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
The Contemporary Art Gallery worked with Vancouver artist Gareth Moore to co-commission a project comprising seven new films, screened offsite and a series of related posters in the window spaces at the gallery.
For Children’s Films Moore approached a number of international artists to produce short films for children, each person free to focus on any particular topic, shaping the content and form of their respective piece. Artists invited consist of some from Europe as well as other Vancouver based practitioners familiar to our local audiences. Moore then collated the two to five minute pieces into one longer work, providing it with open and closing credits, each section acting as a discrete but interconnected episode.
Akin to the early days of cinema with travelling magic lantern shows, weekly screenings of the 16mm films took place in different locations throughout the city of Vancouver such as community centres, schools and a tent in Emery Barnes Park in downtown Vancouver.MORE
The Contemporary Art Gallery presented the first North American exhibition by Dublin-based artist Sarah Browne, a survey including the artist’s entry for the 2009 Venice Biennale. Using ‘the economy’ as the basis for her artistic practice, Browne works with small communities of people, documenting resourceful forms of exchange to reveal the hidden social relations that exist in smallscale economic structures, summations of collective intention or desire typically influenced by emotional affects. Within the current context of austerity measures and failing markets, such an undertaking could not be more relevant. By processes such as filmmaking, sculpture and publishing the potential for a more radical resourcefulness is sought as a manifestation of creative opposition to prevailing systems. Vancouver with its immediate history of Vietnam draft dodgers and alternative island lifestyles provided an interesting backdrop for Browne’s work.MORE
WAVES by Vancouver based and French born artist Nicolas Sassoon is the second commissioned work for the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station as part of the CAG’s offsite exhibition programme. It is part of Sassoon’s ongoing body of work using Moiré patterns – a visual blur inadvertently discovered by Swiss photographer Ernst Moiré – whereby two images are overlaid to create a third ‘plane’. The resulting optical effect causes the eye to see movement where there is none.
The Moiré pattern designed for the Yaletown-Roundhouse Station is created by physical layering a symmetrical configuration of vertical, curved black lines on top of a coloured pixelated background. With no focal point the mural is activated by the movement of the viewer. As commuters pass by the two overlapping planes, horizontal waves appear to undulate rhythmically across the surface. Initially disorientating, sustained viewing creates an immersive effect, altering our usual encounter with the entrance of the station, erasing its glass side as if revealing another dimension.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.