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.
The Archive – The Raven Diaries
September 12 to November 9, 2014
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in Canada of work by acclaimed German artist Jürgen Partenheimer. Reflecting the diversity of the artist’s practice, the exhibition comprises works on paper, text, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture, produced in Vancouver in spring 2014 during his recent residency as the Audain Distinguished Artist-in-Residence, hosted by Emily Carr University of Art + Design .
Partenheimer’s work is essentially abstract; his drawings and paintings are remarkable for their fragile beauty, whilst sculpture and ceramic work, suggesting some usefulness, remain elusive with respect to any specific function. His visual language, the particular form of poetic abstraction, and his life-long interest in notions of representation with consideration of locality, space and place, suggest a key resonance with artistic practice in the city, asserting continuity between these forms and an experience of daily life.
The imaginary archive that gives the exhibition and associated book its title provides the framework for the exhibition based on the oeuvre of the artist. They are the visible expression of both intellect and emotion carrying traces of their process, temporality and correspondence with other objects. To this end, in Vancouver the exhibition has a subtitle, The Raven Diaries, referencing the symbol and characteristics of the Raven to west coast First Nations culture, while simultaneously drawing analogies to similar figures in cultural myths elsewhere in the world, and especially to the role of the artist as trickster, representative of a catalyst for change in life, for creativity and humour.
Additionally, a selection of Partenheimer’s ceramic works will be on view at the Museum of Anthropology, UBC, Vancouver in the Koerner European Ceramics Gallery. Reflecting Partenheimer’s interest in the interconnectivity of cultural disciplines, in October we will host performances of electro-acoustic music by Vancouver Electronic Ensemble as part of the Vancouver New Music Festival.MORE
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents a major new commission for the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station by influential Vancouver–based photographer Marian Penner Bancroft.
Since the late sixties, Penner Bancroft has defined herself as a photographer, dedicating her practice to the medium, meditating on its conventions while also considering the dematerialization of the art object; combining conceptual art strategies as well as pushing the presentation and production of the photographic image into more immersive forms. She is known for drawing attention to the lines between where an image begins and what constitutes an image – at times using the physical framing device as a tangible three-dimensional photographic field.
The subject of Penner Bancroft’s work often resides in the personal, following her family, tracking their daily movements both real and, in the case of her ancestors, imagined. She embeds these inquiries into images of the landscape, using visual traces of a colonial transit to and across Canada as part of an individual yet generalized narrative of immigration and displacement. In recent years she has widened the scope of her research to include the histories of the fur trade, farming, music and religion in relation to the landscape and mapping.MORE
Headlines & Last Lines in the Movies transforms the façade of the Contemporary Art Gallery, wooden cladding covering its frontage and south east corner. Resembling a construction site, the structure becomes the ground for the work; the title a precise description of itself.
In this new mural, Brüggemann writes headlines from current newspapers, from local to global, in combination with excerpts of last lines from popular films. “Forget it Jake, its Chinatown” could be spray-painted next to “Enbridge Pipeline Rejected”, the juxtaposition of appropriated texts creating both a familiarity and an oddly appropriate pairing suggestive of narratives that may exist to connect current news items with scripted dialogue. With one text residing in the real, the other in the fictive, in combination they create a barrage of information that Brüggemann unifies into a totality of black text. The overlay forms a graphic field that is only partly legible, language creating an immersive installation that draws colloquial phrases into dense cacophonic arenas. The work seems declaratory, but what it is trying to communicate is drowned out by volume, intensity and opacity.MORE