September 23 2010 Categorized Under: Reviews
There’s been a focus on SK based artists lately: Flatlanders, Mind the Gap, even Love, Saskatchewan in Toronto, or the new exhibition at paved, titled Sprawl, curated by David LaRivierre. The title is vague enough to allow it to be fitted to the quartet of artists, with interpretations that not only diverge but also disagree. It’s appropriate: Saskatchewan is a semi – erased chalkboard, with “old” stories corrupting or correcting “new” ones. Hell, some people even think abstraction still matters: but they’ll mostly be dead soon, thank god.
Three artists in Sprawl are familiar, two being recent graduates of the MFA program at the U of S, one a longtime artist / educator in the community, and their works strongly reference locales in Saskatoon: the fourth, Scott Rodgers, presents a work specific in its execution, descriptively titled “Nearly Every Building in Dawson”, of small photos that nearly fill a wall, losing any individuality and becoming a large, shiny, patterned mural. And this could be anyplace: all cities seem to sprawl alike, just like how all unhappy families share similarities.
LaRivierre’s words offer a bit of mischievous guidance: “While some common ground exists, curator David LaRivierre was more interested in developing a conversation around the idiosyncratic lines of each artist’s work, thereby avoiding generalization in deference to an actively evolving political engagement. Reflecting on a variety of social concerns, these artists are first of all children of their environment, whereby the real fun begins through an expression that develops critical thought.”
Environment – or cookie cutter conformity – surfaces in the works of Jordan Schwab: his two maquettes, and the accompanying “photo documentation” of the works, in situ in the raw fields soon to be ‘harvested’ to suburbs, are like Suburban OCD, obsessively planning: “Stairway to Nowhere” can be read as the usual commentary on the sterility and stagnancy of Suburbia, the never ending future of mini vans, car pools and neighbourhood watches that so many aspire to, until they get what they (didn’t really) want. But this also has a sense of contemporary colonialism or consumerism, as this raw earth is soon to be “realized” as the row of bland houses that lurk in the background of Schwab’s images…Rodger’s sprawl is built, Schwab’s is in construction. But don’t worry, there’s still time to buy, in the Saskaboom / Saskabust : stairway to “now here”, perhaps.
Just keep consuming, everything will be fine: and Biliana Velkova, with her digital images collectively titled “The Temptations of Doctor Antonio”, throws this back in our faces. The seductively coiffed and gowned – and gigantic – Velkova interacts with Saskatoon ‘landmarks’: Giant Tiger, and the tooth (sorry, Tooth) near Earl’s, for example, but she also appropriates – or realizes – the slogans of consumerism, making its implicit sexual content clear. “Finger Lickin’ Good”, or “We do chicken right”, and the ultimate: What you want is what you get. The repeated images, on opposite walls that enclose or suffocate the viewer make the messages as pervasive as they would be driving down 8th street, or any other strip mall in this province, country, continent…Velkova’s background growing up under the Iron Curtain provides a sardonic – and insightful – take on what we may not even really see, anymore. The title references the Fellini film, and her outfit is pure Anita Ekberg, evening gown and long gloves. Ekberg “is an image on a poster who comes to life for the benefit of a drooling middle-aged professor”, and LaRivierre talks of Velkova’s images as pornography, as they are flattened, two dimensional, and all about unconsidered desire and want: what you want is – or isn’t – what you get. Really, isn’t the unfettered housing “boom” really about the implicit pornography of consumerism? More, and more, and you get “desensitized” and need a condo, a three bedroom, and that Super Sized bucket of KFC.
Terry Billings rounds out this exhibition, in the back “screening room”, separating her from the rest of the Sprawl: her work is documentation of video projections from several years ago, in which on selected evenings she projected ‘nature’ videos – shots of various fields and grounds from above, with wildlife from frogs to bugs – onto houses in and around the city. Matched to the façade of the houses, so the projections were ‘stenciled’ and ‘fitted’, Billings continues her play on urban / rural, nature / city, as she’s done with many of her installation works around the city. The separation of this work from the others makes it less part of the larger conversation about consuming and desire, and places both wanted, and unwanted.
Sprawl is a funny show, both amusing and disturbing: and isn’t it perfect that insightful works about this place are made by artists not from here? To be outside of the frame is sometimes to see it fully and completely and clearly, and not to be misled by regionalist myopia and “painturbation”.