Sound your barbaric yawp: Heather Hart’s Northern Oracle

She’s convinced of her own legitimacy, her right to pronounce: I and my kind are here on sufferance. (Atwood)

Heather Hart began her artist talk, on the evening that Northern Oracle opened at RHAC, with a game of “telephone.” It only involved several people, but even among the limited group, what she said became quickly unrecognizable. This set the architecture (a bad pun, that’ll become clear later) for how her works, both in terms of what’s at Rodman Hall, and what she’s facilitated / created in the past, are about the gaps / truths between (and within) oral and written “narratives.”

In showing several pieces that incorporated personal yet public historical tropes, Hart also indicated how we can’t assume that what’s written down is perfect (she cited an instance of research where a name was mispelled and this became the repeated “official” spelling). Neither should we be as ready to declare – or discount – oral traditions, either. A critical listening and questioning of historical allegories is a strong undertone of Hart’s practice. In looking through my notes from Hart’s talk (touching on other incarnations of “Oracle” that were Eastern, or Southern), certain terms recurred and I want to inject here: slippage, echoes, recollections or memories that depend upon a site and (conversely) a nomadic experiences of place . This latter one is interesting for suggesting we interact with place not so much from experiences as what we’ve been told about a site.

The previous Rodman exhibition, Carry Forward, talked in some ways about the danger of assuming a “written document” or an “historical document” is always factual / valid. Hart expands that conversation, saying that oral traditions are also a space for historical, social or ideological assumptions – or degradation – of facts, where contested narratives are undermined by unfounded suppositions. Perhaps you saw that interesting story from the Prairies about what constitutes Métis territory, and how thats already garnering friction among the Lakota, Cree and Salteux on the plains. How that contested narrative plays out is yet to be determined, as issues about historical “legitimacy” – whatever that means, depending on who’s speaking to / at whom – is more universal than unique.

Northern Oracle‘s “rooftop” dominates the gallery, and frankly, the drawings on some of the other walls to the right in the open, high ceiling gallery, aren’t effective nor impressive. On repeated visits, I climb the roof, or I go inside the “attic” interior, or I sit on the tar paper and talk to others, and yes, I have, by the time you’re reading this, gone and “sounded my barbaric yawp over the rooftops” (Whitman) while shouting some of my favourite words, from Ginsberg to Job to Akhmatova or Eliot’s The Waste Land.

The statement: Northern Oracle is an ambitious rooftop installation that emerges from the floor of the gallery, and is accompanied by a series of mixed media drawings. Through her work, Heather Hart considers Black histories, access to ownership, taking up physical space, and the significance of having a place to call home. Visitors will be able to access both the rooftop and its floor level attic, while further contemplating and enacting upon the corollary of these vantage points. The “Oracle”, located in the attic, is the heart of the work and is a site-specific shrine where visitors may leave behind offerings.

Northern Oracle will provide a performative area, a locale for demonstration of power, influence, and direction where the idiom, “shout it from the rooftop” will be made literal. Throughout the exhibition, the space will be activated by performances, lectures and workshops.

When Hart shared past iterations of Oracle, one was outdoors, in a wooded area: there the roof seemed to emerge from the ground, and I see the one in Rodman similarily, like a rising, or surfacing, architecture or story. In this respect, having this work here resonates outside the gallery, if we think of Hart’s own connections to African American history, and many recent honourings of Harriett Tubman here in Niagara, from the naming of schools to the campaign to preserve and restore the church on Geneva that was integral to her activities, and frankly, to this place. Even the superficial “underground” connection (railroad or ideas, emerging upwards) plays with this allusion.

Hart shared several projects with the crowd the night of the opening, when she spoke: several explore that misused and misinterpreted idiom of relational aesthetics, but in a manner that is very effective (The Black Lunch Table Project, or Build a Brother, or The Porch Project).

Perhaps that’s why, in thinking of her work here, I sometimes consider it more architecture than art, as architecture is built for people and ideas, and is often more of a space for people and ideas than “art” has been.

Unsurprisingly, my responses to artworks are often subjective, and I was once told my writing about art privileges subjectivity (my own implied, perhaps) above all else. There’s many art works I’ve found exquisitely evocative and inspiring, but oftentimes for reasons different than what was intended. My repeated invocations of Jeanne Randolph’s ideas of the amenable object have helped me realize that this is as valid as any other interpretation.

In light of that, despite having visited Oracle a dozen times already (even leaving a reception for something else at RHAC to spend time with Hart’s structure), I have only gone “inside” it once. The title – Northern Oracle – alludes to the drawing in the interior and the manner in which visitors are encourage to interact with it, with provided gold leaf. That interests me not at all but I’ve repeatedly climbed the roof, sat on the window “ledges”, ascended to the apex of the tar paper tiles and touched the ceiling. Its wrong to say I’m uninterested in the interior, though: when I’ve sat on the very edge of the roof’s high point, admiring the play of shadows on the wall behind it, or looking out over the gallery space from a new and unusual spot, I realized that the chimney on the roof offers a view down into the space. What you need to peer through the “drawing” if inside with the “Oracle” you can see by simply looking straight down, past the clear glass / plastic covering the “lid” of the chimney.

Somehow that seems more interesting, more intimate, to look down to the empty chair with seemingly discarded clothes and clothes. It seems more secret, more powerful, and in that respect intersects with the power of being on the roof, with being in an unfamiliar “position” of strength, from which to project your voice, your words and your self out into the space.

From the second visit to the Oracle, I knew that I’d stand on top and recite Ginsberg’s When the Light Appears, Boy (there’s a video in my social media feed, though I may do it again). This offers an idea of what Hart’s piece can inspire. Visit the work, and consider that if you could stand on a rooftop and yell whatever you like, what would you say?

Northern Oracle is on display at Rodman Hall until March 3rd, 2019. All images are courtesy Rodman Hall Art Centre.

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June-Etta Chenard: depth and meaning

In a recent conversation about the downtown of STC, we all agreed that many of the spaces along St. Paul offer interesting and engaging art works (frequently for sale). As I was enjoying June-Etta Chenard’s latest exhibition in the city (located at Mahtay Cafe and Lounge, which you hopefully visited this past December), I realized it was a year ago that she exhibited in the Dennis Tourbin space at the Niagara Artist Centre (So Invisible was the name of that selection of works).

That previous show was my first encounter with her works (I’m sure I saw some online, as we intersect with similar social circles), and their detail, discipline and the nature of the materials she uses and the intensity of her practice is still evident in the works from this past December.

Many of the works in Interior Landscapes at Mahtay have a specific narrative that sometimes is intrinsic to fully appreciating them, and other times they can simply be enjoyed viscerally and aesthetically. This is a good overview of June-Etta’s practice: there are works that are intensely vibrant, like Homage to the Sun Dancer or Voix des femmes / Voices of Women, with rich reds and deep blacks and then (in Homage) a soft snowy white that invites your touch. This is similar to how Where Am I? Where Are You? doesn’t seem to be on paper but on some form of cloth, the folds and divots in the surface leading down to a yellowing “stain.” Chenard nd often uses papers such as Wenzhou Chinese Rice Paper, or Japanese Gampi Tissue paper in her practice. Yet other works defy this physicality, seeming almost ethereal and ephemeral in the lighter, translucent colours and hues, with a layering of shapes and forms that seem almost dreamlike. Offer New Propositions or Prayer Kite Arising are among these more “delicate” pieces.

Chenard has exhibited nationally (New Brunswick and British Columbia, so nearly fully from East to West) and internationally (including Virginia and Pennsylvania). Her experience is diverse, and activism plays a strong role in a number of her works, such as Schools I Didn’t Learn In School, which lists the names of Canada’s many – far more than many know, or want to know about – residential schools. In the aforementioned Where Am I? Where Are You? Chenard lists the traditional Indigenous names of the places she’s lived. This mixture of personal and political is also present with In A Soldier’s Billfold, that incorporates photographs of herself, her mother and father that her father carried with him.

June-Etta’s works are dense: not just literally, with the layers and objects and elements enmeshed within the works, but also in terms of the ideas and histories (both her own and those various sites she’s inhabited, and we inhabit). She’s an artist whose work I enjoy encountering when I have time to spend with it, or can visit repeatedly, as the visual acumen she displays entices me to pay attention to the particular aspects that expand and enhance her work. Interior Landscapes was on display this past December, but I fully expect to see more of her work in the future at NAC or among other sites in Niagara.

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Laika: the more one comes to know men, the more one comes to admire the dog

Teach us to care and not to care (T.S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday)

As 2018 comes to an end and I struggle to finish a few articles about exhibitions ongoing and opening, I did not intend to become distracted by Victor Vasarely‘s piece Laika (1964, porcelain). This monochromatic piece delicately sits above the formally similar mantle in Rodman Hall, and is the most striking work in this final iteration of Up Close and In Motion. In later pieces I may revisit Hortense Gordon’s work (as she’s an artist that, like many of that period and gender, is now starting to get some more critical attention) or how Boutillier’s Tennis Twins have stared, knowingly, from the other room of the Hansen Gallery for months, unyielding, but right now, Laika touches me in a way they don’t.

With my long and rigourous review of Up Close, I thought I was done with the responding to this rotating, evolving exhibition(s), but perhaps its fitting that the last one (ideally) I’ll speak about has pulled me out of a grey reverie by the invocations of its title. A wider historical narrative is provided here. Briefly, Laika went from being a Moscow street dog to one of the first animals to orbit the Earth, as part of the early Soviet experiments to see how – or if – animals, and thus humans, could survive in space. She didn’t survive (as with so many of these tests, there is no contingency plan for return, of course) but is commemorated on the Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow. Her brief life has captured the imagination of numerous individuals, either in print or in film. I might argue that the scene in Guardians of the Galaxy, where Rocket snarls at a “space dog” in one of the Collector’s vitrines is an exchange with a still alive, surviving Laika, though decades have passed.

As someone who’s recently written on the artwork of Lucia Lakatos that explores our hypocritical, selfish and (at best) problematic relationship with (other) animals, and who frankly prefers animals to people, Laika is controversial figure: a clear site of contested narratives. When I responded to Lakatos’ works, I found myself reminded of the Pigoons from Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake trilogy, and how the use and abuse of them was an unavoidable step in their evolution towards beings perhaps as ethical as the humans in those novels. Arguably, they are the meek whom shall inherit the Earth. There’s also no shortage of science fiction that posits how a Laika incident might “jumpstart” a “beast” to being beyond their “master” and reverse that relationship (the original book that Planet of the Apes was based upon plays with assumptions in this area very well).

Before making assumptions about Vasarely, with his Slavic sounding name, its good to know that he was an artist of Hungarian – French descent who is, in the annals of Western Art History, considered a “grandfather” or “leader” of the “op art” movement. A simple definition: “Op art works are abstract, with many better known pieces created in black and white. Typically, they give the viewer the impression of movement, hidden images, flashing and vibrating patterns, or of swelling or warping.” Bridget Riley is the artist that exemplifies this aesthetic, for me, and its likely you’ve encountered a reproduction of one of her works.

In light of that, there’s a contradiction here in Laika: the format of the work is clean, industrial, and the variation in “holes” in the piece suggest some kind of heating / cooling apparatus, perhaps with different shapes to accommodate an interlocking piece of machinery. The raised circle hints at Malevichian Suprematism or a sense of order and unity: the porcelain nature of the work is also evocative, an intricate and exquisite objet d’art.

This seems to fracture how Laika, in one context, was an unwanted feral beast that was used in a manner she never could understand, and sent to a surely unpleasant death for a “greater good.” Perhaps it isn’t wrong to consider that Vasarely, being from what have been called by Timothy Snyder the “bloodlands” of Europe “between Hitler and Stalin” was making a statement with this work (in 1964) about the larger political landscape in Europe. But at the same time, Laika has become Laika, commemorated like other “heroes of the Fatherland” (Stalin is back in vogue, in Russia, though its unclear if he ever “left.” May I quote Proverbs? “As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly.”)

Laika is formal and seems to have more relation to the marbled fireplace it sits above, or the elaborate cornices and the chandeliers in the Hansen Gallery space than any of the larger historical narratives the title suggests. Its all interpolation: the contrasted black and the white might speak to anything from alluding to the mottled fur of a stray canine to the ideological positioning Vasarely found himself living within (his own association with the Bauhaus movement brings to mind the blood and vagaries of [M]modernist growing pains in the 20th Century).

2018 is almost done, and 2019 looms: Spider Jerusalem would assert that progress is inevitable despite our essentially degraded natures, but I don’t know if I share that sentiment right now. Vasarely’s Laika seems more of a taunt than anything else, more of a testament to meaninglessness, to sacrifice that is unknown and perhaps unknowing. That it is a beautiful work is undeniable, and that it alludes to an order, a formalism that is hopeful as well as idealistic is clear: but whether or not that is true is something else, as Laika also seems empty and vapid. Laika also reminds me of one of the less dramatic, yet perhaps most “real”, chapters in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles, titled Best Man Fall. But even in that, the dog is used to tell someone else’s story….

The final iteration of Up Close and In Motion is on display for a few more days, as we slouch towards 2019. Please check out Rodma Hall’s website for their hours, and all images are courtesy RHAC and myself. The title of this article (regarding dogs and men) is from a quote attributed to Marie de Rabutin-Chantal). 

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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.

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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.

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