Opening: Thursday, November 20, 7-10pm
November 21, 2014 – January 11, 2015
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition of work in North America by renowned Japanese artist Shimabuku. A major career moment, this survey follows recent exhibitions in Europe where he is arguably much better known and provides a crucial opportunity for North American audiences to see his work, an important stage in understanding Shimabuku’s artistic practice.
The exhibition includes pieces dating back to the mid-1990s, when he first emerged as an artist in Japan, through to presenting a wide variety of more recent pieces for which he has since become internationally celebrated, exemplifying an extraordinary curiosity and freedom of expression. Shimabuku uses installation, video, photography, drawings, sculptural pieces and events alike to convey his intense fascination with the natural world—equally the animal and vegetable realms—and the countless manifestations of human culture within it. His artistic proposition is essentially one of discovery. He encourages us to assume an “alien” identity whereby we break with established habits of perception, and enjoy experiences as if they are happening to us for the first time.
From the beginning, incongruity has characterised much of Shimabuku’s work. For example, Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere (1994) is a performance (with subsequent photographic documentation) that involves the artist standing by a railway line in Kobe, in the guise of Father Christmas. Instead of sacks of gifts, he is holding blue plastic bags full of rubbish. The gentle surrealism of the image is compelling. Enchanted by the thought that Christmas occurs during the summer months in the southern hemisphere, he hoped to inspire passengers who might catch a fleeting glimpse of him from the train window, with dreams of Christmas in the summertime. In his work Shimabuku is not so interested in discovering the reasons why, instead preoccupied, through a joyful approach, with unions of myth or mystery and the everyday. This is epitomized by Something that Floats / Something that Sinks (2008), a work through which the artist draws our attention to the fact that some pieces of fruit and vegetables float in water or appear to swim, while others sink. It is as wonderful as it is seemingly miraculous.Likewise, in later works, we see a the artist dressed up as a bear, waiting for days on a park bench with a live octopus, or standing behind a market stall giving away ice cream covered with pepper and salt. Of the latter he explains, “I think cooking and art are similar. They are both about unexpected meetings of far-away ingredients, to create something delicious, something good”.
The inversion of the way things are conventionally seen to be is crucial to Shimabuku’s practice. He is interested in what is normal being made strange and often picks up the theme of the journey in his work, the means by which difference occurs through translation in both time and space.. The photograph Cucumber Journey (2000) commemorates a two week performance travelling slowly north on British canals while learning to pickle vegetables. In his video Then, I decided to give a tour of Tokyo to the octopus from Akashi (2000) we see him with an octopus in a fishtank taking a Shinkansen train to Tokyo. There they make touristic visits to the Tokyo Tower and the famous Tsukiji fish market before getting back on the train for a return trip so that the octopus can be submerged again, back home in the Akashi Sea. The artist refers to this work as his Apollo project, involving as it did an adventure far from the natural habitat of the octopus – the fishtank being the equivalent of a spacecraft – isolated from the surrounding atmosphere so that the octopus could survive its voyage into unfamiliarity. We easily imagine how weird our world must have seemed to the octopus whilst being reminded of how “wonderful” such a creature is from our point of view.
The involvement of others, not only in the consumption but also the production of his work, marks Shimabuku out as a major figure in the recent development of relational art practice. Since his early collaborations with other Japanese artists such as Makoto Nomura and Tadasu Takamine, he has produced many events, interventions and performances that are very open to audiences, to the point that they become active participants. When the Earth Turned to Sea (2002) requires dozens of volunteers to fly Chinese fish kites, the result is a shoal of fish in the sky – or a flock of fish – and so the world is turned upside down. Passing through the rubber band (2000), similarly invites gallery visitors to step through the stretching loops, a simple act of fun and wonder via the most modest of means.
Demonstrating the breadth of Shimabuku’s oeuvre, works reveal an essential correspondence to much that is happening elsewhere in a wider art world. At the same time, the exhibition insists on our grasp of the continuity that exists between art and (non-art) life. Its unpretentiousness is refreshing, and leads us to the conclusion that he is one of the most radical and engaging artists of our times.
The exhibition forms a loose allegiance and is complementary to recent survey exhibitions in Europe, namely Something That Floats, Something That Sinks, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, July 24 – September 15, 2013, and Flying Me, Kunsthalle Bern, April 4 – May 25, 2014.MORE
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first Canadian solo presentation of work by Swedish artist Gunilla Klingberg, two new interrelated large-scale commissions across the gallery façade and off-site, both challenging and exploiting the opportunities presented at each location.
Klingberg’s practice is characterized by the intersection of received knowledge, folk beliefs, popular culture and divergent cultural activities. Her work draws our attention to how complicated the connections between these systems are, but it also plays with the things that arise in this encounter, a pivotal feature being an interest in what is produced by the hybridization of distinct cultures, traditions and geographies. The disparate and heterogeneous are interwoven creating meanings that mutate to form a new context.
At the gallery and the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, two murals of seemingly quasi-oriental pattern appear to evoke cosmic mandalas, transforming the individual spaces and enveloping the viewer in light and colour, shifting patterns and reflections. Klingberg’s work surrounds us. We are seduced, made part of a special atmosphere, immersed within the work rather than just looking at it. Her interest in using patterns and movement to manipulate our seeing, to influence our state of consciousness and our sensory impressions, has links with Op Art and the psychedelic movement of the late sixties, appropriate touchstones in the recent history of the counter culture in this part of the world.
However, what at first glance appears to recall a certain set of values and moments in time has another dimension, a different shared experience. If we look more closely we see that the intricate ornamentation, the symmetrically repeated symbols of these murals, is made up of something much more mainstream, corporate logos from Canadian low cost and high street stores. Concepts are intertwined: while science might appropriate metaphors from mythologies or New-Age ideas borrow from the language of the natural sciences, here spirituality merges with everyday consumer culture. Klingberg suggests that they are analogous, that both seem to promise the same thing: a state in which nothing is uncomfortable or threatening – the possibility of total, rapid satisfaction of our needs and desires, accessible to everyone. The images are so familiar that we no longer think about them, yet they present a subconscious influence uniting us in a no-man’s land between the public and the private. She evokes a spirit of community, or of communality, and poses questions regarding what it would be to have something in common.
Amid the proliferation of progressively similar goods it is the small, meaningful differences that count. The world around us is increasingly transformed into a surface filled with signs—computer screens, urban space, advertisements, the pages of newspapers— the most tangible properties being disposability and change. It is these surfaces that concern Klingberg. Our urban environment, its dwindling public places increasingly invaded by homogenous architecture and development, the objects we own, all constitute an intricate system of codes, messages and ideologies, our choices and participation tantamount to consuming. The boundary between art and design is often drawn along the line of utility and usefulness. But the edge becomes increasingly elastic when the difference between the values of these forms depends not so much on their functionality as on their seductiveness or power of rhetorical persuasion. Thus Klingberg’s work moves further than a mere critique of brand fetishism, the lure of contemporary global labels, beyond just pointing things out and rejecting them. It poses the awkward question of whether being alternative to a mainstream or on the “outside” is any longer possible. Might a more critical and appropriate assessment lie in revealing and acknowledging the subtle and insidious way in which we are all drawn into a sense of fascination with the things that surround us. Through her work we find ourselves in a situation in which we feel the power of images and beliefs being examined. We are all complicit.
The exhibition is supported by Iaspis, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee’s International Programme for Visual Artists.
Krista Belle Stewart
Nisga’a Museum New Visions Artist Residency
This Fall, in partnership with the Nisga’a Museum, the CAG launched a collaborative artist in residence project. Vancouver based Okanagan/Upper-Nicola artist Krista Belle Stewart travelled to Nisga’a in late October to mid-November to develop new work that will be exhibited at the Nisga’a Museum. A key component to this residency is community engagement and participation. Stewart’s project is centered on narrative and storytelling. She is curious to explore, learn about and listen to the stories/oral histories of Nisga’a people, their life and connection to the land. While in residence Stewart engaged with youth and elders throughout Nisga’a’s Nass Valley through visits, talks, workshops and the sharing of stories. Investigating how these stories are being preserved in the community; how they are shared and how community members talk about the past are critical components to the residency and future work created by the artist. Out of these community engagements Stewart is developing a video-based work.
Krista Belle Stewart is a member of Okanagan/Upper Nicola Band. She lives and works in Vancouver. Stewart holds a BFA from Emily Carr University and is currently working on a MFA from Bard College in New York. Recent exhibition and performance history includes Music from the New Wilderness at The Western Front, Shelved at the Burnaby Art Gallery (with Rebecca Belmore) and the Fiction/Non-fiction at the Esker Foundation (Calgary). Krista’s work explores First Nations identity, particularly by individuals and groups who have no direct links to North American Native culture, other than through romanticized/ fetishized interest such as health products that tap into the wisdom of the elders to help relieve your carpal tunnel syndrome; sculptures and trinkets that depict proud, ideal figures, and phenomena such as the German Indianer Klub, where members don elaborate buckskin outfits while interpreting Native American song and dance. Stewart’s photographic practice creates a dialogue between past and present, the romantic and the real, creating an awareness of the implications of misrepresentation, stereotypes, and racism. Her work engages the complexities of intention and interpretation made possible by archival material. The work approaches mediation and story-telling to unfold the interplay between personal and institutional history.
Most recently, Stewart was commissioned by the City of Vancouver as part of the Year of Reconciliation. The City’s Public Art Program commissioned 10 new artist projects overall with the first five debuting in March 2014 and new projects being introduced monthly through August 2014. The Granville and Georgia entrance of the Canada Line City Centre Station will host Krista-Belle Stewart’s Her Story, a large photo mural and a video work derived from the 1967 CBC documentary Seraphine: Her Own Story about her mother, the first Aboriginal public health nurse in BC. The images reflect personal and institutional histories and the complexities of residential school history. It touches on the young woman’s journey from residential school to UBC and the city.
This artist residency is supported by and made possible through the generous funding provided by the First Peoples’ Cultural Council, British Columbia Arts Council, and the Nisga’a Nation through the Nisga’a Lisims Government.MORE
Similar to the myths told in many large, cosmopolitan cities, Vancouver seeks strength through the telling of its cultural diversity. During my research residency at the Burrard Marina Field House Studio, I had the opportunity to visit a variety of institutions charged with cultural vitality. Time after time I was confronted by the awkwardness, sincerity, humour, and impossibility of such a project.
This spirit is not only evident in the stories exchanged between visitors to and residents of the city, but is calcified in its institutional counterparts: the ethnographic museum, the cultural centre, the theme park, the gift shop, and the tourist office. Together, these places dispense a type of ethnographic currency that both maintains an order and projects a hope for the city to be the best it can be. What is at stake when a city defines itself in terms of the cultural populations that make it up?
Visiting the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Classical Chinese Garden, a perfect replica of a Ming Dynasty Garden, was to be confronted with ideas that were vastly different from Vancouver’s Chinatown just beyond its walls, and again indecipherable from the modern, sprawling, predominantly-Chinese suburb of Richmond just beyond Vancouver. Within the pleasant confines of the garden (and its gift shop), books on Zen Buddhism, authentic jade jewelry, and Tibetan textiles, spoke a very different language than the world just outside. What is the function of distilling culture to objects, who is acting as the cultural translator between groups, and who is the assumed audience for such systems of display? A visit to the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) revealed a much more tightly curated experience, but similar questions persisted. Facing an impressive collection of encased objects from many corners of the earth, I wondered why the display of ethnographic material aims to compartmentalize, order, and control something that we know is fluid, dynamic and contradictory.
The focus of my continued work in Vancouver will play with the notion of ethnographic currency, who is the subject of ethnography and who is not, the materialization of cultural groups, and the display systems enlisted to communicate this material to an audience. In 2015 I will continue to research these areas with my longtime collaborator Mirjam Linschooten. Continuing to work with the supportive team at the CAG and within the inspiring cultural community of Vancouver is something I look forward to with great anticipation.
- Sameer FarooqMORE