A Fall Update: What About Rodman Hall?

Well, ‘the time has come,” the Walrus said,”To talk of many things: of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–of cabbages–and kings–and why the sea is boiling hot–And whether pigs have wings.”

Why, yes, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is ‘pleased’ to offer you an update on what is happening now regarding Brock University and Rodman Hall Art Centre. Allow me to explain my silly opening quote / metaphor; with those references to ‘kings’ – as in dismissive arrogant types – a Hutchings or a Fearon, even a Vivian, perhaps – that wish we’d just defer to our ‘betters’ on the topic of RHAC; ‘cabbages’ as in reheated bile in Brock PSAs that are opaque in their obtuseness, ahem; and ‘whether pigs have wings’ – no need to explain that one, I hope, since I’m sure you saw that flying pig, too, when Brock asserted they NEVER planned to sell RHAC to those developers, whom I guess would be working for free, cough cough.

But perhaps I should warn you, before we begin, as when The Sound broke the story regarding Brock – or the Hutchings Cabal, as it’s more accurate to term it such– planning to sell RHAC back in the Spring, Dean of Humanities Carol Merriman insinuated that we were ‘fake news.’ Mind, we weren’t the ones proffering mistruths so baldly, such as saying they’d supported RHAC strongly, when they’ve declined to fill three (3!) positions there in the last few years, emaciating the gallery through a process of ‘demolition by neglect’, to paraphrase Rebecca Caan.

Ah, forgive my skepticism: when I commented the other day that I was unsure if I should finish this update, or watch Evil Dead, a friend who’s involvement has been more in depth and nuanced then mine suggested the movie, as it has a clear end….

Since we last talked about Brock and RHAC, there’s been a few developments, several of which have been reported in The Standard, with varying degrees of (in)accuracy. The story has also been picked up at a national level by Canadian Art. They provided articles that both detailed the original ‘plan’ this past spring by Brock to divest itself of RHAC and ‘steal the collection for two dollars’ (Mark Elliot), but also the revised plan to hand over the space and the collection to a community board, with a more appropriate – and realistic, from both a financial and cultural position – plan for 2023. Several faculty have been adamant and insistent on making sure the university knows what it would be losing, and what the true stakes and real stakeholders are, in this debate. Praise to several of these, which includes Donna Szoke and Amy Friend.

Also this summer, St. Catharines City Council, at the urging of Councillor Carlos Garcia, and after presentations by former St. Catharines Cultural Coordinator Caan and former Councillor Mark Elliot (who, when he won the STC Arts Award for Making a Difference, repeated his assertion that Brock ‘stole’ RHAC and the collection for a toonie, and he will happily reimburse them – even with interest, so $4 – to get it out of their hands), struck a committee to gain information and break the Stalinist silence from the Hutchings Cabal at Brock. This is specifically regarding the most recent feasibility report by Alf Bogusky and Ann Pappert. City Hall, after all, offered support to the university regarding their MIWSFPA endeavour, and as pointed out at that same Council meeting, citizens of this city would be coming to them, not Brock, to ask why RHAC was shuttered and why we have no longer have a quality public gallery here.

They – again, unlike the Brock cabal – would not find it so easy to ignore questions and concerns, and would demand some accountability from Brock administration.

Some necessary praise: the students (Rachel McCartney and Sarah Martin, especially) at MIWSFPA have been amazing, in both protesting and making their voices heard, and not being interested in the refusal – whether ideological or just ignorance – on the part of said cabal to not take their concerns seriously. With protests at various Brock events to derail the spin, one of the reasons why myself, and others, are somewhat hopeful, is due to them.

The ‘new’ board that has recently incorporated with intent to have RHAC and its collection returned to them has several notable names with significant experience (one of them, Reinhard Reitzenstein, made one of my favourite comments during the Van Zon consultations, pointing out that neither Van Zon, or his AGN types, had any idea or experience for what they were talking about).

The relevant information from their PSA released in late June:

Rodman Hall Art Centre Inc. is a community-based not-for-profit corporation whose first orderof business is to develop a phased transition plan with Brock University to return the public art gallery back into community hands. This initiative is a constructive response to Brock University’s goal to reduce their financial obligation for the art museum. Rodman Hall Art Centre Inc. is dedicated to ensuring the future excellence of Niagara’s award-winning professional art museum, and to provide inspiring contemporary art exhibitions and public programs. RHAC Inc. intends to raise funds from a wide variety of sources, engage community volunteers and leverage the historical home and gardens to create a cultural destination for residents and visitors to Niagara.

Unlike, again, the opaque curtain that Brock employed regarding their decision, this RHAC Inc. update also offered biographical information and the relevant experience of their board members. These include Jean Bridge (Chair of RHAC inc., who’s both an artist and educator of long standing in the community, as well as the ‘founder of nGen Niagara Interactive Media Generator, now Innovate Niagara and the Generator at One’), Ken Lucyshyn (Executive Vice-President, Aggregates & Construction at Walker Industries Holdings limited. That company name may be familiar to you from the recent Niagara Pumphouse Walker Industries Art Competition) and the aforementioned Reitzenstein (internationally renowned artist, associate professor of Sculpture at the University of Buffalo. His past experience is impressive, having ‘served on the Boards of MacMaster University Museum of Art and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and Grimsby Public Art Gallery’). In past conversations about RHAC, the fact that the grounds, as well as the gallery spaces, are a treasure to be preserved is acknowledged with the presence on the RHAC Inc. Board of Darren Schmahl (horticulturist and educator at Niagara Catholic District School Board and the Niagara Parks Commission School of Horticulture.’ It is very edifying to have ‘an authority on the history of the gardens at Rodman Hall and contributor to their current design’ as part of this group). The group is rounded out by two excellent examples of the balance present in this group: Shawn Tylee (Manager, Corporate Affairs, Rankin Construction. He ‘brings a wealth of knowledge in Business Marketing, Strategic Planning, Client Relations and Contract Negotiations to’ the group. Again, this is important as Brock – with Van Zon, but this self serving ignorance has been repeated by others there, afterwards – has implied the ‘irrelevance’ of RHAC, while instructing them to not scuttle the MIWSFPA fund raising of the past decade, and then neither supporting nor replacing staff whom could raise and enhance RHAC’s public profile…) and Dr. Peter Vietgen. Vietgen is an ‘Associate Professor of Visual Arts Education in the Teacher Education Program at Brock University and the current President of the Canadian Society for Education through Art’.

All are experienced and informed choices to shepherd RHAC towards 2023 and being rid of Brock’s mendacity (as I must mention AGAIN that blaming Doug Ford for this ‘austerity’ is self servingly disingenuous, since Van Zon was jibbering about developers long before Ford as a premier was even suggested by the most absurd of comedians….).

This is a hopeful turn, and one that surely wouldn’t have happened, I suspect, if V.P. Finance Hutchings hadn’t departed for job with the City of Brantford. An amusing aside: a friend works at an auto shop, and described how, in the midst of changing Hutchings’ radiator that he was subjected to a gleeful monologue by the former Brock employee as to how glad he was to finally rid the uni of RHAC. Rather funny, when you consider the eagerness with which he and his lot blamed Doug Ford for the necessary cutbacks, though this all started several years ago before the idea of Ford as Premier was anything other than a bad joke. Amusingly, again in a painful manner, is that a similar ignorant wielding of a bloody axe under the misguided dissembling of austerity is ALSO what Hutchings was doing, aping Doug.

Is the RHAC and Brock saga over? Not bloody likely, your intrepid #artcriticfromhell would say. After all, a little over a year ago, many of us thought Brock would no longer foster plans, public or secretive, to ‘steal the collection and building’ (again, I praise Mark Elliot’s acerbic exactness). It is not inappropriate to be wary until 2023, and the building and collection are out of Brock’s grasp: but I must end with this. Is the cultural community willing to step up, in terms of support both financial and vocally, to ensure RHAC survives? We’re having this conversation again because a window to ensure Brock behaved appropriately was missed. Will we miss it again?

I’ll be your mirror: Alejandro Cartagena’s Presidential Selfies

Nothing seems more improbable than what people believed when this belief has gone with the wind. (Doris Lessing, foreword, The Golden Notebook)

I always thought people were essentially bright. Distracted, sure, and weak, and beaten, but never stupid. (Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan)

Oh my god. I have become television. (Spider Jerusalem, Transmetropolitan)

Within a capitalist consumer society, the cult of personality has the power to subsume ideas, to make the person, the personality into the product and not the work itself. (bell hooks)

I’m compelled to mildly disagree with hooks. Its not solely to be found in a “capitalist consumer society.” I have faith that the evil we do is not confined to one political system, one format, one space (the inappropriate, black gales of laughter I enjoyed, then stifled, then burst loose again, watching The Death of Stalin testify to this).

As you enter the VISA Gallery space at the Marilyn I. Walker the monochromatic starkness will strike you first. All four gallery walls, and the alcove by the entrance, have large black and white photographs, that could be the same image, and any observer will begin to see similarities among them. There’s the smiling, yet interchangeable, nameless, people – or acolytes, crowding about the phone / camera and the man, either of which could be said to the be main subject of this exhibition. There’s the upraised arms of either Enrique Peña Nieto or those “saluting” him as they take their “own” pictures. The specific photographs are uniform in size, but are installed in a cinematic manner, so that each of the walls has a “filmstrip” of multiple images (sometimes seven, sometimes five). The same smiling man appears in them all (I am reminded – as I am, too often, lately, with various political situations, of Gary Callahan, whose true name was The Smiler, from Transmetropolitan. If Peña Nieto is Callahan, then Trump, if we continue to reference Ellis’ series, is surely his predecessor in the Presidential office, whose appellate was The Beast).

But before I engage with the exhibition more, as, despite the apparent simplicity of images and installation, each time I’ve visited I’ve found another layer, another issue, is unwrapped, like the skin of an onion (and perhaps equally tear inducing), here are the words from the press release: Hosted in the VISA Gallery and Student Exhibition Space, Presidential Guide to Selfies asks people to question the motives behind Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s vast collection of publicly shared selfies.

Cartagena has curated a selection of these selfies (currently posted to President’s Official website) as a means to examine whether these images are being shared to show the Mexican President’s engagement with the people of his country, or whether it is merely an exercise in vanity as he ‘poses with his fans.’
Cartagena has also created an accompanying photo book for this exhibition in which he details the events surrounding each selfie.

[Amy] Friend [one of the finest instructors and photo based artists at Brock University, I would add] noted that in an age of cell phones and social media, and with Canada’s own Justin Trudeau often affectionately and critically called ‘Prime Minister Selfie,’ the exhibition’s exploration of politics, social media connectivity and celebrity culture is exceptionally timely.

More “official” words: The deliberate use of merchandising strategies in presidential campaigns and governmental communications have in the past decade sought out ways to close the gap between the people and their candidates or government officials. The epitome of such strategies can be found in one section of the official website of the Mexican president, entitled: “My picture with the President.” Now, 6 years into his presidency, it seems clear that the only thing president Enrique Peña Nieto has been interested in all along was looking his best with his fans.

In the history of religious painting, there’s the theme of the donor – the person(s) who paid for the altarpiece or diptych, of the crucifixion or the angel announcing to Mary her ‘delicate condition’ or the image of god on his throne, attendant by various saints, supplicants or his son – being presented on the edge of the composition, kneeling in devotion, in the divine presence, but not intruding, just luxuriating in the scene. There’s an element of that, here, a basking in a presence that graces the unwashed, unworthy masses, and look how grateful they are…wallowing and revelling in the Presidential presence.

A Presidential Guide To Selfies is part of a much larger project, specifically a book and some online components, so what’s in the VISA Gallery at the MIWSFPA is a fraction of a larger endeavour by Cartagena: a satellite, if you will. In that respect, the work exists differently here in St. Catharines than in Mèxico, and is influenced, perhaps even redefined by ‘here’– as this place permeates it – and I know my sense of ‘here’ is shifted by Cartagena’s work, as well.

I’ve commented before that in #mySTC synchronicity has defined many interactions and has led to an awareness of certain veins – like a spiderweb – connecting seemingly incidental and benign facts. In engaging with Alejandro Cartagena’s exhibition A Presidential Guide To Selfies, several streams of thought have been informing my interpretation, my reaction, to this show, on what I must admit is a somewhat visceral level. When I first visited I was almost belligerent in my distaste for the work: but when I experience such a response to an exhibition or other cultural phenomena, I consider it my responsibility to further explore (perhaps like picking a scab) why such a gut reaction was evoked.

I must, since we’ll be wading into the effluvia of politicians – the Petrowski that you try to avoid stepping in, on the sidewalk even – mention Nietzsche’s admonition about gazing into the abyss and how that does not leave you unsullied. When this show opened, the civic election was underway, and there’s been a heightened level of pundit jabber and posturing about next year’s federal election. Adding insult to injury, we also now, in Ontario, are funding Doug Ford’s government propaganda pretending to be news. I can hear Bruce Cockburn so reasonably requesting that “the world retain in memory that might tongues tell mighty lies.”

A recent spot on Global News – or CTV, forgive me, I lack the will to split hairs among the mainstream media mimic morons – that I failed to avoid refers to Trudeau as our “celebrity” PM, and also mentions that bigoted nonentity Scheer who so often guffaws, à la Howdy Doody, about “PM Selfie.”

Returning to Niagara, this recent civic election has offered some interesting optics too. I’ve walked by a billboard of deposed Regional Czar – oh, sorry, I mean, Chair – Alan Caslin that declares Niagara has too many politicians, and I wonder about the self regard and arrogance that didn’t anticipate that many voters would respond by turfing his malfesant ass out of office.

Oh, politicians; I’d say they’re like that witch bullying the magic mirror into averring that yes, you are the fairest of them all, but I hate to insult the witch by association. Perhaps more Spider Jerusalem is required: “They say they like politicians but couldn’t eat a whole one.” Perhaps because they make you a bit sick to your stomach, I’d aver…

Some of Cartagena’s appropriated scenes are reminiscent of the frenzy around Pope John Paul II’s visit to Canada over two decades ago, or some of the same populist posturing we’ve seen from the current Pope, Francis: and now, as the Catholic cabal hurtles headlong towards canonizing JP II, more and more and even more evidence is emerging that no one, in the history of the world, has done more to aid and abet the rape of children than the former Karol Józef Wojtyla and that Francis’s hands, like all in that space, are filthy, oh so filthy. I assure you, ahem, that your intrepid #artcriticfromhell is surely not gloating at all as he quotes Jesus (Matthew 23:27, KJV) “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”

Before my hyperbole gets further out of hand – if not already too late – lets examine further what Cartegana offers us, in the VISA space and his wider practice that is as grounded in politics and community as it is in a university gallery space.

Alejandro Cartagena was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic but lives and “works in Monterrey, Mexico. His projects employ landscape and portraiture as a means to examine social, urban and environmental issues. Cartagena’s work has been exhibited internationally in more than 50 group and individual exhibitions in spaces including the the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris and the CCCB in Barcelona, and his work is in the collections of several museums including the San Francisco MOMA, the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago, the Portland Museum of Art, The West Collection, the Coppel collection, the FEMSA collection, Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the George Eastman House and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and among others.” You can read more, about the many things he’s done, here.

An impressive list of accomplishments, and one that lends weight to Selfies. Conversely, the record of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has included not just appropriate concern over the manufactured media persona (spending 2 billion over five years, on publicity, the most EVER spent by a Mexican President) that Cartagena samples for us, but much more horrifying actions. A smattering of shame: allegations of espionage against journalists (a report in the NY Times was even titled, “In Mexico it’s easy to kill a journalist”) to foster silence regarding reportage on the many allegations of corruption, and this has extended to civil rights activist whom have also been deemed “problems” for the Peña Nieto regime. There is also – unbelievably, it would seem, as we get distracted by images and forget facts, perhaps – how in “September 2014, 43 male college students were forcibly taken then disappeared in Guerrero. The forced mass disappearance of the students arguably became the biggest political and public security scandal Peña Nieto had faced during his administration. It led to nationwide protests, particularly in the state of Guerrero and Mexico City, and international condemnation.”

I am again reminded of The Smiler. When you visit A Presidential Guide to Selfies (or purchase the book) hold these – and go and search out more information about jovial and jocular and jaunty President Peña Nieto – and other abuses of power made by this seemingly happy, harmless facade of a man in mind.

Returning to Cartagena’s informative and lovely site: when I visited I also spent significant time with his other works, specifically Carpoolers, and this offers a tonic to Selfies.

The statement regarding that work indicates that Cartagena uses his lens – or as with Selfies, the lens of others – in examining his, and the wider, socio economic world. The statement for that work: Offering a different take on ‘carpooling’ Alejandro Cartagena continues his pointed investigation of the multiple and complex issues relating to unhampered suburban expansion. These images show how carpooling is practised by workers in México.

They are an acute observation to overgrowth issues in Mexico, where suburbs are being built in far away lands with no proper public transportation to the urban centers causing greater commutes and consumption of gas. Even though these workers are not conscious of the ecological impact they have by travelling this way as they are doing it to save time and money, they are a silent contributor to the preservation of our city and planet.

These are works that are disturbing immediately, with the obvious poverty and suffering of the ‘carpoolers’, and offer an interesting contrast to the euphoric – if somewhat vacuous – public in Selfies.

When Trump blundered into the American presidency, via the machinations (successful and failed) indicative of the corpulent yet cancerous American political system, I remember being fascinated by a political “leader” who could communicate directly with people, through Twitter. Put aside the execrable content for a moment, that the format is limited intellectually and can foster spiteful spittles of foolishness, and consider that there was no mediation, no barrier, between what “leader” and “followers.”

Yet, we’ve seen this not only fail but become an embarrassment: in this same manner, the “presidential selfie” has potential, yet by its very nature resists any real content, or real application or utility. I was present at one of the events in St. Catharines where PM Trudeau visited, and though there was time for these brief interactions, they were more mob-like than anything, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Perhaps that’s not just the Sontagian dilemma of how photography invites projection, but also that in the essence these politicians – whether Nieto or even Trump – were empty and inviting us to fill them with whatever we liked, only to find that was a ploy, a con. To return to the idea put out by hooks, of the “product”, one must always – especially in politics, these mad days – practice caveat emptor / buyer beware. After all, there’s no warranty and though it might look good, as in the case of Peña Nieto’s record, it has been somewhat of a lemon. Or perhaps, as with the manufactured sales pitch (2 billion over five years), Peña Nieto can be said to be an impulse purchase that played upon disinformation and unethical salespeople, and now there is no returns policy in place, and still a large price to be paid.

If I return to the initial distaste and touch of anger I experienced when first visiting Cartagena’s work, the explanation may be found in the words of Neil Gaiman’s hustler, Wednesday: On the whole, I make my money from people who never know they’ve been taken, and who never complain, and who will frequently line up to be taken when I come back that way again.

A Presidential Guide to Selfies is on display in the VISA Gallery at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts until November 6th, 2018. The gallery hours are 1 – 5 PM, Tuesday through Saturday. The situation Alejandro Cartagena‘s work addresses, however, is ongoing, on our televisions and online, and in our regional, national and international discourse, as you read this. All images are courtesy the artist’s web site or media releases, or shot by the writer.

 

What About Rodman Hall? A Recap: So Far, So What?

As we approach the Fall of 2018, and some decisions have apparently been made, some of which have been made public, many of which have not, I decided it was time to consider re visiting the ongoing relationship, it its deterioration or denouement, edit as you will, between Brock University and Rodman Hall Art Centre.

To facilitate that, I’ve made all of the articles (my lord, I didn’t realize there were so many) available here, on my own site, and created this post as a gateway to everything you need to know (that I’m able to share at this time, as many of you know there’s more, and know more, than I’ve been able to share, but may yet do so, in the Fall…specifically how some staff have been treated, and the pharisees at Brock, who say one thing and do another, in that sphere).

These can also be found at The Sound, but more light on this situation, more availability and information, is always good, especially to counter some of the past actions and attitudes from Brock University on this issue.

Some links are still external, and if these don’t work, just message me, and I’ll correct them.

It all started with an exhibition at NAC which I speak about here.

Not long after that show opened, I spoke with the consultant in question, Martin Van Zon, from Interkom Smart Marketing, on the air on CFBU, as part of the ongoing show I produced there, Niagara Voices and Views. That conversation can be heard here.

The first article was a teaser to direct people to The Sound’s website for the longer series, and was the only one from the initial series to appear in printed form. As the four evenings of consultations happened over two weeks, at the beginning of a month, it made more sense to post the series online, as they could be more relevant, in terms of immediacy of the events, and also for ease of sharing. At this time, too, the Facebook group that would eventually lead to the Rodman Hall Alliance was forming, so online seemed expedient for that, as well.

The second, third, fourth and fifth chapters, all dealing with the Interkom consultations, are at the previous links. There’s two more chapters, that focus on the Barlow Report and the presentation that Janis Barlow gave, at The Masonic Temple about the report and proces, that can be found here and here.

There was an update that came much later, which was more like a chart, with an image provided by Brittany Brooks. This was in response to the Rodman Hall Coaltion consultations in late 2017.

I’ll be resharing these links on my various social media spaces. As always, any who feel that they have information they want to share with myself or The Sound, regarding this issue, please contact us as you feel most comfortable. If necessary, confidentiality will be respected, as I’ve been happy to do all along this series.

As I have promised / threatened, a further update, perhaps where I offer some things I’ve known and have been reluctant to share but am feeling must be put out for public consideration, will be coming in the Fall of 2018.

More than surface: Just Resting Your Eyes at Rodman Hall

It’s necessary to first acknowledge that Just Resting My Eyes, the first of the two part exhibition at Rodman Hall featuring the work of Honours graduates from Brock University’s Department of Visual Arts, should be on display longer than two weeks. The works by Denise Apostolatos, Victoria Morinello, Jill Newman, Jacob Primeau and Aaron Thompson are often dense and inviting, and on my repeated visits have shifted in my interpretation, and in their relationship to each other. The art works in this exhibition occupy the larger back gallery space but also the side long “hallway” as well as the small inset alcove that faces the ‘title wall.’

Just Resting My Eyes is dominated by painted and drawn work. In some ways this enhances the show, as he painterly nature of Victoria Morinello’s Bittersweet Temptations (1 through 6) located in the recesses adjacent to the “meeting room” with image transfers rendered more visually enticing through mixed media (paint, plastic wrapping, scratchy scrawling marks and erasures) both contrasts and casts in relief the difference of Jacob Primeau’s Familiar Strangers. The latter is a massive acrylic and oil on canvas, whereas Temptations are smaller (four installed together as a block aren’t a tenth of the size of Strangers). Morinello has larger pieces in the lower gallery space, “facing” each other – no pun intended as the women in the loose triptych, all sharing the title The Holy Trinity with individual descriptors of (foil) or (plastic), as matches their making, all have expressive manners.

Unlike some previous iterations of BFA graduates exhibitions, Eyes is installed so that the respective artists (and yes, I’ll use that term here, as the quality and consideration of the works mark them as more that than students) intermix. Jill Newman’s linear, monochromatic blind contours occupy most of the side hallway, with smaller works that have a strength in repetition, a clean beauty in execution of sharp black on white or glowing white on black. The wall itself bears some of her loose, and sure, lines. Further down in this space, Primeau – who presents what is one of the two (okay, maybe three – I reserve the right to change my mind on future visits) best works in the show – offers four in a series titled Selected Street Photography. Though these are night images, and are dark, the flaring spots of street lights or the glistening of the reflection of artificial lighting in these is echoed (realized? recreated?) in his painting in the other room, Strangers. Just as Newman’s rough, yet considered drawings here offer insight into her own larger paintings hanging in the back space, Primeau is revealing something of his process. Or, to parse from several excellent conversations in the space with several artists (who also straddle painting and photography) it may not be  linear progression, from photo to painting, and that only art historians (and, ahem, perhaps critics) want a linear, approved, official “history” when in fact images are made and conceived in a more organic, bleeding process that is more reminiscent of osmosis than “order.”

When I’ve visited, I’ve found myself going back and forth, from the hallway with these smaller pieces, to the alcove with Morinello’s tiny works, and then into the large gallery proper: referencing back and forth, or just exploring the visual lines of connection that bind the works together.

Newman’s pieces are installed to the right of Primeau (he has three large works, and a display case shows many small works on paper. These have too much detail and finesse to be just “studies”). Whereas Primeau’s Strangers is a dense work that illustrates a city street scene (not literally so much as conceptually, with the washes of purple and yellow, and the thick dabs of red and yellow accentuating the tableaux, as an umbrella or the glow and reflection of a car tail light), Newman’s paintings are nearly all the same square dimension, with one much larger. They’re installed mostly grouped together: outside, inside and outside, inside pt. II are a diptych far to the left, with quiet pinks, deep blacks, gentle yellows and milky whites that suggest more watercolour than acrylic, a fine subtle hand that allows for the drips and washes that build form and shape. A vertical arrangement of four are titled (top to bottom) glimpse, ocular, disillusion and spectacle (all dated 2018. Appropriately for a graduating show, the majority of works by all the artists are 2018). glimpse is thickly painted, in tones almost chocolatey, and unlike other works that suggest a window or a framed space, is rich textured surface. Below it, ocular with its bands of pink, yellow and grey with black flecks (black appears outside the yellow “frame”, too, a bit roughly) shares the compositional element of ‘rounded bars’ with outside, inside. But the larger works, and several smaller, allude to the same vegetation that dominated her drawings in the hallway (such as looking blindly (interior plants) (1 – 150), which are a series of cards you’re encouraged to handle, but with respect).

Aaron Thompson has several works in Just Resting My Eyes, but the significant work is one that will force you to do the opposite of the exhibition title. His work – or works – Shoulder to shoulder, 2017 – 2018 is / are like most of the pieces on display: enhanced by the accompanying statements from the artists, but not necessary to an appreciation of it (for example, Newman’s looking blindly is blind contour drawing. This adds a level of appreciation, but the work is already visually engaging, just as Primeau’s text aides, but isn’t essential, to Strangers).

Shoulder to shoulder is the work that on my visits may not immediately pull the visitor in, but will hold them for the longest duration: mixing ideas and assumptions of low and high culture, of consumption in both a considered and gluttonous manner, Thompson has presented a largesse of tiny paintings that reference, challenge, demean or enhance the Mona Lisa, or perhaps just the idea of the Mona Lisa.

Some works are listed as Google Image #1 or Google Image #3, and other titles act as less of a list than a dictionary of cultural references: there’s one that has Lion – O from Thundercats, another trio are tiny renderings of faces in the manner of Francis Bacon (all of these are painted by Thompson, from sources “found” on the web. Some are considered, others are just crass). A sample: Jean-Michel Basquiat, Self-portrait (detail) / Space Lisa / Captain Spaulding /  Obey Mona (They Live) / Rene Magritte, Son of Man (Mona Lisa) / Willem de Kooning, Pink Angels / Duotone Mona Lisa (detail) / Jackson Pollock, Guardians of the Secret (detail) / Lion – O – na Lisa / Batman Duchamp / Bashful Lisa / Zombie Lisa / and Fear and Loathing in Florence (Raoul Duke), which is a personal favourite. There is, of course, a version of Duchamp‘s infamous L.H.O.O.Q., who could be said to “shoulder” significant blame or credit for the state of the contemporary “art” world….

Any words to describe this piece are unequal to the task: you must experience it.

I would, however, in my role as art critic, offer the following observation of Thompson’s Shoulder to shoulder. With the failure of postmodernism as a viable theory by which to approach culture (unsurprisingly, as post modernism is based on the context of doubt, without a viable system to replace what it challenges. Some older art historical texts defined post – 1968 as an “Age of Anxiety.” I like this as an umbrella, and for the capitalisation), a variety of thinkers far more verbose (and surely more intelligent) than I have proffered alternatives.

One of interest is “digimodernism” which, in one aspect, suggests that we’re exponentially creating and consuming images as never before in human history. In light of this, language, and the idea of systematic ordering and designation that often manifests through language, is not only impossible now, but beyond irrelevant. While wasting time in attempting to order what images we’ve seen, more are being made. Some, like what Thompson shows here, occupy multiple theoretical spaces simultaneously, often in uncomfortable (if not very conflicting ways). It’s all the Mona Lisa. None of them are the Mona Lisa. All of them are Art. None of it is Art. Edit and arrange as you will, if you like, but the person next to you will edit and arrange differently, and your systems may meet, meld or modify each other, to create a third fourth fifth (and so on, and so on) system.

This isn’t entirely an alien thought: consider colour theory, as in the work of American artist Josef Albers (with his square works that show difference is more common in the colour palette than we’d imagine). Consider that horrid intro painting class exercise, of taking any colour and painting five gradations between it and full black, or full white. Now think of doing that on a computer, where each of those “steps” might be used to do five more steps to black, or white, and then again and again, as the technology (like accessing a million variant, previously unimagined iterations of Mona Lisa) may be (if not literally, then practically) infinite in variations and combinations.

Everything is possible, yet nothing is genuine. “Authentic” is a term either meaningless or uninteresting, boring even, perhaps even intellectually / creatively “lazy” in not embracing potential diversity. This is how “we see now.”

How does “the hand of the artist”, that “arbiter of genius” or commodity defined through rarity or uniqueness, fit here, with Thompson rendering each one, but with a source or “inspiration” elsewhere we can find and “own” digitally?

Modernism didn’t so much fail as spawn numerous “children” that moved too fast for Cronus to catch and eat them, preventing their rise, and his fall….or alternately, Cronus castrating his father might be hyperbole for postmodernism negating the surety of Modernism, and look at what the “younger generation” does with that “freedom.”

Allow me to rein in my hyperbole: Shoulder to shoulder, 2017 – 2018 is impressive in execution and presentation. Perhaps the best work in the show, surely my favourite work, in Just Resting Your Eyes.

I’ll end with a bit of the blurb: “Occupying Rodman Hall’s third floor studios during the 2017 – 18 academic year, students in the Honours Studio course have been mentored by gallery staff and Visual Arts professors Donna Szöke, Shawn Serfas, Derek Knight, and Donna Akrey….[both of] these two unique exhibits capture the exceptional vitality and daring of the emerging artist.

Such exhibits from the Department of Visual Arts are a key part of the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts’ mandate to build connections between the community and the breadth of talent and creativity that we celebrate at Brock University.” One might think this means that RHAC is not only a valuable, but necessary, component of Brock University, a space to be funded and not strangled. A site that, if Brock were to divest itself from, would leave a black hole that might collapse the fragile structure left…but I’ll be offering some further thoughts on Brock University’s ongoing “annulment” of what they call “support” of RHAC in the future.

Just Resting Your Eyes is only display for a brief period at Rodman Hall Art Centre in St. Catharines, closing on April 8th. Go see it. All images are courtesy of Rodman Hall Art Centre. The next instalment Turnin’ This Car Around opens on Friday, April 13th at 7 PM.