Lucia Lakatos: “…impossible to say which was which…”

Fly [the dog] decided to speak very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that sheep were stupid and no one would ever persuade her otherwise….The sheep spoke very slowly, for it was a cold fact of nature that wolves [what the sheep called dogs] were ignorant and nothing would convince them otherwise.” (Babe, 1995)

There are a number of factors that make Lucia Lakatos’ works, currently on display in downtown St. Catharines at Beechwood Donuts, eerie. I use that term both in a more superficial reading of the works, but also in the more historical context, of pieces that suggest more disturbing tones that you take away with you, and think about later.

Installed to the left side of the space on sparse brick walls, this industrial setting meshes well with Lakatos’ works: the “portraits” are life sized, several employing blank, light coloured backgrounds behind the subjects to privilege them more, whereas others have backgrounds that suggest a less formal, more ‘captured in the moment’ aesthetic.

Before I speak to the works as installed, the accompanying statement is as follows: “[Lakatos’] current work is inspired by the relationships between humans and animals. She focuses on animals that are mistreated and most impacted by pollution, global warming, and environmental changes.” The simplicity and the directness of Lakotos’ words is appropriate to the works. Three works – portraits, in both their style and execution – present human busts / torsos (and we can safely project that the rest, off canvas, is equally “human”) with animal heads: a chicken and pig, bracketing, facing inwards, respectively, and a cow, in the middle gazing out at us. Their clothing is banal, un extraordinary and is likely the same as that worn by people standing in line to purchase doughnuts at Beechwood, Perhaps both the subjects and the customers are waiting expectantly..

Lakatos’ work is clearly political, but like a number of artists whose ideas have an existence in both popular culture and ongoing “current” affairs, she guides more than lectures, and the installation of the works in a space where people consume is a subtle nudge. When I first encountered these works, the words of Orwell that closed the contemporary fable Animal Farm came to me: The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. But that’s also looking at it from a very human centrist position (like those mad Evangelicals who believe that we might use and abuse the planet as “god” made “us” – well, if you’re white, straight and ‘merican – “stewards of the earth”, which they seem to confuse with rapacious plunder. May I suggest some of Burtynsky’s horrifyingly beautiful images of where that “belief” has taken, and will take, us?).

To give more deference to Lakatos’ original ideas, I’d return to Orwell again: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Now, I cite this not to just to point out how some animals are considered more worthy of our care and respect (cats, dogs) than others (pigs, cows, chickens) and that these “value” distinctions are arbitrary, and – like most socially ingrained customs – sit unsteadily on shallow or non existent factual basis. Pigs, for example, are quite intelligent (more than some people I can name, frankly); but if I mention cultures around the world that consider dog a delicacy, I’ll be considered…well, an animal, ahem.

But that’s a bit easy, to point out the inconsistent framework of what’s to be loved, and what’s to be used (I must reference that reluctant philosopher, Ferdinand the Duck, from BABE: animals with no [perceived] use have the most important use of all.…). What is striking, on deeper consideration of Lakatos’ work, is that we – humans – like to forget that we’re also animals, that we are part of the [eco]system, dependant and inextricably woven into it, and cannot survive without it (whereas it could survive – and perhaps prosper – without us….).

Perhaps the subject of one of the portraits is less about an idea than to offer us a reflection of being “pig headed” (this allusion to wilful ignorant stubbornness, typically, seems to insult pigs unfairly when it is, in the end, about “us” as humans…).

Other works (the angry looking chicken, the sad eyed and seemingly disappointed bovine centrepiece, the regal and “exotic” tiger) suggest other ways in which the artist’s concerns play out in society. Sadly, I can mention many recent news stories regarding the mistreatment of animals to ‘feed the machine’, from the stories of abuse of chickens in massive factory farms to the ongoing grotesque production of veal (and for the record, I’m NOT a vegetarian or vegan, but I know from my time in rural spaces on the prairies that consumption need not equal cruelty…but that might lead to a discussion about capitalism, and how it, in its worst forms, echoes that evangelical blather I cited, that just “because you can, means you should”…). The tiger headed portrait (or human bodied tiger?) reminds me of a documentary I saw the other night about ongoing extinctions and encroachments into habitats, and let us all note that the new President of Brazil seems to think Climate Change is a communist, anti christian plot. This is your “steward” of the rain forest.

However, I want to end on a different note: perhaps its because when visiting an exhibition in the VISA Gallery I saw that in conjunction with Emma Mary Sked’s delightful clothe animals, she interspersed books in the gallery, including Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. The final in that trilogy (MaddAddam) sees the escaped, scientifically enhanced Pigoons start to be seen, and acting, as equals to the surviving humans (they will not tolerate being made into “smelly bones” anymore, and see the humans as necessary, if ignorant – to quote Babe again – allies). So, perhaps describing the Oryx / Year of the Flood / MaddAddam trilogy as dystopia is only true on one level – for humans – and is closer to a utopia for those beings whom only can hope for better.

Lakatos’ pieces are a mixture of mediums (captured and created, with lens and with brush), and she’s a photographer and painter currently studying at the University of Waterloo. These works are on display at Beechwood Donuts on at 165 St. Paul Street in downtown St. Catharines, into 2019. All images are courtesy the artist, and more of her work can be seen here.

Posted in Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Up Close and In Motion: A year in review

In conversation with a fellow writer / critic recently, the subject turned to the exhibition Carry Forward that had been at Rodman Hall. We shared the opinion that the show could have been divided by a line framing four works that were quite interesting and very strong in the conceptual framework proposed by curator Lisa Myers: the rest, on the opposite side of the gallery, seemed muddled and unresolved. Or, at the least, paled next to the aesthetics of Claxton, Alvarez or Bowen.

When considering the year long exploration / series of exhibitions of Rodman Hall’s collection – titled Up Close and In Motion, with various addendum, like 4/11, or 6/11, to mark its progression – that has been installed in various month long excerpts in the Hansen Gallery (ending in January 2019), there is a similar fracture.

The initial “phases” curated by Emma German (whom conceived the project, in conjunction with a focus upon a Slow Art Day aesthetic) were engaging and offered multiple points of entry with intersections and dialogues between visitors and artworks.

My response to, and review, of Brendan Fernandes’ Philia exemplifies this. This work is a rarely seen treasure of the RHAC collection, but frankly the didactic panel, written by German. expanded and enlarged the work’s importance (and I f**king hate art with neon, but that fell to the side in light of what Fernandes was “illuminating”, if I may put it that way).

Brendan Fernandes’ Philia, installation shot.

The current incarnation of #UCIM, as I write this, continues an aesthetic that has been dominant since Jimmy Limit assumed a degree of the curatorial reins. He’s an interesting artist who has shown both in Rodman and spaces such as Gallery 44 and Clint Roenisch: but his choices are more formal, offering a comparatively empty discourse compared to the more richly nuanced selections by German. But right now, the Hansen gallery is filled, with one exception, with works that offer a space of formal connection, but little else.

This is manifest in both the absence of didactic panels to expand the work (which would have left me to hate Philia, bluntly), and engage the visitor.

Untitled, Jimmy Limit (one of several installed works by the artist for #UCIM)

Also problematically, the works that Limit himself has produced in the gallery space have only superficial relationships – if at all – to the works from the collection. Ernest Harris, Jr.’s piece Mel’s Brushes, commissioned for #UCIM by German, directly referenced the work of Melanie MacDonald that was installed concurrently over the other mantle, in the other room, and that alluded strongly to Tobey Anderson (his four works presented as part of his almost “scientific” series in response to his cancer), whom Harris praised in the accompanying didactic. This excerpt from his conversation with German highlighted how Harris credited Anderson as both a mentor and major supporter of his artistic practice. In that respect, the works at play in Hansen all fed and spoke to each other, and also to the contemporary and the historical space of artists in Niagara, living and deceased.

Harris, MacDonald and Anderson – and later Boyle and Moffat (who, after seeing their works in the Hansen, I made a point of visiting works by both on permanent display in the MIWSFPA) – all positioned themselves within larger community frameworks. This was often an agenda of German’s selections from the RHAC collection.

Dennis Tourbin, whom had two works in #UCIM that I was so impressed by that I devoted singular reviews to each (one more local, one more national), is also someone who’s left a space here for others to stand upon, as the front gallery space at NAC (often used for local and emerging artists, a sentiment I think he’d approve) is named for him.

Limit’s series of untitled pieces are vibrant and fun, and the objects are lovely and push against the more historical space of the Hansen. There’s a [M]modernist appeal (art in simplicity), a cleanliness and disciplined execution that makes me want to handle the works (so round and slick), and his painting of coloured “rectangles” – or frames, if you will – on the wall with simple shelves to hold the works tussle and clash with the carved, delicate and almost fussy cornices and details of the Hansen space. The objects are rough yet evocative, and I always love when artists paint the walls to enhance their work. In that “proper” space, a slab of blue or yellow is an “affront” to the gentility of the space, just like Donna Akrey’s playful “toys” or Amy Friend’s “mementos” that worked with / against the “domestic” space.

But conceptually the connections between Limit’s interventions and the other works are either nonexistent or more about skin deep relations (lemons, circles, yellows) than how Fernandes’ Philia interacted with Genevieve Cadieux‘s works (both significant for imagery and art from groups that have too often been underrepresented in galleries and collections). There’s definitely not the points of reference I previously cited with Harris, MacDonald, Anderson or Carol Wren on the back wall.

This is “echoed” in how Douglas Boutilier’s Tennis Twins have looked out on the spaces for several variations of #UCIM, unimpressed and stoic, in their gaze and being, separate metaphorically and literally, alone on a wall almost like an alcove.

Douglas Boutillier’s Tennis Twins.

Tobey C. Anderson, selected works from Silken Twine series.

Even later iterations, from German, with John Boyle‘s imagery of St. Paul Street in St. Catharines. which led to a long, very long social media feed involving several local artists about when, where and why Boyle chose that site. This involved his major role in visual arts in St. Catharines, with NAC and Rodman, having a deeper, more considered, relevance outside the Hansen space. And I have little use for Stompin’ Tom Connors, but putting Boyle’s hagiographic rendering of Connors in a “fancy” space was entertaining. Though titled Yankee Go Home – Stompin’ Tom, the work was more complicated than that jingoist statement. Boyle’s role in founding CARFAC and Connors’ advocacy for regionalist culture meshed in that frighteningly colourful, perhaps garish, work.

When I encountered the Barbara Hepworth in the Hansen, in a recent iteration of #UCIM, it was disheartening to see that her choice of yellow, in a harsh slab of flat colour among monochromatic renderings, seemed to be the sole reason for its inclusion: this put it on a par with the lemons of an unfamiliar artist named Cleveland. That seems a bit of a slight, a facile dismissal, to someone who was one of the very, very few female artists of her generation to make an indelible mark in the Modernist canon. It would be a bit like talking about Anderson’s pieces that focused / explored his fatal cancer diagnosis in terms of modernist or art historical use of colour…..or only speaking of Tourbin’s work about the October Crisis in terms of its formal flat pop art colour, and not how a local artist I respect greatly raised a good point about “contested narratives” in response to my review of it, that was a bit (appropriately, considering the historical position of the piece) caustic.

Installation shot (L – R: Cleveland, Hepworth, Limit)

Am I being an asshole in my harshness re: the “post German” / “Limit defined” chapters? Am I being an #artcriticfromhell? Am I speaking a (difficult) truth? Am I, as I was told by one of the same people who used to dismiss me as “art critic from hell”, being a “Strelnikov” and expecting too much or expecting too “specifically”?

I offer this criticism, or this place within which to stand and question – to look back over a year and revisit what has been, in light of what is now in the Hansen space – as someone who has curated several exhibitions in a similar community / public space(s). I chose artworks both by artists who simply visited the #YXE space (Allison Rossiter had many fine works that were the backbone of my exhibition Personal Geographies, and Eldon Garnet’s “pile” works were a major part of another show I put together from the #usask collection). Others were featured who helped to define that site over decades (Thelma Pepper’s photographic / audio “portraits” of a generation that helped form Saskatchewan, for better or worse, were significant pieces of an earlier show I curated on ideas of place).

But let’s add another flavour to the mix: a curator whom I worked with, and admire greatly, Robert McKaskell (known for interventions and work he did with General Idea) once spoke of curating in a public gallery (we were both at the Art Gallery of Windsor, at the time) in this manner. That anyone, if they’re willing to make the effort, should be able to find works in a public gallery space they can appreciate: but McKaskell was more than willing to meet people halfway, so while the AGW might be showing the supposedly controversial works of Donigan Cummings, McKaskell curated a large show of “big animals in small landscapes” that, with some engagement (like in a slow art day manner) offered some interesting historical comments on the Windsor – Essex region, but also on the wider (as in British, or French) history of the area, in what artists and ideas were prevalent when the AGW was in its infancy. In citing this, the use of “lemon” or “yellow” or the circular motifs that linked works by Jean Arp (De la familles des etoilles) or Jeanne Rhéaume (Nature Morte aux Tomatoes) or Herbert Beyer (Two Sinking Spheres) actually simple and inviting points of access for any gallery goer, an unpretentious line between them all.

Untitled, Jimmy Limit

Now, I’ve alluded before to how some think your intrepid #artcriticfromhell too often talks politics and not “the art.” However, it has been a while since I’ve offered an update on Rodman Hall and the ongoing death by a thousand ignorant cuts that Brock University seems to wish to inflict on them, before walking away like a sated vampire in 2023. Its not accidental that German’s contract at RHAC ended and #UCIM has somewhat faltered without her.

Its not coincidental that Brock has not deigned to hire a replacement for their main installation person, nor that it has delayed in hiring a person to replace the public programming position (though Brock also advertised a Director position a long time ago, and then, opaquely and ignorantly, declined to hire one and appointed someone who seems to lack the experience, or interest, to do the job properly. But its perhaps unfair to expect “administrative director” Tom Arkell to serve two masters, and really, we all know that, like Martin Van Zon, he’ll bring his “experience” to the service of Brock, not Rodman).

One of the disheartening – or enraging, edit as preferred – facts about many university spaces like Brock is that they slash support for cultural spaces like RHAC, and devalue them (except, of course, to attempt to take credit for the many OAAG awards that RHAC and their staff and artists – like Marcie Bronson – have garnered, arguably despite Brock University, not thanks to it). Then, when those spaces are unable to function at the previous excellent levels, they’re punished for the idiocy, ignorance and decisions of University administrative cabal members. The recent exhibition Northern Oracle opened late, due to “infrastructure issues” and one can’t help but wonder if that is due to the staff shortage, lack of prioritization of RHAC’s needs, or that the administrative elite at Brock don’t know / don’t care (ignorance and apathy, again. At least we don’t hear any more about the “Art Gallery of Niagara”, where that ill thought plan may have led to the loss of the same collection that is the source of #UCIM).

John Boyle,  Yankee Go Home – Stompin’ Tom

By the time you read this, the final iteration of Up Close and In Motion will be installed in the Hansen space at Rodman Hall. This series of exhibitions has been a highlight of 2018 for me, and in both the quality and consideration of the “first” spate of choices but also in seeing how Brock’s choices do impact RHAC and do impact culture in this city and this region. Up Close has been educational, both in terms of what is the history of exhibitions and visual art as history in Niagara, but also the gap between words and actions within the cultural sphere, as seen in the “relationship” between RHAC and Brock University.

All images are copyright / courtesy RHAC and provided either by them or myself. Up Close and In Motion will run into January, 2019, in the Hansen Gallery in Rodman Hall Art Centre.

Posted in Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abstract City Hall: a city seen in part and in whole

I’ve posted several articles  on the work that The Willow Arts Community (whom were recently honoured, along with Rodman Hall, at the OAAG Awards) and they’re an active group with various projects ongoing. Hopefully you attended Songs From The Willow, or the reception at RHAC when a number of works both visual and aural were shared by the Willow Community members.

Earlier this Fall, one of those works was located to a new (and hopefully permanent) home at City Hall in downtown St. Catharines. Located on the second floor (a prime area for people to encounter the piece, and the vivid colours and expressive nature of the work(s) will surely capture the distracted attention of visitors), Abstract City Hall is a product of many hands. The large painting offers various impressions of the city, and for being a collaborative construction possesses a unity that makes it a dramatic and strong work.

Just past the stairs at 50 Church Street, “Abstract City Hall was created during a two-hour acrylics art class. Prior to the lesson, the instructor Mark Roe, multi-disciplinary artist and active Willow Arts Community member— took a photograph of City Hall, enlarged it and divided the image onto 18 reclaimed boards…They began by looking at famous artistic works that pushed the boundaries of visual arts, colour theory and technique. Each member was then given reclaimed art board with what appeared to be a random geometric design as a starting point. The group used the fundamentals they had learned to produce an abstract piece of art. Unknown to the members, the 18 art works when exhibited together would create one large collaborative abstract art piece of St. Catharines City Hall.”

Further: “The idea was to go beyond a two-hour acrylics art class and to reveal to the Willow Arts Community Members that they are a unique part of a larger picture. This exhibit reflects how local government, a national arts organization – Rodman Hall Art Centre, and individuals living with mental illness/addictions can come together to celebrate diverse artists in the community.”

There’s architectural references in the work, but also flat shapes and more painterly forms that are less about capturing a site than sharing an impression; when the work was installed at RHAC in the lecture room, along the back wall, it acted as an ecapsulation of Rodman and the Willow as a space that involved and was created by many. Architecture is, in many ways, the most abstract of art forms as it often is meant to express and contain ideas as much as people, and through its functionality also helps us to define our world, our city, both as it exists in physically and how we exist in relation to it.

But I’ll offer a final comment (after the admonition to go and see it, repeatedly, as we all know that the city – or how we are, or how we intersect with it- changes quite often):

aethereal Spirit
bright as moving air
blue as city dawn
happy as light released by the Day
over the city’s new buildings —

Abstract City Hall is on display at St. Catharines City Hall, at 50 Church Street, in downtown St. Catharines for the forseeable future. Head upstairs to experienc Motion: the 2018 Juried Exhibit from the City of St. Catharines, as it also offers multiple interpretations of the city (including a focus on the Burgoyne Bridge, which has become a locus point for discussions of mental health and how we, as a community, support people in that situation). All images are courtesy of St. Catharines Culture, and the quote that I end this piece with is Elegy for Neal Cassady by Allen Ginsberg (from The Fall of America).

Posted in Politics, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Moving Through Space: Motion at STC City Hall

I am a walker. When I’ve lived and visited other cities or towns, I make a point of exploring in this manner, seeing things and being within a space, to know a place. This was entertaining when I’d visit the thrift shops in Detroit, or when I was in Banff, for different, yet related, reasons. That’s a factor in responding to Motion | The 2018 City of St. Catharines Annual Juried Exhibit that opened late September and runs until March (2019) for several interlinked reasons.

Many of the scenes depicted by the artists in paint or photography or textile are part of “my city.” Mary Burke’s A City on the Move is a fragment of St. Paul Street I pass through often (as I’ve frequented Plan B, which is prominent to her composition). Morning Rush, by David Rose, offers a vignette of Geneva Street that’s another of my “routes”, and the unique architectural fragments of that Welland / Geneva intersection (with the Golden Grill, that I remember passing as a teenager living here, decades ago) are rendered in a way that alludes to the title: roughly, with no excessive detail, like a blur in passing as you move. Full disclosure: when I visited the St. Catharines Art Association recently David had one of my favourite pieces for the group critique, a work that evoked winter light and a sense of nostalgia.

My favourite work right now – perhaps, as there’s another in close competition for that, and I reserve the right to change my mind, as often happens with exhibitions that are on display for long periods that I revisit – is Quin McColgan’s photograph Downtown. It dates from 2015 and offers a very different view than many of the other landscapes that dominate Motion. Taken from several stories above St. Paul, this is a less “optimistic”, less “charming” portrait. The colours and the prominent decay and wear in the street and buildings are, frankly, more the St. Catharines I know, that I live and walk – move, if you will – through. (With some of the incidences of violence recently in the downtown, there’s the usual chorus of the death of said space, both specifically and in other urban areas in the region. As someone who lives and works in that space, I’ll quote Susan Musgrave: “Sometimes it seemed they hadn’t really died so much as I myself had become a ghost….” The subtle and quiet tones of McColgan’s works suggest a less celebratory scene that many of the artists have chosen, for Motion.)

The exhibition is on the 3rd Floor of City Hall at 50 Church Street in downtown St. Catharines: this hallway space works very well – surprisingly – with several of the works, but more on that in a moment. The curatorial call / statement is this: Motion called upon artists to consider what movement of everyday life in our community looks like. This exhibit provides the audience with an opportunity to consider what the process of movement means to them in their community. How does it feel? What does it sound like? What objects or infrastructure enable this transportation? Fifteen local artists demonstrate what Motion in the City means to them through their work.

Unsurprisingly, Motion favours painting: also unsurprisingly, the Burgoyne Bridge is a favoured subject. But before I offer some thoughts – both positive and perhaps a bit more edged as to the prominence of that landmark – on works like Zoom or Crossing, I’ll cite another “bridgework” and the piece previously hinted at, that competes with McColgan, for me. Gillian Dickson’s Truck on Skyway blends hints of abstraction with some modernist forms to produce an atmosphere that makes it the most accomplished painting in Motion. The manner in which the bridge can dominate the skyline for a person on the ground is present in the monolithic rendering of the supports and the bridge, and the sky is bright yet seems to shimmer, perhaps with a humidity and concrete asphalt heat so common to Niagara summers.

But the bridge that appears most often here is Burgoyne: this can be interpreted in terms of how its white “bone” (like ribs, or spine, perhaps) arched installation has been the subject of many pictures and advertising / tourism moments in Niagara. A bit less positive: the recent report regarding massive budget overruns and how that demonstrates a Petrowski, a Caslin, if you will, of self serving incompetence in Niagara civic governance employs the Burgoyne as a “landmark” in a way other than physical (some have called it, in various social media spaces, a ‘white elephant’, but that’s a bit unfair).

It’s on people’s minds, clearly. When I began writing this response to Motion, it was before two individuals in less than a week had attempted to end their lives by jumping from the bridge (I’m reminded of one of my favourite writers, Timothy Findley, whose characters often struggled with such issues, saying that the “insane”, perhaps suicidal, person is not someone who has lost their reason, but lost everything EXCEPT their reason…).

In light of these events, again, the bridge takes on a different sense, a different personality, something that is both an icon of positivism but also a space of despair….

Some of the depictions of the bridge are more about the movement – the motion – implied by its formal aesthetic, as much as how many (like myself) welcomed its opening so I needn’t go through the muddy snow and seasonal slushy mud by the creek to visit Rodman Hall. Jennifer Gruhl’s digital photograph, with rich reds and deep blacks, titled Zoom is more dynamic than Marge Dorant’s painting Crossing (but Dorant has the flat blue sky and bright white steel in an equally abstract composition that makes me think of the many times I’ve walked that bridge and seen the flat blue sky and the shining white steel).

Other artists explore alternate visual interpretations: Marinko Jareb’s Box Trick Model has his usual enjoyable irreverence, but also has a personal history to it that will make you smile.

Like all City Hall exhibitions, Motion is on display for an extended period (it closes March 15th, 2019). In the brief period the show has been on display, events in the city – as with Burgoyne, for example – have changed how I see it, and interact with it. I’ll be visiting again, as more things happen, to see how the show “moves” in a similar, or different, responsive manner.

Posted in Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Are Fiction Non Fiction: Avery Mikolič- Rourke

It will come as no surprise that I don’t always behave in the prescribed manner in gallery spaces (perhaps this is because, at an early age, I absorbed Atwood’s idea about how galleries are such serious, dour spaces that seem too sanitary, like someone’s gone around spraying air freshener to eliminate the smell of blood..and I’m not referencing Istvan Kantor, if that means anything to you).

At the last In The Soil Fest (2018) Rhizomes may have been the most successful I’ve experienced in exploiting the physical space to benefit the art / artists. One of these was an installation by Avery Mikolič- O’Rourke intended to explore “the mediating effect of personal documentation on the experience of memory and self-identity”, evocatively titled This Here Proves: We Are Fiction Non-Fiction. Ushered into a more comfortably domestic scene than others in Silver Spire, I found myself in a small kitchen space with several people, amid numerous small televisions, and, to my discovery, a camera that was filming and showing us “in real time” on another monitor, in the space. The video loops weren’t immediately accessible or interpolated as “art” by the several women in the space with me, and they began to talk among themselves about everything BUT the art. I decided to watch the videos, but also watch them interacting, or choosing not to interact, with the videos. It was also a fascinating experiment in how none of us thought to open the door and leave the cramped space (okay, I did, but I was being #artcriticvoyeur), and we waited for Avery to return to “let us out.”

 

The descriptor regarding Fiction Non-Fiction: this “is the most recent iteration of an ongoing series of video installations that mine personal and family home-video as a way to explore the complex and labyrinthine concepts of memory and identity, as filtered through- and effected by- our attempts to capture and record our lives…This project aims to provide viewers with a new perspective on the genre of home-video as well as their own practices of self-documentation and presentation. Through the sharing of parallel familial histories, as seen captured on film- a simultaneous mix of both the candid and performed- viewers are invited to engage with these unfiltered memories, to look into these lives and reflect on their own histories. The work questions, in a confrontational albeit roundabout way, the function of memory in an age of photographic and video documentation, the role of this documentation in the performance and construction of identity, and asks: how has the camera changed your life?”

This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered Mikolič- O’Rourke’s work (a recent performance by Fourth Way, at Warehouse, was enjoyable aurally but with the masks worn by himself and his bandmates it transgressed into Georges Franju Eyes Without A Face territory, fascinatingly horrifying…and I’ve joked in the past that another endeavour, Senegal AstroTurf, may have given me audio rug-burn, ahem). An artist who can be described as multimedia – or interdisciplinary, as both terms are appropriately vague and inclusive – Avery “has…since 2012 [been] producing work that combines performance with documentary [and] the artist is interested in exploring the many perspectives within singular moments, the relationship between memory and documentation, and the complex beauty of the banal.”

I sat down to chat with him this past month, though it seemed a bit funny, as Mikolič- O’Rourke and I have had many conversations, encompassing the frustratingly ahistorical nature of much cultural production / consumption, how artworks work – or don’t – from one media format to another, and he has, on occasion, soothed your intrepid #artcriticfromhell with the assurance that what we were about to experience is “neither performance, nor art.”

When I asked him, as a point of beginning, to describe his work briefly, perhaps with less an eye to detail than language designed to intrigue, he spoke of how he’s often examining the detritus and minutia of daily culture, both as it pertains to “pop culture” but also within our surroundings (average daily life acknowledging his demographic and how who we are is often defined by these things). We revisited his piece in ITS, but also another work – TMBS_remix003/511 – that shared aesthetics / formal concerns, and even some of his painted works, such as Refuge Triptych or Smoke Break.

In his practice, he often follows the concept, the idea, and that defines what medium is employed to fully realize the artwork. And, some pieces may stretch over several media before completion. TMBS_remix003/511 is a series of image transfers in a large wall work that originated as a small video clip, exported at 24 frames / second, then arranged digitally in a grid format. The “stills” are sized out and printed on standard sheets, in a monochromatic frame by frame rendering. This “silly, random” video shot behind the bus terminal shows a simple plastic bag blowing, floating in the wind. In some ways this was so cliched and uninteresting, but also quite stunning aesthetically (an amusing contradiction, “documenting” the irrelevant that becomes a rare unexpected moment of beauty and amusement to be examined, to be broken down into segments and “fractured” – not in a pejorative sense but more-so in terms of examining it second by second, “breaking it open” to try and understand why the scene entices and attracts).

The rows of the “same image” offer minute changes that are difficult to see (revealing everything in the end strips it of movement and is – again – contradictory), and despite the “fracturing” of the video into components more is concealed than revealed. By dissecting this memory into a visual autopsy, Avery is trying to determine why this is interesting to him. Returning to the work in Rhizomes, which was a series of unmediated, unedited video that is almost like a photo album that we examine later, searching for why we took that unimpressive, banal shot, these pieces were “intuitive shooting, intuitive responses, intuitive exploration of the video.”

Some of the footage in Fiction Non-Fiction was his own, some from his parents though he commented that there was a randomness in both “sources.” In some ways this filtered into the interactions in the smaller space in Rhizomes, where there was “repeat value” of the scenes looping, and also what Avery called a “choose your own adventure” quality (if you’re familiar with that youth book series) in how viewers might consume or construct the works. Alternately, a memory can also be said to change every time you access it (consider Susan Sontag’s idea that with photographs, we’ve externalized memory, made our memories “dependant” on an object outside ourselves. How does video “play” into that? If you’ve happened to see some of artist Sandy Middleton’s photo collage works, where found photos are stitched together, based upon similarity of pose or scene, what does that say about an image – an object – we associate with “truth”? Returning to video, how many court cases – whether the infamous O.J. Simpson one, or many others – had what seemed “clear” video documentation, yet resulted in verdicts opposite what seemed to be “captured”?)

There’s something disconcertingly but undeniably erratic and perfunctory about the images, whether moving or still, or in the translation (with the suggestion that some things may not survive the process, or are changed, radically, in the steps) from one to the other. To come back to the musical performances that are also an intrinsic part of Mikolič- O’Rourke’s practice, and the aforementioned masks that are the latest example of performative gestures by different groups he’s collaborated with, I want to cite Jacques Attali‘s theories of music. Essentially, Attali postulates that performances are unique, and more “true”, than a recording, which is codified, set, and dead: live performances shift with the musician and the audience, and exist more so in memory, in a personal “examination” of the event. That primacy, that privileging of a moment, no matter how facile and fleeting, is seen in both the fleeting ephemera of TMBS_remix003/511 but also in the oddly personal moments of Fiction Non-Fiction.

There’s a totemic, intensely referential nature of the image(s) employed by Avery, but there’s also an implicit degradation of the same image(s) as it / they are transferred into different forms: not so much factual as imaginative retelling.

The ideas that intersect in his work can also be seen in past installations, such as his work in Invasive Species (installed in the MIWSFP) or Site-Seer or Time and Space, both which were interventions in the STC downtown. Some of his video production work can be seen in Sweet T’ar or Last Night I Slept in My Car (both links will take you out to YouTube, that space which has forever shifted video art, artists and consumption) to give you a further idea of his aesthetic and attitude. From there, you can see a few more things he’s done and is doing online, and engage further with Mikolič- O’Rourke’s unique, yet also strangely banal, aesthetic.

All images are courtesy / copyright the artist, and are (from top to bottom) Installation shot of This Here Proves: We are Fiction Non-Fiction, TMBS_remix003/511 and O9_31_17. The header image is Refuge Triptych.

Posted in Artist Features, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment