Your intrepid #artcriticfromhell shows his credentials for Haldimand Art Works

I’m very pleased to be speaking at this event for Haldimand Art Works and what I’ve put together below is a bit of an introduction.

Years ago I was asked to speak to the Master of Fine Arts Critical Studies Group at the University of Saskatchewan, where I had taught for 14 years, before the usual university cabal – overpaid administrators and incompetent tenured faculty only concerned with their own salaries – embraced “austerity” and let many of us go. I mention this as being invited back, four years or so later to talk to their MFA / MA students, in my very public role as an arts writer in Saskatoon, was amusing, because I had a reputation – well deserved – for saying what I thought, and being liberal in my criticisms of my former employer. This was often like shooting fish in a barrel, but when most of your faculty hadn’t exhibited artwork in more than a decade, nor shown in a faculty show for longer, it is good to not “shoot the messenger” but perhaps consider the facts of the situation. Amusingly, a piece I wrote used that title, when I was responding to an artist run centre that had to be shamed (by myself, and others) into paying artists, and an attempt to smear me backfired.

I mention these for several reasons: the latter situation with a horrid artist run centre illustrates what I often see as the necessity of art, and art writing, mattering to the community, and not being caught up in esoteric, or more airy, issues (I’ve often been accused of being “too political” or “too historical”, to which I usually said perhaps the problem was that they were “too ignorant” – or that if you criticise art for being “too political” what you might mean is that it’s not “your politics”).

I also cite the MFA class as the piece I wrote for them, before I spoke to them, was called “Who Cares, Why Bother: the existential crisis of writing art criticism in a small community.” Amusingly, this has, after much arguing, struggle and alcohol (on my part, I won’t presume to speak for the main editor) become a chapter in Art From The Margins: Visual Culture in Saskatchewan. More relevantly, when I spoke to that class, I selected three articles I thought important, that I’d written, and we talked about them and the ideas around them. I’ve done a similar thing here, so you’ll have an idea of who I am, how I write, and how I approach the useless yet sometimes groundbreaking exercise in egotism that is too often art criticism / art writing.

Lacie made me laugh when I saw that she used my somewhat tongue in cheek sobriquet of #artcriticfromhell. That was originally thrown at me, as an insult, by someone who felt I was too flippant, not academic enough, not formal enough – essentially, as I said to them, not enough like what they THOUGHT art criticism should be, in their narrow expectations and views.

I’ve also been called by another artist / arts administrator the “most subjective” critic they know, and another said I was the “most direct” (trust me, the way she said it, it was an insult, too). I accept all these, and another artist once called me a Strelnikov (from Dr. Zhivago) as he said I expected too much of art, and was too demanding, and was too critical when “art” (my quotes, not his) didn’t live up to this. This is also true, in part.

What I’ve linked out to, here, are all articles that are important not just in seeing how I approach what I do, and my rules for doing it, but also one of the most important aspects of what I do: my connection to community.

My biography is here, and I’ve worn many hats, and done many things, within cultural spaces. Volunteering is very important to me: and this link, from my time with CFCR 90.5 FM illustrates that, with some fun links.

But some of the pieces that I’ll be happy to reference or talk about when I meet with you all are below. However, one of the hats I wear right now is facilitator for the Rodman Hall 5 x 2 Image Maker Conversations, and I enjoy that greatly as its a very open, inclusive dialogue about making images, and images themselves, and I’m happy to talk about larger issues that inform writing about art, and the ideas – and sometimes idiocy, ahem – behind it.

My agenda as an arts writer has often been informed by a desire to foster conversations about art in spaces and with people that don’t always feel they’re invited to be part of this discussion, and to offer the idea that art writing, like art itself, can be enjoyed by many diverse and different groups, in different ways.

This is just a selection, and much of my writing is online, and easily found with a web search.

Lure of the Local, Material Girls (The Sound), Philia (The Sound, and I have many pieces at The Sound, and you can follow the “ART” drop down menu for them), A Confluence Field Trips (HAL), Every Prophet In Their House (HAL), Patrick Traer (Galleries West), Modern Women at Magenta Magazine (more articles by me are here) and two pieces I wrote for Canadian Art.

This is a downloadable PDF of a longer piece I wrote for FUSE Magazine: I regard it as an important piece as issues of audience, and who is being served, or not being served, in gallery and cultural spaces, was a topic I focused upon.

I wrote for Planet S for nearly a decade, but their archive is not well designed. Here’s the last piece I wrote for them, before I left Saskatoon, and it’s a fun piece for many reasons.

A Word 09.10.2015 Anna Szaflarski and A Man’s Job

This week’s episode of the A Word is, on the surface, a very specific one to St. Catharines, while being a conversation between two people whom have connections to “here” but yet also are not from “here”…

First, let us all enjoy that I’m the NAC Member of the Moment for October, and you can read about that at the preceding link. Much praise to the community here, which has been exceptionally warm and welcoming. Many thanks to NAC and many others here who have made me feel very much at home.

Something else to consider in terms of your visual arts world in STC this Thanksgiving weekend are the plethora of events and exhibitions coming up at Rodman Hall. Here’s some information about Spare Parts,  which Stuart Reid talked about on the show a few week ago, and Donna Szőke’s exhibition which opens this weekend. I’ll be doing some follow up in the next few days to see about having her come on the A Word.

If you pick up this month’s edition of The Sound, you can also see some thoughts of mine on her upcoming show, Bill Burns’ exhibition which opens later this month, and some impressions of Shifting Perspectives. It’s not yet online, so you’ll need to pick up a print copy. When its up, I’ll share them.

But let’s return to Anna Szaflarski’s trio of installation / intervention works being presented through NAC that open this Thanksgiving weekend (a fitting analogy, perhaps, that fits in with the latter part of our conversation about “family” ) titled A Man’s Job. They’re located at NAC (354 St. Paul Street), the NAC Flea Market Gallery (46 Turner Crescent) and at the Golden Pheasant (244 Ontario Street).

Let me steal the words of the gallery :

At each newsbox location poster editions of A Man’s Job by Anna will be available for pick-up. The poster is comprised of a chronological collection of newspaper headlines tracking the relationship between the employees and the auto industry in Niagara that spans over sixty years (1940-2011). As Anna explains,

“I was researching in the library archives for another project, but quickly noticed the frequency of headlines pertaining to GM; unions, lay-offs, which rotated from hopeful to pessimistic with regularity like the wheels of a mill…Together the fluid back and forth begins to lose all meaning; an eventual entropic disintegration.”

You can listen to us here. An image of the poster is below linked to a larger version.

There is also a further piece of writing, that Szaflarski presents as part of her Letters to the Editor series where her writings are paired with another person’s response to the same subject. You can either pick up this at the news boxes too, or read her – and Stephen Remus’ essay – here.

This was very much the basis of many of the points in our talk, and I really enjoyed Stephen’s excellent contribution here, and if you have a sense of the history of this place and its relationship with manufacturing (especially in a familial or more personal way), you will, as well.

You may find me at the Golden Pheasant later on doing research on public reaction to this very interesting example of art in the public realm.



A Word Niagara 11.09.15 Elizabeth Chitty & Confluence Field Trips

Chitty.header Chitty.screengrabThis week’s episode of the A Word is a conversation between myself and Elizabeth Chitty about her project Confluence Field Trips. This is an ongoing project that will inhabit multiple forms as it progresses from the “walks” to the image / audio contributions to the exhibition.

Elizabeth and I talk about this, and about the ideas that inform it, and as promised, here’s a variety of links that will both provide information that may make you want to get involved and that will help you to do so.

Here’s the page Score, with instructions on how to participate in Confluences, and here’s where you can book a Field Trip, which Elizabeth mentioned on the show. There’s also the Traditional Territory page, for further information. As well, Elizabeth mentioned Richard Pierpoint on the air, and here’s some engaging information about him.

Listen to this week’s episode of the A Word Niagara here.

Since this is going up on a Friday, there’s two other things I want to mention. Firstly, there’s an exhibition that has a reception this Saturday night at NAC, but is up right now for you to see. Just Like A Buggy Whip : New Paintings by Kevin Richardson (the latest thing in obsolescence) is in the front space, and there will be music by Attic Daddy. The show runs until the 18th.

Secondly, Shifting Practices, a Department of Visual Arts Alumni Exhibition, curated by Emma German, is open now and has a reception on the 18th, from 5 – 11 PM. This exhibition is in the Visual Arts Gallery, also listed as 15 Artists’ Common. Shifting Practices  will include work by Sarah Beattie, Candace Couse, Alicia Kuntze, Ben Mosher, Carrie Perreault and Bruce Thompson.
A schedule of artist talks to accompany the exhibition are also posted:
Carrie Perreault & Alicia Kuntze Sept. 21, 3:30pm-4:30pm, Foundation Studio (MW 151), 15 Artists’ Common.
Ben Mosher & Bruce Thompson Sept. 23, 3:30pm-4:30pm, Foundation Studio (MW 151), & site tour, 15 Artists’ Common.
Candace Couse & Sarah Beattie Sept. 25, 3:30pm-4:30pm, Foundation Studio (MW 151), 15 Artists’ Common.
I’ll be checking out that show and perhaps offering some thoughts about it, as well as touching base on some other ideas / concerns that intersect with this exhibition and the larger cultural narrative here.


Happy Valentine’s Day…

…and, as I’ve said on Twitter, I won’t be going to see Fifty Shades of Grey but will re read Georges Bataille’s L’histoire de l’oeil. I like my smut to be really pervery (it’s a word).

Amazingly enough, I may be doing it alone, but I am open to a reading date, ahem. But I have a tradition of making and sending Valentine’s cards every year. A friend talks about it here. So, in light of that, here’s this year’s version. Feel free to share and share alike and the image links to a larger version.


The seductive works of Yam Lau

Oftentimes, when confronted with art that is highly specific in its use of digital technology, there is a distancing, or an almost palpable space between the artwork and the viewer. This need not be a negative experience. If you happened to see Jennifer Steinkamp’s work in Ecotopia, recently at the College Gallery, it’s so artificial that it seems a world unto itself, inside the monitor. It was like an artificial environment, remote and untouchable, and very beautiful.

Yam Lau’s Inaugurations (Two Instances of Illuminations) at PAVED arts, however, seem to invite an intimacy with the viewer: this is despite the bare nature of the gallery and the antiseptic cleanliness of the installation. The larger projection, nearly wall sized, is not quite directly across from the smaller, white-boxed monitor. This mild misalignment allows you to engage with one work at a time, allowing you to interact with either “space” exclusively.

This is helpful, as both are scenes with voyeuristic overtones. The larger projection, on a loop, brings us to a scene of a young woman, seemingly unaware of our intrusive gaze. She seems upset, and her positioning – her back to us, but facing a mirror in her “room” – allows us to see her facial expressions while avoiding direct engagement with her. The sole audio in the space is rainfall, corresponding to the film of “rain” in the image, hinting that we’re outside, like someone who desperately needs to see this person, or this scene unfold, and will brave the elements. There’s no menace, no implication of stalking, in our looking. She sits, weeping, before rising to leave, seemingly no happier and just as oblivious to our gaze.


This “ignorance” – not in a pejorative sense – of our presence is also occurring in the smaller work. The “boxing” of the monitor in a white structured frame is both effective in breaking that hideous “let’s put a television on a wall and pretend its art” laziness and quite lovely. It works in both a formalist manner of “hiding” the tech, but also in terms of continuing the “whiteness” of the space to privilege the scenes in the darkened gallery.

The smaller image rotates, featuring a transparent cube in an empty (gallery?) space, where a man and a woman seem to engage in private, domestic tasks, sometimes folding clothes, sometimes reading and undressing, as though we’re not even there. The scene is not entirely clear as to whether it’s a projection on the clear walls, or actual figures within it. The players don’t seem to interact with each other, and of course, don’t interact with us anymore than their singular counterpart in the other work. Which is really there, or if they’re ghosts or imaginings, from one to the other, is vague.


I’m sure I could come to an appropriate, “factual” conclusion about this: but this would simply cramp the ethereal experience. I prefer to think that everyone is really “there”, the same way that I’m part of this scene, and my interaction with him or her is real, as well.

My suspicion regarding artist talks is well known, and I’d paraphrase someone whose cynicism makes me blush in commenting that artists should tell you what they ate while making the work, as everything else they say is just as (not) relevant. I’m not quite that dour: and Lau’s talk was one of the more engaged and enlightening in terms of his current work that I’ve seen. His past works have also played with notions of space, reflection, and the idea of seeing oneself and your environment in alternate ways. He joked that an earlier, almost dangerously fragile glasswork that incorporated the works of poet Paul Celan was his first projection, as it let light shine through it, to shadow Celan’s words on the wall.

Celan was a survivor of the concentration and death camps of World War II. His writings (specifically Todusfuge, or in English, Deathfugue) are both poignant and cutting, and like many camp survivors (Primo Levi, Jean Améry), he took his own life (I highly recommend, on a side note, the anthology Holocaust Poetry, edited by Hilda Schiff). There is an element of absence, and they hint at things lost and gone, in the works of Yam Lau: a presence and an absence, and the title of Inaugurations (Two Instances of Illumination) seems to suggest that brevity and intangible transience…