did end up getting to see Nevermore! I loved it and am planning to post about it later today.

Wine With Art Jan 2011: Sandra Vida on Clive Robertson’s Then + Then Again

I’ve been having a bit of trouble with Clive Robertson’s Then + Then  Again at The New Gallery. The show is a retrospective of Robertson’s work in artist-run culture, much of it in Calgary, and it’s presented through foam-core mounted info-blocks and recorded materials. Documentation. Of course I wasn’t in Calgary’s art scene for any of the actual events, so for me it’s hard to take in as an art show. I can’t read all the panels or watch/listen to all the work.

It’s not that I don’t accept documentation as art, but I think this exhibition is presented more on the side of documentation than documentation-as-art. You really do need to read all of the text to know what’s going on. It’s a self-history more than documentation of a process or performance-based work.

That said, I think I have found the way to enjoy the exhibition: go to the talks. I went to an opening night talk where Robertson spoke, and the talk tonight with Sandra Vida. As someone who is very badly versed in Calgary’s ARC history, it’s been a wonderful crash course that you can’t get from the exhibition itself because the exhibition doesn’t have the side stories or the evident rivalries. At the talks, usually there were one or two people in attendance who were also part of Calgary’s ARC culture when it was nascent, and the back-and-forth and extra tidbits were amazing. That’s what you really need to see and what really can get you energized about ARC culture in Calgary and making sure it keeps happening (not that there’s danger of the ARCs here falling off the planet) and what makes one want to be involved up to your eyeballs. Must get on that.

[The video is a trailer from when the exhibition was mounted in 2007 at several galleries in eastern Canada]

Robyn Moody on “Life in the 2 Field” at Truck Contemporary Art

Last Thursday I attended a talk at Truck Contemporary Art. Robyn Moody spoke about his exhibition, Life in the 2 Field. He talked about his other work as well and then moved on to addressing this exhibition. The exhibition puts the gallery space into the “2 field”, which is an animation term for a drawing surface that’s much smaller than normal so that when it’s projected, all the mistakes of millimeters from one frame to another are amplified, and so the wines are wavy and shakey. The gallery space is outlined with black cords that vibrate and there are two windows which frame moving scenes. If you are viewing the windows straight on, the scene is complete, but you can easily see how everything is moving (all of the motors are visible), and if you move at all the picture in the window breaks.

Life in the 2 Field, Robyn Moody

Photo Credit: Robyn Moody

It was really interesting because my experience of the exhibition was dominated by one specific sensation that has a lot to do with how I’m hardwired, not just the exhibition. I am fairly high strung, and I tremble a fair amount. So the constant movement of the dark lines on the white walls of the gallery was too much for me — it was like the room was vibrating at the same frequency as me, and that the harmonics were going to make me explode or something. It was really unsettling and the only way I could ignore it and spend time in the show was to pay attention to the motors and the workings of the show. They were interesting, and their movement wasn’t overwhelming — it was logical.

Why I find this so interesting is what Moody was saying about what it the show meant. He conceptualized the “2 field” as a sort of magical world where we can believe what we want to believe, but the workings are obvious for the sufficiently curious.  He did this because he sees the world going into a new dark age of human thought where we just believe thing and critical thinking is decreased (His reference was Jane Jacobs’ A Dark Age Ahead). He cited ideas like homeopaths as an example of the uncritical view that bothers him.

Why I find this so interesting is because my reaction is basically opposite to how the show’s supposed to function. I don’t think this means the work is unsuccessful and I think it could be successful for someone who’s less tightly wound. Also it does sounds nice, the fun wavy lines, the room breaking free of its arbitrary bonds of space and logic and dancing. But I was basically looking at the logical inner workings because they were logical and didn’t move around on me so much. They were quieter and easier to deal with; the “fun, exciting, magical” movement was just bordering on the harrowing for me, something to studiously avoid if possible.

That was basically one of the main reasons I wanted to go the artist talk — I knew that my perception of the show had been very much shaped by me, and wanted to get an idea of what it was like for other people. I chatted with an infant speech researcher, Stephanie Archer, after the talk, and she was saying she has the same problem when there are more than 2 sounds on in a room. So maybe my being more of a spatial thinker made the visual movement and cacaphony more of any issue. It’s also interesting because the movement makes a huge difference. Busy and strange static images have never made me feel like that.

Wine With Art Lecture Series

Last Friday I finally made it to my first Wine With Art Lecture at The New Gallery on Nancy Nisbet‘s Contours in the Crosshairs. Unfortunately I missed the beginning because I work in the North East so it’s a bit of a trek downtown in the evenings. The talk was given by Dick Averns, ACAD Instructor and Activist. For full disclosure, I will mention that Nancy Nisbet was one of my instructors at UBC; she taught me first and second year digital art. So it’s pretty awesome seeing her show in Calgary for me.

Just quickly for background, Contours in the Crosshairs is a show dealing with the effect of car culture on the Athabasca Glaciers in Alberta. The works include a windsheild, onto which is projected a video (from the windshield’s point of view) of the drive on the Icefields Highway, which is overlaid with a video of the contours of the topography of the glacier being erased. Another work is a large photo transparency of the glacier, which is on a window which normally looks onto downtown Calgary. A third is a pile of broken tempered glass over a crumpled windshield, illuminated from the underside. The fourth is two images, one of the current topography of the glacier, beside the same image after the topography of the glacier is erased.

I thought the talk was interesting. I think the Wine With Art series is aimed at the downtown business community in Calgary, which isn’t me, so there was reasonably a lot of term definitions that I didn’t need defined, and a section that was an overview of car-related or environmental art that was very broad, but this was probably interesting background for the target audience.

I did like how Dick Averns used many different theoretical prongs to tackle the work, and explained his reasoning very thoroughly. He briefly discussed the work in terms of relational aesthetics, which is a connection I wouldn’t have made*. And he did some interesting theoretical acrobatics with the “auto” self and “auto”-mobile which were poignant and connected really well to the idea of “car culture”.  He also explored the idea of self-mapping and land-mapping and the way we make our own frameworks for evaluating our actions, and connected it into the mapping of the topography of the glacier and the drive to the glacier. Our identification with the car versus our identification with the land.

Image courtesy The New Gallery.

The discussion was probably the most interesting part of the talk. I go to a lot of art talks and lectures (whenever I can), but since this talk had a different audience there was a much broader way of thinking about the works represented and different problems were addressed. I wish I could have attended Nisbet’s artist talk and had the opportunity to compare the kinds of points brought up there with the ones brought up at the Wine with Art talk. One of the most interesting points (which unfortunately I can’t credit — if you know who said this or are the man who did, please let me know in the comments!) was that the melting of the glacier documented in the show made an interesting analogy for the decline of the auto industry in the states at the moment, where people continue to insist that the auto industry will always bounce back. I thought this comment made the consideration of the issue a lot wider to include other human systems (economic), instead of just environmental. And then you can consider, what would happen to the glacier if the car industry just became unviable? Would it rebound? Not that the decay of the auto industry would necessarily remove the factors that cause the decay of the glacier.

I quite liked attending the talk, so I’ll be trying to make it to future Wine with Art lecture series. I hear they’re going to be a bit later, so hopefully I can catch the beginning of the next one.

*Especially since my 2 most vivid experiences with relational aesthetics have been somewhat fraught with issues.

Soft Core, Hard Edge

Image from The Art Gallery of Calgary

Headed to the Curator’s Tour (Marianne Elder from Calgary and David Pagel from LA) of Soft Core, Hard Edge at the Art Gallery of Calgary this weekend. Missed the opening the previous evening, but apparently it was awesome and tons of people were there.

The curator’s tour was pretty interesting. I went mostly because Wil Murray‘s work was in the show, and I’d seen The Strange Space that will Keep Us Together in 2008 at the Belkin Satellite and remembered Murray’s work. Elder and Pagel talked about how they ended up coming up with the show and choosing artists, which was primary based on similarities between abstract works of LA and Calgary artists — they didn’t have a specific program or theory, but instead they wanted to put the works together and see what would happen and what they’d bring out in each other. In some ways that bothered me … the talk was kind of, not necessarily unfocused, but it didn’t have a specific point to make, and some of it was stuff I just didn’t see in the work that was quite opinion based and formal. But, it’s better to be frank about that than to try and force a point on something that’s less specific (more abstract?) and more experimental.

Abstract painting isn’t something that generally turns my crank, but the show was quite neat especially because a lot of it wasn’t abstract painting or sculpture, and some of the items were pretty interesting to see in the context of abstraction that I had never really thought of as ‘abstract’ as such. Like Eric Cameron‘s thick paintings (2 are in the show). It’s interesting to read them within a context of lots of pretty ‘pure’ abstraction, and to think of them as abstract paintings instead of as sculptures or conceptual pieces. And, thinking of them that way changed how I read the other abstract works, because of the direct relationship those abstractions have with specific objects, but not with representing them.

There were two Dave and Jenn pieces in the show. I hadn’t seen their work before, but it was really engrossing, and whimsical. I think I like it the same way I like Maurice Sendak’s books. I went to see the show that they have at Skew Gallery as well later that day, so I got to see a bit more of the worlds they create.