The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in Canada of work by the renowned British artist Mike Nelson. Comprising two significant new commissions, the exhibition includes an ambitious series of sculptures produced in partnership with The Power Plant in Toronto, and a new photographic work made in association with the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, its starting point family photographs taken between 1957 and 1972 by the distinguished Canadian
anthropologist Dr. Wilson Duff.
Nelson is best-known for his labyrinthine architectural installations that unfold as narrative structures, where the viewer moves through rooms like a reader turns pages in a novel. These immersive environments are often seemingly abandoned, devoid of figures, yet imagining the unseen occupants of these intricate spaces is central to the viewer’s experience. For I, IMPOSTOR, Nelson’s major work for the 54th Venice Biennale (2011), much of the elaborate space appeared vacated, with the exception of a small room where lines of drying black and white photographs hung from wires that crisscrossed the ceiling. These images documented a seventeenth century caravanserai, photographed within the very building that housed a previous installation by Nelson during the 2003 Istanbul Biennale. The darkrooms within the Venice piece were a reconstruction of those adapted ‘found’ spaces in the Eminönü district of Istanbul, the architecture within the British Pavilion a disjointed facsimile from memory and from the photographs of the caravanserai. Visualizing this ghostly photographer supposedly moving through the same space as the viewer, simultaneously suggested the architecture as narrative, but confused time and space; a shift of cities and decades shadowing personal and world histories. It presented a fractured and multi-layered narrative, a set of atmospheres that similarly inform Nelson’s discrete sculptural works.
While his cultural references are broad, touching on particular moments in science-fiction, literature and the Beat era, much of Nelson’s work can be linked through an archetypal figure of the lone wanderer. For the Contemporary Art Gallery, Nelson revisits ideas and forms first seen in The Amnesiacs, a serial project begun in 1996, which references a narrative involving an imaginary cast of characters — a group of ‘outsiders’ to the mainstream who uncannily resemble a disembodied late twentieth century biker gang, albeit without bikes. These quintessential outlaws of myth and literature, as depicted in the popular imagination of North America, are paralleled here with another favourite genre; that of the hunter or fur trader, exploring both groups’ economic underpinning of these romantic façades, and the resulting conflicts involved in the expansion of territory.
In this new work it is as if a beachcomber has gathered material from the ocean, imagined by Nelson as a gigantic intelligent entity, much like that of Lem’s planet ‘Solaris’, sifting the debris as a means to uncover truths about contemporary culture and our place within it. The roving characters, The Amnesiacs, have come together as interpreters, deciphering the collected material by creating assemblages akin to some form of disjointed memory or flashback, that when brought together may effect communication or reveal hidden meaning, the potential for a new and unified system of understanding. Nelson originally developed these thoughts after the unexpected death of his friend and collaborator, Erlend Williamson. In 1996 he had fallen to his death whilst climbing in the Scottish Highlands, at the time that Nelson was working on his first incarnation of what would become The Amnesiacs. Williamson, an artist and mountaineer whose family ancestry was of Orcadian descent, will contribute again; this time parts of his own narrative, and the very materials that surrounded him — those that remain present in his absence — will be woven into the fabric of the work.
Each of the new works is derived from the Canadian landscape: one is quite literally built with flotsam and jetsam collected off local shores, while the other re-imagines it. The second new piece is a sequence of projected 35mm slides produced during recent road trips across British Columbia and into Alberta, images that appear out of time. Collectively they trace another movement across the landscape as well as capture momentary pauses, underlining human interventions to the land. Nelson’s interest in the photographic depiction of the Canadian landscape came through seeing a series of slides from Dr. Wilson Duff’s family trips across the province, presented at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. As an anthropologist Duff was dedicated to understanding North West Coast cultures, even such private holidays were spent viewing aboriginal festivals or visiting the workshops of totem pole carvers. These images resonated with Nelson as much as the objects in the museum, as a language to be unraveled. They were of a time and place, but already displaced. In relation to this, Nelson has made a work that talks about the land itself and the artistic traditions inherent within it, especially those borne out of North America in the twentieth century and their re-translation as part of a British oeuvre. Nelson unearths the possible re-reading of such activities as cultural imperialism within both strands of the movement — an accusation that could ultimately be reflected within the activities of the artist himself.
Mike Nelson is represented by 303 Gallery, New York; Galleria Franco Noero, Turin; Matt’s Gallery, London; and neugerriemschneider, Berlin.
We acknowledge the generous support of Rick Erickson and Donna Partridge, Jane Irwin and Ross Hill, and Randy and Julia Heward.
With thanks to the Erlend Williamson Art Foundation.MORE
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first exhibition of work by Polish artist Monika Sosnowka in Canada. Best known for her ambitious architectural and sculptural installations which simultaneously embrace and resist the spaces they occupy, Sosnowska’s exhibition obliquely references her hometown of Warsaw and the economic shift that has occurred since the collapse of communism in 1989 to the present day. Characteristically the artist’s sculptures recall familiar objects transformed in some way – dysfunctional stairways that join one floor to the other but to no purpose or large-scale metal cubes and girder structures twisted and wedged into existing gallery spaces.
At the Contemporary Art Gallery we present a series of new painted steel sculptures, redolent of broken market vendor stands, referencing actual forms salvaged from Jarmark Europa Stadium, originally the site of a large market that sold everything from imitation Nike training shoes to pirated CDs and DVDs. The market opened with the onset of capitalism and ended last year when the stadium was destroyed to make way for a new national stadium that was built in time to host Euro 2012. Collectively these series of objects evoke a sense of architecture, yet through absence they poignantly suggest that as with all structures we inhabit or that give form to our daily routines, social space is subject to change over time.
This exhibition is presented in collaboration with the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge, which will exhibit the works from September 28 – November 24, 2013.
Sosnowska is represented by Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne; Hauser and Wirth, Zurich, London and New York; Kurimanzutto, Mexico City and The Modern Institute, Glasgow.MORE
This was the first solo exhibition in Canada for Shanghai based artist Xu Zhen who has emerged as one of the most inventive and provocative artists working in China today. A co-founder in 1998 of the influential artist-run space BizArt Art Center, he has also organized seminal exhibitions including Art for Sale (1999) staged at a Shanghai shopping mall. His work is characterized by tackling authoritarian gestures and clichés of human ambition often with a wry sense of humour that counters any notion of value.
The Contemporary Art Gallery presented an installation, a cluster of small sculptural pieces, slightly-larger-than-life-size replicas of a mosquito. At first glance the gallery room appeared empty and yet closer inspection revealed the space occupied by insects which appeared to be sucking blood from the building, glowing red as they drink in the nutrition needed. This creature is an effective symbol and with context vital to meaning, Xu Zhen offers a subtle and witty take on cultural politics.MORE
American Leg was Josephine Meckseper’s first exhibition in Canada. For the site-specific work, Meckseper created eight self-contained window treatments in the Contemporary Art Gallery’s street-front vitrines. Originally intended for retail, these window spaces served as ready-made structures for Meckseper’s ongoing investigation into consumer society and archaeology of the present.
Meckseper’s work unites modernism with the formal language of commercial display, combining mass-produced objects with images and artifacts of recent historical and political events. Consumerism as an unrelenting presence in our daily lives is reflected in the artist’s highly polished sculptural installations which offer a critique of capitalist economy and lay bare some of its contradictions.
In her installation for the CAG, she refined each window into austere compositions of single sculptures centred against a black background. A repeated vertical text graphically set in a typeface referencing German Jugendstil added a further critical dimension as well as carried a personal resonance for Meckseper. The text’s aesthetic was appropriated from elements of early 20th Jugendstil architecture in Worpswede, Germany where her great great uncle, Heinrich Vogeler lead a utopian artist movement. Meckseper’s connection of contemporary consumer culture to Jugendstil is its development as a form of aesthetic and political resistance to the mainstream.MORE
This was the first solo exhibition in Canada of work by Los Angeles based artist Matthew Monahan. The survey for the first time brought together three distinct phases of his practice: early works using drywall, more recent pieces from the series utilizing large sheets of glass and industrial ratchet straps more usually seen securing heavy loads, and these combined with new works in cast bronze often standing atop columns or structures made from materials found in the foundry – bricks from smelting ovens, large sheets of metal. Running throughout was Monahan’s interest in the interplay between two and three dimensions, between drawing and materiality, infused with personal mythology and a self-reflective look at the conventions of museum display.
Selected from work made during the past eight years, Monahan’s figurative sculptures and drawings evoke artifacts from another time or era. With their battered, weathered surfaces and contorted, fragmented bodies, they could be ancient totemic figurines, tribal masks or chunks of Greco-Roman statuary. But instead of marble, wood or stone, Monahan imbues less weighty materials like Styrofoam, wax and paper with a sense of substance, meaning and artificial patina. Some figures perch on rectangular pedestals of unfinished drywall, whose raw edges and exposed fixings interrupt any impulse toward preciousness; others are contained within glass cases simultaneously acting as container, plinth and discrete element within the overall sculptural composition.
This was the first exhibition in Canada of work by British artist Robert Orchardson. Inspired by science fiction films and the work of architects and designers who engage with ways of thinking about the future, Orchardson is all too aware of the inherent paradox in visualizing the unknown, any attempt immediately foiled as it becomes instantly familiar. In setting out to imagine ‘things to come’, such endeavours unavoidably speak to us of the here and now. For Orchardson, his artistic proposition compels us to reassess utopias of the past, this revisiting however more than a mere act of longing. Instead it implies a restaging of unfulfilled possibilities as he grapples with fresh meaning and opportunity.
Approached through a triangular opening at the CAG, the wall construction pervaded the whole gallery, reinforcing the deliberate sense of entering another world. Against this, the series of coloured objects resemble the amorphous motifs that feature in paintings by surrealist artist Yves Tanguy. The result was an environment that speaks of competing implications of potential and redundancy; abstraction versus figuration; the immediate present as opposed to somewhere else.MORE
The Contemporary Art Gallery presented the exhibition Endless Renovation an evolving installation by Corin Sworn, which combined found objects and texts, light and shadows, storytelling and speculation. With this work, Sworn transformed the Alvin Balkind Gallery into a set animated by audio and images.MORE
In 2011 the Contemporary Art Gallery presented Flesh and Blood, a major touring exhibition of recent work by Canadian artist Shary Boyle. The exhibition, curated by Louise Déry, director of the Galerie de l’UQAM, was launched at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, travelled to the Galerie de l’UQAM, in Montreal and then to its final presentation in Vancouver. The installation at the Contemporary Art Gallery featured three new works by Boyle exclusive to Vancouver.
Flesh and Blood reflected the artist’s vision and versatility and included drawing, painting and porcelains, creating an installation that drew upon ancient mythology, fiction and fantasy in an exploration of psychological and emotional conditions.
A number of characteristics are key to understanding Boyle’s work: stylistic contract and ornamental excess, the mechanisms of seduction, an evocation of a weird, theatricality of subject and manifestation of social politics. Her examinations of scenes and subject matter associated with childhood and adolescence, in turn reference surrealist landscapes, fairytales, cartoons and illustrated novels that recall fantastic worlds or prophetic futures.MORE
Roy Arden is well known for his austere photographs of Vancouver’s cityscape. His solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery shed light on the other aspect of his practice which is centred on found images, collage and the archive. Entitled UNDERTHESUN, the exhibition commanded all three of the Contemporary Art Gallery’s exhibition spaces, including its two galleries and the windows vitrines and a pictorial artist’s publication was produced. The exhibition included works in multiple media including; drawing, painting, collage and digital collage, video and sculpture.
Whether in his online work, artist’s blog and digital collage or his intimate handmade collages, Arden ‘s incessant digging through the image archive always seems focused on finding the root causes for our present condition. Arden’s subject as always is history and specifically, modernity. His recent adventure with multiple media seems like a search for new diagnostic tools that can offer him insights that could not be revealed through photography alone.MORE
The Contemporary Art Gallery opened a unique group exhibition that brought together six British Colombia artists who use the journey as a way to engage with landscape traditions. In Sentimental Journey, all the artists went on expeditions, traversing the landscape to collect inspiration and gather materials to document their experiences. The works in Sentimental Journey were both real and fictive representations of often undetermined treks. Many of the works had an optimism that was tied to the landscape, the desire to be outside and the character of the artist/wanderer.
The art works in this context brought forward the tight relation between the journey and its presentation, embracing the romance of the journey while also recontextualizing and privileging the terms of storytelling in order to question sentimentality. Sentimental Journey captured sentiments of eighteenth and nineteenth century Romanticism. Most of the artists in the exhibition kept true to this tradition, using the journey as their primary source of inspiration, translating their journeys materially to create a new experience in its own right. As many of the works in the exhibition showed us, our visual fields are saturated with representations of landscapes, but here the artist’s to reinvigorate our perception of nature through their distinctive working methods.MORE
“Please Do Not Touch the Artwork,” is a familiar museum rule. Danish artist Jeppe Hein rendered it glowing red neon. Placed in one of the Contemporary Art Gallery’s street front windows, it confronted the gallery visitor before they had entered the space, and set the tone for what was to come.
For Jeppe Hein’s first exhibition in Canada, he presented three works that physically addressed the viewer’s relation to the art object. Hein’s work has been situated within an extended lineage of Minimalism. It is defined by its close examination of the formal and spatial concerns of the Minimalists as a sincere attempt to develop their concerns and reinvigorate a discourse, not for its historical relevance, but as a still vital energy for contemporary sculptural thought. His two works for the gallery space challenged the convention of the sculpture as a static object. Each offered an opportunity for viewers to experience art outside of the traditional passive role of the art viewer. Both pieces sat still and silent until they were engaged by audiences who, in viewing the artwork, triggered outbursts off sound and movement.MORE
In all of his sculptural installations, Samuel Roy-Bois sets the viewer in motion or, more accurately, makes the viewer aware of their movements. He may guide you to walk across a raised floor that in response amplifies your footsteps, or to walk in circles to look into the window of a rotating room. The artist’s simple directions ground the body of the viewer in space and in relation to material reality. For his solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Roy-Bois drew a map that should be followed with all the expectations of a traveler on a quest. He created a new work that took the viewer through a passageway into a dark place to find a treasure. To set the stage for this journey, the artist used the gallery’s street front windows to transform a common household building material into an overall colour-field.
Roy-Bois is originally from Quebec City and is currently living in Vancouver. His installations have been shown across Canada and internationally, most recently in Divertissements at Point ephémère in Paris, 2007; Improbable and ridiculous at Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal in 2005; and Faire l’independence at Quartier éphémère in Montréal, 2005.
For over 25 years, FASTWÜRMS, a collaborative art team formed in 1979 by Kim Kozzi and Dai Skuse, have been durable generators of DIY culture in Toronto and have been able to maintain a diverse and dedicated audience, and a distinct lineage of imitators and followers. They have built a practice that collides the rigour of conceptual art with pagan rituals and popular aesthetics, creating a fresh language of their own where they are alien witches who make films, video, installations, performances and teach at the University of Guelph, Ontario. With a sobering humor and a love of their community they have produced large public commissions and participated in the 2006 Sao Paulo Biennial. FASTWÜRMS have produced solo projects in Toronto’s many Queen Street West galleries and spaces, including Paul Petro Contemporary Art, X Space, the Gladstone Hotel, the late ZsaZsa Gallery, as well as internationally, including Southern Exposure Gallery (San Francisco), Osaka 90 (Osaka, Japan), Canadian Cultural Centre (Rome), Seoul Museum of Contemporary Art (Korea), Ideal Copy Office (Kyoto, Japan), and in La IV Bienalle de Poesia Visual (Zapata Subway Station, Mexico City).MORE
Jerry Pethick (born London ON 1935, died Hornby Island BC, 2003) was an artist whose work probed the historical and conceptual cross-pollination of ideas about the nature of visual experience with scientific and technological inquiry into optics. He was a pioneer in the field of holography and much of his early work took the form of optical-sculptural bricolage. Since the early 1970s his work often took the form of quasi-sculptural “arrays” – compositions of serial photographs and Fresnel lenses that generated ethereal three-dimensional images. Such arrays were often accompanied by sculptural elements that served to extend the “virtual” aspect of the images into the “real” space of the viewer.
Pethick was a tireless researcher into the early history of photographic imaging technologies. (His notebooks and essays make mention of Edison, principally his efforts to claim the invention of the motion picture camera for himself, though he liberally adopted the work of many others.) On the basis of these writings, one might speculate that Pethick’s arrays were inspired by the ganged cameras developed by Auguste Le Prince, Eduard Muybridge and Jules-Etienne Maray. One of Pethick’s earliest arrays is featured in this installation.
Geoffrey Farmer’s installation The Blacking Factory was comprised of three interrelated works: a prop newspaper box, a sculptural installation in the form of a large truck trailer and a film work depicting a window of the Contemporary Art Gallery shattering from an explosive concussion. With these works Farmer utilized the technological expertise of the film industry to create analogies between increasingly sophisticated mechanics of display and the artifice behind the social production of meaning and value. The truck trailer was fabricated in mimicry of those used by movie production companies—an increasingly common sight on the streets of Vancouver—and alluded to the transportation of such necessities as props, lighting systems and costumes necessary to the creation of illusions. The film work rehearsed a set piece found in a wide spectrum of Hollywood films—from action-adventure to thriller—and utilized the unexpectedness of this violent genre staple within and about the gallery to prompt reflection about the context of our perception.MORE
Pae White made particular reference to the space-defining mobiles of Alexander Calder, and to the Vera designs for Marrimekko fabrics from the 1960’s, in order to exploit the history of biomorphic abstraction and its role in the transformation of “high art” concepts into “disposable” stylistic trends. Her colour and light-infused sculptures are often disposable, constructed of paper and string, while at other times her work might be realized in ephemeral forms, as magazine advertisements or shopping bags. This was the first exhibition of her work in Vancouver.MORE
In both over-sized wall-drawings and miniature sculptures, Scottish-born, New York-based artist Jill Henderson’s funky bog creatures ooze through the seams of ordinary architectural space. Her installation in the gallery’s street level windows, Highwideshallow, both described the physical dimensions of the windows and repopulated the neighborhood with her colorful homunculi.MORE
In collaboration with the Charles H. Scott Gallery, CAG presented an exhibition of Cai Guo-Qiang, one of China’s most internationally recognized artists. His works insert traditional Chinese ideas and materials into contemporary Western idioms, contrasting the values of these disparate cultural systems. His work for the CAG began with a four-day performance in Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, an authentic full-scale classical Chinese garden. Fog machines were installed in this garden, creating a misty landscape that was painted on site by four traditional ink-brush painters. The paintings were displayed subsequently in the Binning Gallery, alongside an additional work created collaboratively by all five artists.MORE
The work of Germaine Koh marries conceptual strategies with mundane everyday motifs and actions. For her first solo exhibition in Vancouver she produced two works. Prayers , translated keyboard strokes from the CAG’s office computers into smoke signals outside the gallery. …  rained thousands of ball bearings onto the floor of the Balkind Gallery from tracks slung across its ceiling.MORE
The work in Pathology was concerned with domestic technologies as well as urban planning, and how the two relate to a desire for health, pleasure and the prolongation of life. The exhibition consisted of various works that were connected by their minimal aesthetic, architectural references, and everyday use-value. The centrepiece consisted of a cluster of more than sixty clean-mist humidifiers and negative-air ionizers. Theoretically, these machines created a “charged” atmosphere that improved the way we feel. Their clean, almost abstract, design was suggestively architectural, and Liu’s arrangement of these machines mimicked an architecture model of urban design. Humidifiers and ionizers are promoted as preventing everything from parched sinuses to furniture damage, and as most users lack an understanding of the technological principles, these “machines for improved living” have a psychological function as much as they have a physical one. Also in the exhibition were loosely-hung samples of wallpaper which Liu had imprinted with Rorschach-like patterns derived from an overhead view of Levittown, an early post-war example of ideal suburban planning. Pathology was An Te Liu’s first solo exhibition.MORE
Thanks to all who attended Catherine Soussloff’s engaging discussion last Tuesday. She brought together the theoretical concepts of Walter Benjamin’s writings and thoughts in relation to Matthew Monahan’s work. It was a successful start to the many conversations the CAG will be hosting with cultural and critical producers in the coming weeks for our “Feedback Series.”
Please join us again next Tuesday May 15 at 7pm, for Anthropologist, curator and UBC professor Nicky Levell’s discussion entitled, “Art Through Anthropology.” She will be responding to Monahan’s work through the interdisciplinary folds of anthropology, theoretical museology, material culture and critical curatorial studies. Looking forward to seeing you then!
Beginning May 25 through September 2 2012, Josephine Meckseper will create eight new works for the window vitrines on the CAG’s exterior. Currently based in New York, this will be Meckseper’s first exhibition in Canada. Utilizing these spaces as a site that mimics a commercial display, her work invites a critique of the aesthetic and political connotations of the objects presented within. The juxtapositions of materials and objects in her installations compose a kind of narrative that challenge the world of advertising and consumer culture.
Below is an interview with Josephine Meckseper and Flavin Judd from Bomb Magazine speaking about her work and practice.
Karina Irvine – Curatorial InternMORE
Edited by Rachel Hooper, Gail Kirkpatrick, Heike Munder. Text by Sylvère Lotringer.
In her photography, videos and installations, Josephine Meckseper (born 1964) sets images of political activism—photographs of demonstrations, newspaper cuttings—against twinkling consumer goods and advertising motifs. This publication concentrates on a new series of works, such as the installation Ten High (2007) in which silver mannequins bear anti-war slogans.
This publication was produced to coincide with Supernatural, an exhibition curated by Roy Arden featuring the work of Neil Campbell and Beau Dick, 12 March to 25 April 2004 at the Contemporary Art Gallery.
The work of these two artists would at first appear to be quite different. However, Supernatural proposes that we look beyond the obvious differences and examine some commonalities of intention, technique, and effect. In part, Supernatural aims to question the aesthetic apartheid that usually consigns First Nations art to the anthropological museum, providing an opportunity for serious consideration of the relationships between cultures and their traditions.MORE
This exhibition catalogue documents James Carl's 2003 exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver, and Open Space, Victoria. The publication includes an essay by Robin Peck, and Christina Ritchie's interview with the artist. The publication also includes a text contribution from Margrét H. Blöndal, a biography, and a number of exceptional full-page colour images of the artworks and installations.MORE