Familiar Spaces / Different Work: The Jordan Art Gallery

In a recent conversation, the idea that “Niagara” is an artificial construct that’s grafted unsuccessfully onto different regions, ignoring their uniqueness and difference, was raised. It’s worth considering in terms of the diversity of works that you’ll see at the TAG Gallery, or at the Riverbrink, or at the Jordan Art Gallery in Jordan Village (you may be wondering why there’s no images to accompany this article. Go to their site and explore there, as there’s more images there than I could ever post here…but I do give a teaser of the work of Melanie Macdonald below).

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Part of the motivation to highlight this space is that two of the JAG artists (Mori McCrae and Will Griffiths) have exhibited in the Dennis Tourbin gallery at NAC in the past year, and the quality necessitated a “follow up” to see more by these artists – and their peers – at the JAG. Hopefully you had a chance to see Griffiths’ exhibition DIG there, this June, or McCrae’s earlier exhibition, On Site, an integration of image and text, having its genesis from her residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland.

The gallery blurb is as follows: ”Jordan Art Gallery has been promoting original work by Niagara makers since 2001. The eight Jordan Art Gallery artists/proprietors are recognized as dedicated and respected artists whose creative output individually, spans decades of art making.” It’s worth noting that Janny Fraser and George Langbroek, among the eight JAG artists, are also founding members of NAC. Its also a space, that like the Thunder Gallery in the Falls, is attempting to carve out a more cultural, and less “touristy”, niche.

If I was looking for a thread to run through the practice of artists like Fraser, Diane Slaight, Darlene Monroe, McCrae or Griffiths (not ignoring artists like Eugen Schlaak’s sleekly “modernist” turned woods, or the “works in steel” by Floyd Elzinga, that contrast nature and industry, or Suzi Dwor’s fabric works that bridge utility and artistry) it would be a privileging of materials. Sometimes that appears in abstracted works, such as Griffiths (Pyramid, Epworth Circle or Vacant Lot). Monroe’s Beyond the Wall, where texture and implied tactility dominate, is a frame of rough blue (like the slats of blind gone askew) ensconcing a “window” of brownredtawny dirtyyellow offwhite, both angular and ragged.

Diane Slaight’s Public Spaces, Private Lives series which embraces the history of painting capturing / creating moments that invite us to inject a narrative (one is a city scene at night, with bare trees and flares of street / headlights make the street glossy wet darkness).

Kathy McBride’s practice more directly evokes memory: hence the dominance of figures, often singular, often children, in picture planes that become wilder (Time of her Life) or more minimal (Water Wings) to foreground the “subject.” Alternately, Frazer’s objects can both be smaller, intricately decorated / textured pieces and larger installation works whose materials (everyday objects like mirrors and magnifying glasses, but also porcelain constructions and and photo collages) fill a room as easily as a wall.

The JAG is a bit remote, not as immediately accessible as Rodman Hall: it’s been open since 2001, and does play upon not being “Big City”, whatever that means (a recent fluff piece in Canadian Art was all about TO galleries you “might not know about”, because we all know that TO doesn’t get the coverage it deserves, cough, cough). The Jordan Art Gallery, like the TAG and Thunder, is a worthwhile space you’ll have to seek out, with a diversity of quality in the artists there that merits the effort.

Mori McCrae’s ON SITE: corporeality and absence

The personally engaging aspect of the brief exhibitions in the Denn Tourbin space are that they seem to offer a brief taste of different artistic practices here to a newcomer like myself. I’ve mentioned previously seeing an exhibition in this space less than 24 hours after my arrival in St.Catharines, and that immediacy of presentation – and in this space being a “raw” slice of the community – is something I enjoy.
The slice comment is an allusion to the current exhibition there, an installation / environment that incorporates finished works but these are also part of a larger ongoing reaction to the space. Mori McCrae’s ON SITE is / are many things (note the multiplicity, my unwillingness to refer to it solely as one thing or as a multitude of parts..). Considering that she presents objects that seem like excised corporeal components, removed from – or alluding to – an absent whole, this is fitting. This also matches with how part of the genesis for this installation was her residency at the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Ireland.

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There’s a number of works that will pull you near: near the front of the left gallery entrance is a work that seems, with the sheen of the material, almost like fat. But there’s also a vertical pattern that runs down the middle of the piece, like an exposed spine, cleanly circular and naked.

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This rough rectangle pokes out from the wall in a vee, as its hung in a manner that allows it to sag forward. This makes some of the interior details of the work more prevalent: the layers of material, the folds that are exposed to our view, that make the work as sculptural as drawn (useless distinctions here – the surface and objects are worked is a better descriptor). It’s pale pink fleshy, then deeper reds, some marks that seem scars or just a continuation onto these pieces of the words on the walls that already seemed to be everywhere when I visited. The matching oval “holes” seem vulnerable, like a wound. The thin, delicate words that are so ordered across the red interior are like the striated lines of muscle fascia. Edges of this work have the sporadically spaced “stitches”, raised braided marks that further the sense of this piece as a ripped fragment of a larger body…fat, bone, cartilage, all captured in paper and paint and the artist’s hands.
There’s an asylum quality to the text, creeping and insinuating onto so many surfaces, like a resident of Arkham (Lovecraft is never far from my mind, when asylums are near): and here is a good point to interrupt my hyperbole about her lovely delicate constructions and cite her statement about her show at NAC.
Recently I attended the Tyrone Guthrie Center in Ireland.  The house and grounds were part of the estate of Sir Tyrone Guthrie, generously bequeathed to the state upon his death in 1970. His vision was to provide a haven for artists to develop.
While researching the centre I became aware that the residency had a posh reputation. However, when I returned from my stay three weeks later to my home in St. Catharines, I had formed my own ideas.  The paring down of the basic daily acts of working, eating, exercise and sleeping, under the watchful care of the centre’s unobtrusive staff, left me with the impression of residing at a “benign asylum,” in the very best sense of both words.
[Throughout] the duration of the exhibit, where along with visual works, I will install enlarged versions of the poetry I wrote while at this residency on the walls of the Niagara Artist Centre in an attempt to bring this benign asylum here to St. Catharines.
There’s an ambiguity to the works, that suggests a space where alternate, perhaps even disagreeing, interpretations are permitted. In conversation with McCrae, I appreciatively noted how some works could be internal organs, or a rendering of pelvic bones, or even cross sections of bones or cellular, microscopic portraits that are more abstracted than recognizable.
A work in the back part of the gallery, fittingly solo on its own short wall (pinned like a diagram or an excised sample with shiny silver T pins, almost as brutal as medical), is worthy of your attention. It’s engrossing and grotesque. The clear mylar overtop doesn’t inhibit escaping strands and strips that hang nearly to the floor, but instead makes it even more pseudo medical, psuedo antiseptic. These hang, loose and less decorative, like a tassel, then like tendrils, or evidence of a ripped connection to another component…

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The large shape is softly curved, or something like buttocks, fleshy and rounded, maybe even like a fine cut or loin. There’s cavities along the lower part, and the rounded patterns mimicking a spinal column are here again (it’s a motif that marks several other pieces in the gallery). The upper edge has a contour that is reminiscent of a hip bone, or even a clavicle / shoulder blade curve…this might be the upper back, hung on a wall.
There’s several smaller works: some are framed, and the text on the walls varies between strength and subtlety, words that are bold or barely legible. When I first visited several walls had the faint lines of grey, making walls into ruled note paper, and McCrae’s words were in her own cursive hand.
Let’s jump backwards for a moment: Judy Graham had work in NAC just prior to McCrae: her drawn works incorporated spills and drips and seemed more stained and soiled than “drawn”, in the excellent style of Betty Godwin’s works. Delicate marks gave way to vivid stains on large sheets of paper, with words as much incised as written, as much graphic as literary.
Returning to now: that same expressiveness is here with McCrae. And jumping back to the present, I revisited McCrae’s installation on the last day of its presence in NAC.
The words are now bold and a bit reminiscent of blood in their colour: the stripes get long longer still then dissolve or it startles lifts then reclaims to simmering elements. This makes the text on several works more inviting, and the words that appear on works are as evocative.
sHE FUmBLED AT HIS THUMBS FAINTLy TRACED HIS LIPS FLAMINGO PINK POKED STONE runs down one piece. The aforementioned smaller framed pieces, titled liver and pelvic bowl, hang on a sliver of wall, adding to the density of their composition. The larger curved work with the dangling strips has changed: a dark rich reddish stain is now just below its lower edge, as though the work has seeped into the wall, just as the words could be seen to have oozed out through them to be visible to the visitor (some have appeared in new spaces since my last visit, like above the door frame).
It’s regrettable that the show wasn’t up longer, but the briefness is also exciting, as ON SITE transformed the space and will take another form elsewhere (I’m reminded of Hazel Meyers’ tendency to paint and draw on gallery walls, exhibiting the same project in different spaces that become diverse segments of a larger whole). And that is, perhaps, a strength: ON SITE will occupy another space and graft further ideas about the Guthrie residency and McCrae’s translation of it to a different place, in literal and ephemeral ways.