Feb. 06, 2013 - Issue #903: Moment by moment
Worth a few tears
The News From Here collects powerful, poetic works
One of the most powerful works is extraordinarily plain: four circles, squares and ribbons. Yet, "Pipe Dreams" from the Freedom Fighter Series by Bruno Canadien, resonates with urgency. Canadien, a Dene of mixed heritage and a member of the Deh Gah Got'ı́é Kǫ́ę́ First Nation, addresses aboriginal resistance to oil and gas development in the Mackenzie River region. For him this is no mere headline: the issue affects his home community of Fort Providence. His artwork is at once a war cry and a plea for the survival of a people. Oil, like black rivulets of blood, drips from black circles, reminiscent of cross sections of pipelines, veins or medicine wheels. Softly blown ribbons punctuate the somber, military symmetry of Canadien's composition; they ripple like Tibetan prayer flags in a mountain breeze.
To the east of "Pipe Dreams" hangs a room-sized swath of wallpaper. I am tempted to pass by it until the title, "Despair Wallpaper," forces me to look closer. I gaze up at the geometric cornice: it's a bird's eye view of women's breasts, faces and arms. Baroque decoration belies the hidden meaning; I unfold this work's feminist and sociological message like petals of a flower. Thousands of pearls make up the paisley-like pattern. They fill the wall streaming like great rivers of tears from the eyes of the caryatid women.
My viewing is not so much interrupted as enhanced by the sound of a cello emanating from a dark room—an eerie blend of western music or a drone of a meditation horn. I walk in and see a huge, high-resolution video of vast stretches of boreal forest seen though the circular windows of a fire tower. The camera rotates and briefly glimpses over a musician. One of the artists (Jason de Haan and Miruna Dragan) is in the room and explains that this cello was handcrafted from a block of spruce by a musician friend, Daniel Bosch. The body was disassembled—it was too big for the staircase—so the tower became the resonant chamber. "I saw it as something beautiful," he explains as he recalls watching his friend play. "The main desire [in creating the video] was to share something that we thought was worth sharing."
Alysha Creighton, one of the youngest artists represented, created another breathtaking and literally uplifting video composed of the simple gesture of feet rising to tiptoe and then effortlessly lifting off the ground. I found her in the opening crowds. "This one was very much a piece that surprised me," explains Creighton who has a dance background and experiments with performance actions in her studio. She gasped when she first saw this clip on her camera playback screen. What fascinated her and kept me riveted was the sense of an ordinary gesture becoming mythical: a prose moment turned into poetry.
The glitter of highlights in this exhibition continued undiminished as I attended the poignant, historically insightful, superbly crafted and occasionally funny video screenings. For example, Trevor Anderson's epic tale of his great-uncle Jimmy kept me smiling and tapping my feet to catchy tunes. But laughter is the sugar that coats unspeakable truths. Anderson follows the story of a man who dies in penury and anonymity on the streets of Vancouver: one more of the countless untimely deaths of men born with the "detestable crime" of being gay.
My disappointment after leaving this inclusive show is not with the exhibition as with myself. I like art of all genres including traditional, two-dimensional, modest-sized works. They are old friends. Here, like flashy guests at a party, innovative approaches grab my attention. I barely spend time with old friends.
This fascination with the new is happening globally. The news from here is no different than news anywhere—even India is shedding ancient art traditions and establishing its first Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012, one that looks just like the others. Regional differences like indigenous languages, culinary diversity and like the Deh Gah Got'ı́é Kǫ́ę́ First Nation, are disappearing. Artists draw on a global pool of ideas. It is a change that this Biennial celebrates. But this change, the rapid globalization of art, also deserves mourning.
Until Sun, May 5
2013 Alberta Biennial of
Curated by Nancy Tousley
Art Gallery of Alberta vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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