This is the first solo institutional exhibition of work by American artist Kay Rosen in Canada. Renowned for her textbased works, presented across a range of formats and scales, Rosen uses space and colour to assert the physical property of language and elaborate new meaning from familiar phrases, often with characteristic wry humour. For Rosen words are both subject and material; playing with their visual representations through meticulously considered typography, colour and layout, she employs puns, anagrams and vernacular phrases to create visual connections which examine the structures and mechanisms of language as well as our encounters with it. Before becoming a visual artist, Rosen studied comparative and applied linguistics, a background which continues to inform her thinking.
For this new commission, Rosen has created two new works including a large-scale intervention across the front of the building. CUTOUT is just that, a formal play on double meaning that quite literally describes the very action and construction of its making. Letters are reversely cut from sheets of coloured vinyl, using the black appearance of the window glass itself to define their form and enabling the cut out letters to become what they spell. Furthermore, Rosen makes a simple cut into one letter of a word to generate another. Deceptively straightforward, in this way the ‘C’ from ‘cut’ was once an ‘O’ that formed the word ‘out.’ Both emphasizing and tracing this action, dashed lines mark the area removed.
Rosen often renders something that was once invisible visible. For example, a simple colour change of the two last letters in ABCDEFGHI in the mural Hi (1998) exposes a pre-existent word within the systematic order of the first nine letters of the alphabet. This slight shift of emphasis has the potential to affect pronunciation, turning our usual listing of letters into ABCDEFG ‘Hi.’ Different versions of this work have also used the physical properties of a building to reveal the alphabet’s potential to form words through minimal gesture; in this case by segregating ‘H’ and ‘I’ from the rest of the letters around an outside corner. Whereas the poetics in Rosen’s work position it within the lineage of Concrete Poetry where linguistic signs form the structure of an object or picture to be perceived rather than a text to be read, her work is equally grounded within conceptual practice. Situated around the corner from CUTOUT, a second work reveals a different aspect of Rosen’s practice. Visual presentation is not used to merely emphasize specific meaning, but to articulate formal gestures that unfold spatially over time. Where one piece is focused on ‘rescuing words from meaning’ the other uses language to generate strong imagery, making evident the social structures that determine its reading.
While a formal syntactical interpretation dominates much of the discourse surrounding Rosen’s work, many pieces convey political comment. Duck in the Muck (aka Exxon Axxident) from 1989, has been remade in a new version for one of our picture windows. Originally a list of ten different spellings of ‘Duck in the Muck’ alternating with an equal number of misspelled ‘Quacks’, for the Contemporary Art Gallery, Rosen has reduced the text, added vibrant layers of colour, and uses the window frame as a means to divide the text into six component parts: one duck in the muck surrounded by variant quacks. Although the title references the Exxon Valdez crude oil spill off the coast of Alaska in 1989, Rosen has chosen the work for its topical relevance to this part of the world. As a vast and extensive system of oil pipelines stretching from Alberta across British Columbia and into the United States are being established, Rosen draws our attention to recent history, and an image of potential dangers to come.MORE
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
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents the first solo exhibition in a public institution of work by Canadian artist Itee Pootoogook. A resident of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, he belongs to a generation of Inuit artists who are transforming and reshaping the creative traditions that were successfully pioneered by their parents and grandparents during the second half of the 20th century. In his large-scale graphite and coloured pencil drawings, Pootoogook shows us an image of modern northern life quite different from the one we are accustomed to seeing both historically and in much Inuit work. In this vast and often inhospitable region, instead of traditional subjects such as igloos and parka-clad hunters and their prey, we are shown an everyday world, one made up of recognizable contemporary accoutrements including snowmobiles, boats, soft drinks and television sets.MORE
A special version of a landscape drawing, Sky at Night by Itee Pootoogook is presented large-scale at Yaletown-Roundhouse Station, Canada Line, its physicality altering as light changes throughout the day, its imagery deliberately playing with and gaining meaning from the specificity of the site.
A resident of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Pootoogook belongs to a generation of Inuit artists who are transforming and reshaping the creative traditions that were successfully pioneered by their parents and grandparents during the second half of the twentieth century. In his large-scale graphite and coloured pencil drawings, Pootoogook makes images of places, people and things, observed with prosaic intimacy. The solo exhibition Buildings and Land at the Contemporary Art Gallery, focuses not on works involving portraits of family and friends but on those images that picture the things which structure daily routine in this part of Canada — buildings, landscape and the means to travel to other parts of the country.
The project is presented in partnership with the Canada Line Public Art Program – IntransitBC.MORE
Erin Shirreff’s solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery will be the first presentation dedicated exclusively to the artist’s film and video work. It may seem a somewhat unexpected focus given Shirreff’s definition of herself as a sculptor. And yet her investigation into the language and perception of materiality has less to do with the presentation of physical objects than specifically to that of our experience of forms – how sharing the same space with a ‘thing’ varies from looking at its representation.
Shirreff is known for reproducing sculpture as images or making sculpture that distils the essence of a photograph, playing these two elements against one another as a means to prompt and test the viewer’s response. In Knives (2008) for example, she modeled a variety of knife-like forms from Plasticine, subsequently presenting them as a series of black and white photographs; her most recent sculptures made from ash and cement resemble photographs, their surfaces giving way to reveal themselves as planes an inch thick as we move around them.
Such preoccupation with the properties and potency of sculpture in relation to photographic reproduction grew out of Shirreff’s consideration of the work of Tony Smith; New Piece from 1966 made from black painted steel, in particular held a fascination, so much so that she made a pilgrimage to see it in person. Her actual experience of the work however revealed an unexpected level of engagement, making her question the limitations of sculpture as well as her own abilities as a viewer. She comments, “It left me wondering whether the encounter, sharing the same material space as the object, was somehow more difficult, perhaps more intimidating, complicated, or somehow overwhelming, and that I didn’t equal it. What was clear was that I wasn’t able to let myself be as absorbed into the physical encounter as I was by the experience of the image. That remove offered by the reproduction opened up this contemplative space.”
Each of the four works presented at the Contemporary Art Gallery focus on an image of a building, sculpture or landscape and seek to similarly evoke such a quality. Typically these silent videos are made from subtle combinations of stills or, in the case of Sculpture Park (Tony Smith), by the camera panning across a static object. The original images are further transformed by simple means such as the tracking of daylight across their surfaces, by modifications through colour alterations or other such analogue effects. Changes can also play with the illusion of three dimensions as the pieces unfold. Lake uses an image of Lake Okanagan in B.C. where Shirreff grew up and her family still lives, the picture taken from an early 1980s tourism magazine. For this work Shirreff re-photographed the original image many times sequencing these as a series of stills, deploying subtle shifts in colour and light to alter the original hand-painted quality.
These nuanced adjustments appear in all of Shirreff’s videos. Some modifications highlight the qualities of the original photograph, revealing dust on its surface or illuminating the glossy quality of the paper, reinforcing its status as object. In drawing attention to the material properties of the initial image used, Shirreff builds a tension between the subject and the formal values of its representation. Whether it is a photograph of a Medardo Rosso sculpture from 1896 or the United Nations Building in New York, the thing or scene being represented is no longer the point of focus. Shirreff challenges our understanding of the nature of images themselves, their intrinsic qualities and our encounter with them.
The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa and Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, collectively marking the first comprehensive exhibition of Shirreff’s work in Canada. Each venue presents unique exhibitions, drawing out varied strands in her rich body of work, and have come together to produce her first monograph. The publication features essays by Sandra Dyck and Jan Allen and an interview with the artist by Jenifer Papararo.MORE