Archive

Tag Archives: Jenifer Papararo

“A diamond is forever” is a marketing slogan first used in 1947 by the South African diamond company de Beers, which in the late 30s began an advertising campaign that jointly wielded love and diamonds into a pure union.  The promotion began in response to a flood in the diamond market with the discovery of large African deposits.  It targeted American markets before going global, attempting to up demand by bringing diamonds into every home to be perched on every truly loved “until death do we part” female finger. This exclusive gem quickly became a collective symbol of love with the bigger the diamond indubitably equaling the deepest of love.

The campaign succeeded in creating a vast worldwide market for diamonds, but it also transposed its selling point, which is contingent on the diamond’s rarity by making them middle class and commonplace. It is this incongruent divide in the diamond’s status as an extraordinary raw gem verses its ubiquitous distribution and accessibility that Khan Lee’s performance video hearts and arrows (2012) teeters between.  Lee is a romantic and a formalist, but finds solace in the methodical. The hypnotic video captures the action of the artist carving into a block of ice. He is positioned slightly off center in the foreground of a seascape with the shoreline hidden but for passersby and a distant view of industry. The frame is static but tracks the light of the rising sun from near darkness to direct blinding light. As the sun rises toward the solid cube of ice, Lee cuts into it slowly and diligently, carving a diamond.

The ‘round brilliant’ cut is what most of us will describe when imagining a diamond. Since the early 20th century, it has been the most common cut. It was designed by Marcel Tolkowsky who was an engineer from a diamond cutter family to optimize the gems shine and maximize the usage of the raw stone; with this design two cuts could be taken from one octahedron shape. In somewhat technical terms the round brilliant has a crown with a flat tabletop from which eight short pointed and sloped facets cut into another eight shorter facets. The top section sits above the pavilion separated by a narrow undulating girdle. The lower half is comprised of an equal number of elongated facets that are carved into a steeper sloped peak ordinarily ending in a small flat plane called the cutlet. This complex yet economical design contributed to the pervasiveness of the diamond and its emergent popularity as the gift of choice for those in love. It is also called ‘ideal cut’. Yet each diamond is hand carved and each is unique, achieving different luster depending on the precision of the cut and the form of the original raw stone. Its very material defies mass manufacturing keeping it within the realm of handcrafted — again emphasizing its rarity, but also leaving a large margin for error.

The cut Lee makes as we watch is based on the round brilliant, but the work’s title references its ideal form. ‘Hearts and arrows’ is a precision round brilliant cut with perfect symmetry and polish, a process of optimizing luminosity with angles. It takes much longer to cut and only 5 percent of all raw diamonds can become ‘hearts and arrows.’ He attempts to extract this perfect shape from a cubic square of ice. Although the cube isn’t the ideal shape to begin with, since a somewhat thick rectangle would have been more efficient. Lee used this cube to symbolize his investment in sculpture. He is known to compulsively transform one shape into another using subtle means, stacking a receding scale of off-white round plates to form an oval egg or stitching together discarded rectangular material such as cassette tapes or disposable lighters to form a line. But here he starts with a pure form devoid of symbolic meaning in order to distill an overwrought emblematic shape, using classic sculptural techniques of cutting and subtraction as a method of representation extracted from a referential Minimalist cube. In the darkness where the video starts Lee lets the cube linger in the frame alone to garner attention in its reduced state. It is just a block until he acts upon it. Its properties are only revealed once hacked into.

Making the ice was an arduous process. It seems simple enough, but it took Lee months to get it stable and clear without bubbles, to best emulate the property of the diamond it is becoming. But even as the form is taking shape it is also dissolving.  Its ephemerality, the fact that the very sun that enhances its properties also destroys it is truly the work’s climax. Watching Lee define the diamond’s form is captivating enough, but as the sun hits its surface – as it is being undone under the rising sun, the image transfixes, emerging as somewhat sad while also elating. It is when the ice most resembles the diamond it represents.

We know diamonds as ice. They are cool even when blasted with heat, remaining cold to the touch. It is only the clearest most translucently ice-like of diamonds that are pure. Diamonds with traces of colour even the slightest blue or pink mean other elements infected their structure. Lee’s diamond is far from perfect. His cuts are unmeasured and his tools makeshift. Creating ‘hearts and arrows’ from a block of ice that is constantly melting as it is being worked on in such a limited duration is an ideal objective and an impossible reality. But Lee’s desire is sincere and his aim true. He is working through something personal. His understanding of his subjectivity tested, redefined and multiplied — roughly cut and divided into an unsure and lonely state. He himself became detached, experiencing a loss of the way things were, but not through a rejection of those ways. This description may seem unclear, but at its base he became something to be work on. He was no longer simply experiencing. In his words, “the fact that I was aiming for an ideal explains ‘arrows’ and what I was emotionally going through was ‘hearts’.  Having a notion of the ideal made it possible to create meaning from an imperfect situation.”

While Lee’s material goal is unattainable, the video and the artist’s performance are grounded in the realness of production. The volatility of the material and the distracting location disrupt his intentions. Lee at one point drops his tools and is at times preoccupied by actions happening outside the scene he set. His head is often cut from the frame. The landscape is more constructed than ideal. The lights from industrial activity across the water infect the darkness; joggers disrupt the possibility of a meditative calm; sounds of passing traffic seem incongruous with the somewhat remote setting. These chance sounds draw our attention away from his performance. Even the natural light tests the limits of the camera as the video starts out uncomfortably dark and ends virtually washed out. Everything that is happening in the frame works to remind him and us of the impossibility of his intentions. Everything surrounding him undermines his goal. It thematizes his work as unattainable. We can see this in his recent photographic work Millennium Line(2012), in which he rendered the entire routine of a Vancouver Skytrain line as a continuous photograph, representing a distance as singular. He managed to make the whole view from the routevisible as one thing, but its scale – the magnitude of its length made it impossible to view as a single image. Even in this work he knew the futile result before he had achieved his material goal, but he pursued it regardless, trying to materialize the incomprehensible.

Lee is working through the unknowable, carving it into material form. But he isn’t so foolish as to think it’s attainable. Like the contradictions of deBeer’ssuccessful forever campaign which brought the rarified diamond into every household, Lee’s intent to produce the ideal is countered with its implausibility. Both start with false claims: deBeer’s by even suggesting that diamonds are rare when they know they are plentiful and Lee for setting up an unachievable project in the first place. Yet they are success stories. De Beer has global control of the diamond market and Lee makes sense of his subjective position which he can understand as commonplace and fallible, and most effectively as influenced by everything around him. His actions take place in time, marked by the rising sun at a point in the day that most of us don’t witness.It is important that the video begins in darkness. We may languish as the sun is setting, but to watch the sunrise is a rarity typically greeted unconsciously. The video captures in real time the natural change from darkness into light, metaphorically moving from the unconsciousness into the real as the sun rises above the horizon. In the end the diamond is obliterated by light and all Lee’s work washed out by the sun’s rays. Maybe the shift from darkness into light is the unknown and thus even more painful than the darkness we were previously attempting to navigate, control and subdue.

Advertisements

Frances Stark: I’ve Had it and a Half

The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles

April 17, 2011

by Jenifer Papararo

 

I’ve Had it and a Half is a Frances Stark performance in halves, one divvied into parts and parts of parts, portioned up, segmented as if there could never be a whole. As if the pieces didn’t have a unifying title, a beginning and an end, or even a sequential progression. It was made of parts and staged as a series of vignettes that seemed unsystematically ordered as if Stark had randomly pulled them from her hat, which she did at one interval.

There were no formal introductions, but as the lights dimmed and the hip-hop soundtrack receded, an eight-piece string ensemble, which sat divided onstage, performed a divertimento by Haydn as simple lines of text appeared on an otherwise blank screen behind them. The music seemed metrically paced to the text, flowing in short legible fragments. One section read, “Do you not agree that the reader is able to assimilate only one part at a time? Sometimes he reads two or three passages and never returns; and not mark you because he is not interested, but because of some totally extraneous circumstance; and even if he reads the whole thing, do you suppose for one moment that he has a view of it as a whole, appreciates the constructive harmony of the parts?”

By inaugurating the performance with these words, Stark acknowledged the audience’s presence, predicting plausible distractions and slips in our attention, almost guaranteeing them. She seemed to be identifying a symptom of reading, defining a characteristic of the way we read or ingest information. It was comforting, as if our host was congenially relieving us of some sort of responsibility. It also seemed a generous acknowledgement with sincere intent to question her role as presenter and author, and ours as viewers and readers – and, as such, animating our respective positions and generating an uneasy awareness that we were as much characters in this performance as she was.

The opening text is a quotation from Witold Gombrowicz, not the first time Stark has referenced the Polish writer or this passage in particular. By quoting him, she quoted herself, appropriating his words as she referenced her own work. Similar to Gombrowicz, who stated, “I am writing about myself—I have no right to write about anything else,” Stark became her own subject. As part of I’ve Had it and a Half, Stark screened video documentation of an earlier performance gutted of any actual words to leave only her verbal tics, and  the pauses, the “ums” and “uhs” turned her disfluencies into content. There is no doubt the montage was comical, but witnessing her fugitive thoughts played back to back in such mass was also unsettling and almost painful. Who hasn’t tried to capture a thought by stammering through a series of “ahs”? But why reveal the extreme of this nervous babble? Not simply as a point of identification, or she wouldn’t have taken it so far.
Questioning her own production, her relationship to art-making and writing, and her self-identification as an artist and writer has been the instigation for much of Stark’s work, as well as a point of struggle. It’s also means for battling her relevance against her inadequacies and counter-intuitively acts as a means of determining a subject that centres on her as an author, but which also resonates beyond  herself.  This single or multifaceted reverberating subject is still uncertain and I think better left undefined, but it increases in density the more Stark shows her vulnerabilities.  The disclosure of her process is synonymous with exposing herself, whether or not this is done by divulging a discontinuous list of insecurities or by intimately drawing us into her personal relationships.
This latest performance didn’t deviate from such an approach, but it does mark a turning point. Formally dressed in a fitted, black, cropped suit, complete with hat and tie, Stark took to the stage to address the audience directly, asking us not to take photographs because of the performance’s intimate nature. She said we would soon know why.

Again the ensemble began to play and text appeared on the screen behind them. This time it’s a transcription of an online conversation between Stark and someone she had met on the Internet. Almost immediately it is evident that their relationship is sexual in nature. “Hey. You have clothes on you?” “Yes. I’m working.” This is not the first time they have met, as there is a casual candour to the conversation, but they are still getting to know each other. “What do you work at?” “I am an artist.” They send each other images.  Stark sends, Why should you not be able to assemble yourself and write?, a collage she made a few years ago. It is an aerial view of the artist sitting upright in bed with her knees bent and holding a note that contains the same text as the title.

They talk about her career as an artist; the other person wants to know more and after a “hmm,” she sends her website’s URL. He likes the work. The conversation progresses, turning briefly to sex online; they sullenly come to the conclusion that two monologues don’t make a dialogue. He should let her work. She says, “I am working.” He retorts, “fucking artists.”

Stark interrupted their interchange by getting back onstage to show some images, which she presented as a series of rapidly rotating files that randomly stopped on a single shot. She spoke to whichever image appeared. It was like playing roulette, and a definite reference to the website Chatroulette. However, this game of hers wasn’t designed to give us information, but went back to the opening sentiment of acknowledging that we are only witnessing parts and not a whole, and that these arbitrary fragments might be even more relevant than some understanding of the relationships between them. When the projector indiscriminately stopped on an image of The New Vision, a simple black-and-white collage and line drawing that somewhat absurdly has the subject raising her skirt to reveal her breasts, Stark simply said, “that’s my work,” and then feigned lifting a skirt to reveal herself – as if that’s all it takes.  This affected yet simple gesture could aptly stand as a metaphor for Stark’s drive to unveil herself, her work, her process; but it also seems too facile.

Rather I’ve Had it and a Half is a complex sequencing of exposures that leaves little separation between the personal and the professional. It’s not that Stark’s personal life has become the focus of her practice, because her work is also her subject, but it’s the way they blend and that her source of inspiration seems too intimate to be professional. As the pieces accumulate, we come to understand that she has engaged in many online sexual relationships over the previous year, and that these connections have been her main incentive for working; “this experience makes me want to write.”  We also find out that she has ended all of them, except one. Using Xtranormal, a free 3D-movie making software, Stark animated and transcribed a portion of a conversation with her only remaining muse. And he is definitely a muse. They all have been. Animated as a stout blond man wearing a fig leaf, he suggests at one point in their conversation, in a computer-generated Italian accent, that she see by Fellini. The artist is also rendered  in 3D, naked except for three fig leaves , and responds with a promise to watch it.  Stark subsequently extended this short animation into My Best Thing, an hour and 45 minute video, which premiered at this year’s Venice Biennale, and which transformed the vignette into a whole with new parts of its own.

Yes, the parts again take precedent. Since they are all that can be perceived, why attempt to represent the whole?  If it is whole, then it is complete. But that seems to defy the nature of Stark’s partitioned performance, as well as underwrites the possibility of witnessing what has been disclosed. Just because you lift up your skirt doesn’t mean I’m going to see everything. As, one of her online friends states, “the more you get naked the less obvious you are.” I’m not sure how to sum up my experience of Stark’s performance, except to highlight this sentiment. While I now know intimate things about Stark that isn’t where I derive meaning. I find her inspiring in part for her unwavering divulgences, but more for her desire to produce, for her synchronized questioning of that drive, and for her fearless ambition to tangle with structures that aren’t settled. The arbitrary structure of Chatroulette reflects a process already embedded in Stark’s practice – one that builds meaning by assembling parts out of chance.

Jenifer Papararo

by Jenifer Papararo
July 13, 2011

JP: When I first approached you to do an interview I said I didn’t want to linger on
the past, that I wasn’t interested in asking specific questions about why you became
a dealer, and what the climate was at that time in Vancouver. Instead I wanted to
direct the conversation to the present, to more general questions that examine the
relationship between commercial galleries and art institutions, your interest in
publishing, and what drives your decision-making. But since our initial discussion,
I’ve come to realize that we’ve never spoken directly about your beginning, so even
if only briefly, I’d like to start there, or more pointedly what the commercial scene
was like in Vancouver at the time, how you perceived the art scene, and did you see
yourself as fulfilling a void or responding to a lack?

CJ: I can’t reinforce enough the difference and the feeling that we were really doing
something that hadn’t been done before, and that our activities were dedicated
to a rigour of thinking about ideas and practices in relation to understanding and
building histories that were specific to Vancouver, but came from a large discourse.
There was an alignment of critical thinking that came from artists, curators,
museums, and art historians challenging art history. For me, it was a way of looking
at the relevance of contemporary art. How you move art history forward to become
contemporary as society moves forward, they start to shadow each other. At the
time it felt like really hard work. It is still arduous, but the foundation has been
established.

In 1994 we opened on Grandville Street. The years before that I was studying
at UBC researching local artists and developing an interest in conceptual art
practices that considered societal changes. In research for a class essay I conducted
interviews with Ken Lum and Ian Wallace, and I phoned Marian Goodman in New
York to discuss Jeff Wall. The conversations and ideas around photo-conceptualism
seem so transparent now, back then it was new ground.

JP: You first opened your own gallery in 1988, so then 1994 marks a shift for you?

CJ: Yes,. so in eighty-eight I had a small space on Burrard Street downtown, a third
floor space in an old forestry building. I was studying art history but was still very
interested in the current art scene and looking at artists’ practices. At that time,
I wasn’t making decisions based on the systems of knowledge I soon started to
sponge and acquire. I feel like those years before 1994 were quite playful, and I was
still feeling my way.

JP: In 2005 Michael Turner wrote “Who’s Business Is It? Vancouver’s Commercial
Galleries and the Production of Art” a comprehensive essay on the commercial
art system in Vancouver for Vancouver Art and Economies. He writes about a few
galleries that come before you: the New Design Gallery started by curator Alvin
Balkind and architect Andrew Beck, and the Nova Gallery opened by Claudia Beck
and Andrew Gruft, and also Bill Jefferies’s, Coburg Gallery. Turner points to the
tight relationship dealers had with the avant-garde. He considers you amongst
this circle as well. Can you speak more about this close relationship to the artists
at the time and about your early influences? Who your precursors were? Did you
model yourself on other commercial galleries in particular or even other types of art
institutions? You mention Mariam Goodman earlier di she have a formative impact
on you?

CJ: In Canada, I thought about Ydessa Hendeles and Sandy Simpson. They preceded
me in the country. I didn’t know intimately about their practices. One isn’t
necessarily privy to that. But they had strong leadership skills, and apparently
strong relationships with their artists. Internationally at that time I was certainly
looking at Mariam Goodman. In making this list it sounds like I was only looking at
women, but I wasn’t seeking female role models. They just happened to be women.
I was conscious of Anthony d’Offay’s gallery in London, which preceded Whitecube.
There was a thoroughness with which Anthony worked. Sadie Coles worked with
him before she opened her own space, as did Matthew Marks. Today there is an
international community of rigorous and critically thinking galleries who are my
colleagues.

Frankly, I was dealing with a specific problem. I was trying to construct how I
wanted to work in the world from here. Having grown up and studied in Vancouver,
I wanted be part of the incredible art that was flourishing here — one that developed
outside of a patron history, which we might see in places like Toronto. I also
wanted to tackle the removal — Vancouver’s distant geography. So even though I
was conscious of and watching other dealers, I wasn’t modeling myself on any one
particular gallery. I really was constructing my own game. Not that it was game, but
I was constructing my own model. I wanted to work from here and be inserted into
this art history. Through my studies I was very convinced by the importance and
relevance of art history, so I took it very seriously.

JP: Your model developed in relation to the artwork that was being produced in
Vancouver. Can you speak more directly to the type of work you were interested
in and how that influenced you? Your dedication to Vancouver artists is clear, and
I’m hoping to hear you articulate what was so inspiring about that particular time
that caused you to make a monogamous commitment to this place – one you still

maintain today. Even though you have shown artists from elsewhere, your entire
roster is from Vancouver.

CJ: What has really been influential for me is Ian Wallace’s thinking. There is no
question that the years I have spent with Ian have had a solid impact. He is a mentor
of sorts to me. I’m interested in the consistency of his practice. His poetics, but also
his theoretical position, which has a larger reach and was also developed in relation
to other artists working in Vancouver at that time — Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall
of course. Stan Douglas’s work is also of great interest to me and I have followed
it closely. So my commitment to Vancouver comes out of this artist community,
and my interest in their work and also my desire to find out what is in the water
that makes such rigorous artistic practices. And so from the beginning to now, I
have been dedicated to the practices that come out of here, lineages of artists that
continue to work from Vancouver.

This dedication to Vancouver artist also comes from the importance I place on being
physically close to the artists I work with, and my desire to work with practices and
not just isolated artworks. I want to work with full practices. Maybe I’m demanding
that way, but this might also relate to the success of the gallery — my interest in
creating legacies that can only happen by making long commitments. Like when I
took on young artists such as Ron Terada and Damian Moppett, I’m developing with
them through that dedication.

But I have worked with artists from elsewhere, and I’m at a point where that is
going to happen more and you’ll start seeing more international work in the gallery.
However, the decisions are always made in relation to the artistic context here.

JP: You use the term “practice” to describe what you do. Do you see a relationship
between what you do and the role of the curator? And can you speak more
specifically to your interest in working with curators?

CJ: We’ve watched the idea of a curator evolve in the last fifteen years. We
increasingly see people coming out of curatorial programs and going into the
commercial world. Perhaps it is galleries like this one and others like it that made
that desirable and opened the possibility. But I do think there is a major difference
from working as a curator in a museum structure than what we do here. Even
though we both generate ideation through artists, in the museum the curator
usually only works with an artist on one project and then leaves. The difference
here is that we follow an artist for years or now decades,and build a lasting and
influential relationship.

JP: As a curator at a contemporary art institution, I have often lamented this lack of
continuity or continued engagement as a failure. I feel like I’m often parachuting in

and out of artist practices instead of sustaining a longer relationship and, therefore,
hindering a more nuanced understanding of an artist’s work. I don’t think that is
always the case, but it is more common to me than to you.

CJ: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and I have had this exact conversation about her
generation, where she makes a conscious effort to follow artists, maintaining close
ties with them, and she will continue to bring artist’s she has previously worked
with into her new projects. For me, this is definitely part of my interest in working
with artists in Vancouver. For one, I get to be close to their studios.

But the gallery is in the process of the next shift and we’re about to see some change.
We’ve taken on new artists from outside of Vancouver, recently Christina Mackie
from London, and we’re going to be working more closely with Sam Durant from
Los Angeles. We’re about to announce a younger artist we will soon bring into the
gallery.

Anne Low, the new associate director of the gallery introduced me to Christina
Mackie. My immediate interest in her work has much to do with its formal
relationship to Jerry Pethick’s work, and how by presenting her work we can also
articulate the importance of his. Even though Christina left for London to study art
right after being at the Vancouver School of Art and has lived and worked there ever
since, she grew up in Victoria BC, so she shares interesting ideas around scientific
research, optics and the object which are interwoven references with Jerry.

We’re presenting a group show curated by Anne this fall that will feature the
work of Ulla von Brandenburg, Guy de Cointet, Janice Kerbeland we’re going to
collaborate with the Western Front to screen work by Daria Martin. The exhibition
began in part with a proposal I set up that was driven by the work of Geoffrey
Farmer and Judy Radul, in particular their use of staging and performativity. We
wanted to engage with their practice more deeply by looking at artists who had
similar interests.

JP: So this is a particular moment for you, but you’ve been moving toward it for
some time.

CJ: Absolutely. These things take a ton of thinking. Jens Hoffman said to me that I
am recognized and appreciated for this purity of working only with artists from
Vancouver, but I’m at a point where I want to expand. A younger generation have
watched artists like Geoffrey Farmer and Brian Jungen and benefited from having
them near, but now we see a younger generation of artists who are going away. And
they should go away to schools. It will be interesting to see what they bring back. I’m
watching this community and I feel there is something happening right now — that
this generation is building strong international ties.

JP: But it seems this has been the circumstance for a long time here. Even though
artists like Wall, Graham, Douglas, and Wallace have stayed, the success of the
Vancouver art scene is often linked to its international ties. You’re getting ready to
take on artists from outside of Vancouver, but you’re also saying that you’re looking
at a new group of Vancouver artists?

CJ: I wouldn’t call them a group. But yeah, there are artists that I’m watching and
am excited about, and we will take on one artist, Julia Freyer, who will have her first
exhibition at the gallery in early 2012. I think the Poodle Dog Bar was excellent as
well as her work she completed at the The Städelschule in Frankfurt.

JP: Maybe we can talk a little more about the business side of things. Your major
clients are art institutions. You have fostered that relationship not simply in
relation to their collections but also in connection to their exhibition programs, the
commissioning of new works, and the production of publications. Can you speak
more to the strength of this relationship?

CJ: In thinking about art history, one thinks about future art histories. I place a
large importance on museum culture and public institutions in relation to art – the
varying levels with which they operate in this country and internationally. The key
for me is that they are public. So if there is a place that can protect the work and
solidify its historical relevance then it is the public museum. And I tend to have a
great dialogue that often develops into friendships with museum curators.

JP: On your website you state that you see yourself contributing to art discourse. I
understand that this has something to do with your relationship to art institutions
and curators, but can you speak about other ways you make this contribution?

CJ: If a significant amount of the work we do is with public institutions, then another
major part is with individuals, building their collections. I’m happy to say that I have
initiated and been a seminal part of building many collections through the country.
Some are extremely good, some have moved on to supporting artists I represent
in-depth, and some are now acquiring work internationally. That relationship is
based on developing discourse and the importance of a commitment to work that
is critically engaged by the museum system. Otherwise why would you collect? If
you’re going to call yourself a collector you need to support the ideas behind the
work, and this of course pertains to me.

JP: This seems a good time to ask about CJ Press. When did you start publishing, and
can you speak about the relevance you place on the relationship between writing/
writers and the artwork/artists you present?

CJ: I started publishing texts very early on, using a basic design model of Ian
Wallace’s texts, using Ariel font and distributing them for a dollar as simple
photocopies. The idea was always about bringing writers and artists together. I
commissioned many essays before the books. Melanie O’Brian wrote on Damian
Moppett’s Impure Systems, and Barry Schwarsky on Ian Wallace. But in 2006, when I
moved to this new location, I decided that we would bind all the essays into a book.
It was published in 2008. But the process of a bound book already seems dated.
The next publication we’re producing will use the print studio workshop model
that comes out of Portland and is used by Matthew Stadler. Keith Higgins and Cathy
Slade are now using that model here.

JP: I meant to ask you this question earlier in relation to who you see as your
precursors? In Canada the artist-run system has a long and prominent history. Did
this system have any influence on how you modelled gallery?

CJ: I was very conscious of the Or Gallery under Reid Shier in the 1990s. He is a good
friend and an important colleague. We speak regularly about art and our interest
in artists. So I was looking at artists who were showing in the artist-run system. I
was very aware of the programming of artist run centers in Vancouver and the likes
of Mercer Union and Art Metropole in Toronto. I perceived the artist-run centre
not necessarily as a model to follow, but as a site that was generative, and I really
respected that, feeling its articulation and influence perhaps more than now.

JP: Is that because you have moved on?

CJ: No, it’s more about questioning its relevance. I think there was always a sense
that artist-run centres were invested in raising the stakes, but as a system it needs
to be questioned. And I think that debate is going on right now, but I haven’t thought
enough about it.

JP: I have one last question. The Canada Council has supported many of your artists
through research, projects, and residency programs, but it has also directly funded
your participation in national and international art fairs. Can you describe more
specifically your reliance on the Canada Council and how it has benefited your
business?

CJ: The Council has been extremely helpful at assisting us with the massive
international shipping costs. I’m currently looking at the shipping costs that have
just come in from Basel. I mean the funds from the Canada Council only cover a
very small portion, but they are still helpful. Shipping and travel costs can be so
prohibitive from Vancouver. There was once a question of moving to London or
New York. I have traveled so many miles in my practice and it can wear on you.
After Basel, the London and German gallerists were home an hour later in their beds

and they could ship their work overland by truck. Assisting with shipping costs is
where I’ve benefited the most from the government. The template that I have always
directed is that we would only do the most important art fairs internationally, and
that we wouldn’t waste energy winding our way up, but that we would work at the
top with the best fairs and, those fairs are increasingly expensive.

JP: Struggles with geographical distances seems a very Canada story.

CJ: That is only one part. As always the gallery is interested in its international
presence, and that also translates to bringing people here. So we push for this, and
the Canada Council has helped us to bring curators and writers to Vancouver. This
is very important to me because I can’t be buying in curators. In bringing them here,
I have aligned my gallery with public institutions like the Morris and Helen Belkin
Gallery, or the Vancouver Art Gallery. The basic objective of the curatorial visits is
to get curators into artists’ studios. I primarily act as host and guide, but still these
visits are a lot of work to organize from planning meetings with artists to meeting
with students and visiting art galleries. So it benefits the artists, the schools as well
as the larger arts community. Since moving to this new space we haven’t done as
many of the curatorial visits as previously, but we are finally getting to that again.
We’re in the process of inviting people for this coming year, including Anne Ellegood
from The Hammer in LA Beatrix Ruf from the Kunsthalle Zurich, Doryun Chong from
MOMA NY. I organized in the spring for Christopher Bedford from the Wexner to
visit Brian Jungen’s brilliant exhibition in the Henry Moore Galleries at the AGO .

by Jenifer Papararo
July 13, 2011

JP: When I first approached you to do an interview I said I didn’t want to linger on
the past, that I wasn’t interested in asking specific questions about why you became
a dealer, and what the climate was at that time in Vancouver. Instead I wanted to
direct the conversation to the present, to more general questions that examine the
relationship between commercial galleries and art institutions, your interest in
publishing, and what drives your decision-making. But since our initial discussion,
I’ve come to realize that we’ve never spoken directly about your beginning, so even
if only briefly, I’d like to start there, or more pointedly what the commercial scene
was like in Vancouver at the time, how you perceived the art scene, and did you see
yourself as fulfilling a void or responding to a lack?

CJ: I can’t reinforce enough the difference and the feeling that we were really doing
something that hadn’t been done before, and that our activities were dedicated
to a rigour of thinking about ideas and practices in relation to understanding and
building histories that were specific to Vancouver, but came from a large discourse.
There was an alignment of critical thinking that came from artists, curators,
museums, and art historians challenging art history. For me, it was a way of looking
at the relevance of contemporary art. How you move art history forward to become
contemporary as society moves forward, they start to shadow each other. At the
time it felt like really hard work. It is still arduous, but the foundation has been
established.

In 1994 we opened on Grandville Street. The years before that I was studying
at UBC researching local artists and developing an interest in conceptual art
practices that considered societal changes. In research for a class essay I conducted
interviews with Ken Lum and Ian Wallace, and I phoned Marian Goodman in New
York to discuss Jeff Wall. The conversations and ideas around photo-conceptualism
seem so transparent now, back then it was new ground.

JP: You first opened your own gallery in 1988, so then 1994 marks a shift for you?

CJ: Yes,. so in eighty-eight I had a small space on Burrard Street downtown, a third
floor space in an old forestry building. I was studying art history but was still very
interested in the current art scene and looking at artists’ practices. At that time,
I wasn’t making decisions based on the systems of knowledge I soon started to
sponge and acquire. I feel like those years before 1994 were quite playful, and I was
still feeling my way.

JP: In 2005 Michael Turner wrote “Who’s Business Is It? Vancouver’s Commercial
Galleries and the Production of Art” a comprehensive essay on the commercial
art system in Vancouver for Vancouver Art and Economies. He writes about a few
galleries that come before you: the New Design Gallery started by curator Alvin
Balkind and architect Andrew Beck, and the Nova Gallery opened by Claudia Beck
and Andrew Gruft, and also Bill Jefferies’s, Coburg Gallery. Turner points to the
tight relationship dealers had with the avant-garde. He considers you amongst
this circle as well. Can you speak more about this close relationship to the artists
at the time and about your early influences? Who your precursors were? Did you
model yourself on other commercial galleries in particular or even other types of art
institutions? You mention Mariam Goodman earlier di she have a formative impact
on you?

CJ: In Canada, I thought about Ydessa Hendeles and Sandy Simpson. They preceded
me in the country. I didn’t know intimately about their practices. One isn’t
necessarily privy to that. But they had strong leadership skills, and apparently
strong relationships with their artists. Internationally at that time I was certainly
looking at Mariam Goodman. In making this list it sounds like I was only looking at
women, but I wasn’t seeking female role models. They just happened to be women.
I was conscious of Anthony d’Offay’s gallery in London, which preceded Whitecube.
There was a thoroughness with which Anthony worked. Sadie Coles worked with
him before she opened her own space, as did Matthew Marks. Today there is an
international community of rigorous and critically thinking galleries who are my
colleagues.

Frankly, I was dealing with a specific problem. I was trying to construct how I
wanted to work in the world from here. Having grown up and studied in Vancouver,
I wanted be part of the incredible art that was flourishing here — one that developed
outside of a patron history, which we might see in places like Toronto. I also
wanted to tackle the removal — Vancouver’s distant geography. So even though I
was conscious of and watching other dealers, I wasn’t modeling myself on any one
particular gallery. I really was constructing my own game. Not that it was game, but
I was constructing my own model. I wanted to work from here and be inserted into
this art history. Through my studies I was very convinced by the importance and
relevance of art history, so I took it very seriously.

JP: Your model developed in relation to the artwork that was being produced in
Vancouver. Can you speak more directly to the type of work you were interested
in and how that influenced you? Your dedication to Vancouver artists is clear, and
I’m hoping to hear you articulate what was so inspiring about that particular time
that caused you to make a monogamous commitment to this place – one you still

maintain today. Even though you have shown artists from elsewhere, your entire
roster is from Vancouver.

CJ: What has really been influential for me is Ian Wallace’s thinking. There is no
question that the years I have spent with Ian have had a solid impact. He is a mentor
of sorts to me. I’m interested in the consistency of his practice. His poetics, but also
his theoretical position, which has a larger reach and was also developed in relation
to other artists working in Vancouver at that time — Rodney Graham and Jeff Wall
of course. Stan Douglas’s work is also of great interest to me and I have followed
it closely. So my commitment to Vancouver comes out of this artist community,
and my interest in their work and also my desire to find out what is in the water
that makes such rigorous artistic practices. And so from the beginning to now, I
have been dedicated to the practices that come out of here, lineages of artists that
continue to work from Vancouver.

This dedication to Vancouver artist also comes from the importance I place on being
physically close to the artists I work with, and my desire to work with practices and
not just isolated artworks. I want to work with full practices. Maybe I’m demanding
that way, but this might also relate to the success of the gallery — my interest in
creating legacies that can only happen by making long commitments. Like when I
took on young artists such as Ron Terada and Damian Moppett, I’m developing with
them through that dedication.

But I have worked with artists from elsewhere, and I’m at a point where that is
going to happen more and you’ll start seeing more international work in the gallery.
However, the decisions are always made in relation to the artistic context here.

JP: You use the term “practice” to describe what you do. Do you see a relationship
between what you do and the role of the curator? And can you speak more
specifically to your interest in working with curators?

CJ: We’ve watched the idea of a curator evolve in the last fifteen years. We
increasingly see people coming out of curatorial programs and going into the
commercial world. Perhaps it is galleries like this one and others like it that made
that desirable and opened the possibility. But I do think there is a major difference
from working as a curator in a museum structure than what we do here. Even
though we both generate ideation through artists, in the museum the curator
usually only works with an artist on one project and then leaves. The difference
here is that we follow an artist for years or now decades,and build a lasting and
influential relationship.

JP: As a curator at a contemporary art institution, I have often lamented this lack of
continuity or continued engagement as a failure. I feel like I’m often parachuting in

and out of artist practices instead of sustaining a longer relationship and, therefore,
hindering a more nuanced understanding of an artist’s work. I don’t think that is
always the case, but it is more common to me than to you.

CJ: Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and I have had this exact conversation about her
generation, where she makes a conscious effort to follow artists, maintaining close
ties with them, and she will continue to bring artist’s she has previously worked
with into her new projects. For me, this is definitely part of my interest in working
with artists in Vancouver. For one, I get to be close to their studios.

But the gallery is in the process of the next shift and we’re about to see some change.
We’ve taken on new artists from outside of Vancouver, recently Christina Mackie
from London, and we’re going to be working more closely with Sam Durant from
Los Angeles. We’re about to announce a younger artist we will soon bring into the
gallery.

Anne Low, the new associate director of the gallery introduced me to Christina
Mackie. My immediate interest in her work has much to do with its formal
relationship to Jerry Pethick’s work, and how by presenting her work we can also
articulate the importance of his. Even though Christina left for London to study art
right after being at the Vancouver School of Art and has lived and worked there ever
since, she grew up in Victoria BC, so she shares interesting ideas around scientific
research, optics and the object which are interwoven references with Jerry.

We’re presenting a group show curated by Anne this fall that will feature the
work of Ulla von Brandenburg, Guy de Cointet, Janice Kerbeland we’re going to
collaborate with the Western Front to screen work by Daria Martin. The exhibition
began in part with a proposal I set up that was driven by the work of Geoffrey
Farmer and Judy Radul, in particular their use of staging and performativity. We
wanted to engage with their practice more deeply by looking at artists who had
similar interests.

JP: So this is a particular moment for you, but you’ve been moving toward it for
some time.

CJ: Absolutely. These things take a ton of thinking. Jens Hoffman said to me that I
am recognized and appreciated for this purity of working only with artists from
Vancouver, but I’m at a point where I want to expand. A younger generation have
watched artists like Geoffrey Farmer and Brian Jungen and benefited from having
them near, but now we see a younger generation of artists who are going away. And
they should go away to schools. It will be interesting to see what they bring back. I’m
watching this community and I feel there is something happening right now — that
this generation is building strong international ties.

JP: But it seems this has been the circumstance for a long time here. Even though
artists like Wall, Graham, Douglas, and Wallace have stayed, the success of the
Vancouver art scene is often linked to its international ties. You’re getting ready to
take on artists from outside of Vancouver, but you’re also saying that you’re looking
at a new group of Vancouver artists?

CJ: I wouldn’t call them a group. But yeah, there are artists that I’m watching and
am excited about, and we will take on one artist, Julia Freyer, who will have her first
exhibition at the gallery in early 2012. I think the Poodle Dog Bar was excellent as
well as her work she completed at the The Städelschule in Frankfurt.

JP: Maybe we can talk a little more about the business side of things. Your major
clients are art institutions. You have fostered that relationship not simply in
relation to their collections but also in connection to their exhibition programs, the
commissioning of new works, and the production of publications. Can you speak
more to the strength of this relationship?

CJ: In thinking about art history, one thinks about future art histories. I place a
large importance on museum culture and public institutions in relation to art – the
varying levels with which they operate in this country and internationally. The key
for me is that they are public. So if there is a place that can protect the work and
solidify its historical relevance then it is the public museum. And I tend to have a
great dialogue that often develops into friendships with museum curators.

JP: On your website you state that you see yourself contributing to art discourse. I
understand that this has something to do with your relationship to art institutions
and curators, but can you speak about other ways you make this contribution?

CJ: If a significant amount of the work we do is with public institutions, then another
major part is with individuals, building their collections. I’m happy to say that I have
initiated and been a seminal part of building many collections through the country.
Some are extremely good, some have moved on to supporting artists I represent
in-depth, and some are now acquiring work internationally. That relationship is
based on developing discourse and the importance of a commitment to work that
is critically engaged by the museum system. Otherwise why would you collect? If
you’re going to call yourself a collector you need to support the ideas behind the
work, and this of course pertains to me.

JP: This seems a good time to ask about CJ Press. When did you start publishing, and
can you speak about the relevance you place on the relationship between writing/
writers and the artwork/artists you present?

CJ: I started publishing texts very early on, using a basic design model of Ian
Wallace’s texts, using Ariel font and distributing them for a dollar as simple
photocopies. The idea was always about bringing writers and artists together. I
commissioned many essays before the books. Melanie O’Brian wrote on Damian
Moppett’s Impure Systems, and Barry Schwarsky on Ian Wallace. But in 2006, when I
moved to this new location, I decided that we would bind all the essays into a book.
It was published in 2008. But the process of a bound book already seems dated.
The next publication we’re producing will use the print studio workshop model
that comes out of Portland and is used by Matthew Stadler. Keith Higgins and Cathy
Slade are now using that model here.

JP: I meant to ask you this question earlier in relation to who you see as your
precursors? In Canada the artist-run system has a long and prominent history. Did
this system have any influence on how you modelled gallery?

CJ: I was very conscious of the Or Gallery under Reid Shier in the 1990s. He is a good
friend and an important colleague. We speak regularly about art and our interest
in artists. So I was looking at artists who were showing in the artist-run system. I
was very aware of the programming of artist run centers in Vancouver and the likes
of Mercer Union and Art Metropole in Toronto. I perceived the artist-run centre
not necessarily as a model to follow, but as a site that was generative, and I really
respected that, feeling its articulation and influence perhaps more than now.

JP: Is that because you have moved on?

CJ: No, it’s more about questioning its relevance. I think there was always a sense
that artist-run centres were invested in raising the stakes, but as a system it needs
to be questioned. And I think that debate is going on right now, but I haven’t thought
enough about it.

JP: I have one last question. The Canada Council has supported many of your artists
through research, projects, and residency programs, but it has also directly funded
your participation in national and international art fairs. Can you describe more
specifically your reliance on the Canada Council and how it has benefited your
business?

CJ: The Council has been extremely helpful at assisting us with the massive
international shipping costs. I’m currently looking at the shipping costs that have
just come in from Basel. I mean the funds from the Canada Council only cover a
very small portion, but they are still helpful. Shipping and travel costs can be so
prohibitive from Vancouver. There was once a question of moving to London or
New York. I have traveled so many miles in my practice and it can wear on you.
After Basel, the London and German gallerists were home an hour later in their beds

and they could ship their work overland by truck. Assisting with shipping costs is
where I’ve benefited the most from the government. The template that I have always
directed is that we would only do the most important art fairs internationally, and
that we wouldn’t waste energy winding our way up, but that we would work at the
top with the best fairs and, those fairs are increasingly expensive.

JP: Struggles with geographical distances seems a very Canada story.

CJ: That is only one part. As always the gallery is interested in its international
presence, and that also translates to bringing people here. So we push for this, and
the Canada Council has helped us to bring curators and writers to Vancouver. This
is very important to me because I can’t be buying in curators. In bringing them here,
I have aligned my gallery with public institutions like the Morris and Helen Belkin
Gallery, or the Vancouver Art Gallery. The basic objective of the curatorial visits is
to get curators into artists’ studios. I primarily act as host and guide, but still these
visits are a lot of work to organize from planning meetings with artists to meeting
with students and visiting art galleries. So it benefits the artists, the schools as well
as the larger arts community. Since moving to this new space we haven’t done as
many of the curatorial visits as previously, but we are finally getting to that again.
We’re in the process of inviting people for this coming year, including Anne Ellegood
from The Hammer in LA Beatrix Ruf from the Kunsthalle Zurich, Doryun Chong from
MOMA NY. I organized in the spring for Christopher Bedford from the Wexner to
visit Brian Jungen’s brilliant exhibition in the Henry Moore Galleries at the AGO .

Triumphant Carrot: The Persistence of Still Life, 2010

Robert Arndt, Eric Cameron, James Carl, Gerald Ferguson, Chris Hanson & Hendrika Sonnenberg, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Peter Fischli & David Weiss, Ceal Floyer, Rodney Graham, Jay Isaac, Elad Lassry, Evan Lee, Arvo Leo, Kelly Lycan, Liz Magor, Kelly Mark, Damian Moppett, Ron Moppett, Brad Phillips, Jayce Salloum, Erica Stocking, Zin Taylor, Ron Tran, Lesley Vance, Jeff Wall, Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky, and Sam Taylor-Wood

Writing on the persistence of genres in contemporary art, Thomas Crow asks, “How can that archaic-sounding concept be important anymore for understanding the condition of art?”1 The division and hierarchical ordering of painting into genres is a system that developed from literary criticism in the 1600s, setting academic standards for the next three centuries. Listed in order of importance, history painting, portraiture, landscape, and still life were the principle distinctions, with the last three commonly referred to as the petit genres. Further hierarchies played out within each category: Subjects—historical, literary or religious—were ranked, or the stature of individuals portrayed was measured. In landscapes, those with figures were considered more important than those without, while those in which figures interacted stood above those in which they didn’t; but in still life, the vanitas took precedent. The purpose of all this ranking was to demarcate the level of intellectual pursuit and mark a higher order of scholarship that moved beyond replication and craft to research and mastery of a subject. In the mid-nineteenth century, significant challenges to this order arose from the avant-garde, who directed their intellectual ambitions into representations reflecting contemporary life. In reference to the work of the French painter Courbet, Crow states, “from Courbet forward, the claim is made—and increasingly accepted—that the greater alertness, breadth of comprehension and potential for psychological transformation in the observer will be demanded by subjects once deemed intrinsically inferior to history.”2 This inversion, from the exalted into the ordinary, mainly occurred in landscape and portraiture, and it wasn’t until the early twentieth century that still life trumped all the other genres.

Margrit Rowell, like Crow, links the changing importance of still life to the development of the avant-garde; she cites Cézanne as a catalyst and claims that still life’s prominence was solidified with Cubism. In trying to render life static, Cézanne’s work established a paradox particular to his genre—that nothing is still. Cézanne, like Picasso and Braque who followed him, attempted to depict space, colour, and form on one surface to imply multiple planes that connote both instability and the passing of time. He used the everyday object set in a simple scene as a means of contemplating form and challenging perception; this ultimately places conceptual worth outside subject matter. This endeavor to empty still life of its subject matter is a history that leads, in part, to objects and settings being dispensed with altogether, prioritizing abstract art as the highest form of intellectual, moral, and spiritual pursuit: But this account writes the importance of representation and the familiar out of that history.

Rowell sees still lifes as fiction, which, “although they appear accessible, are actually inaccessible, fictional, created; ideal as opposed to the real.”4 In still life, an object’s significance doesn’t have to illustrate a deeper meaning, but it does have to be representational and act as a place of identification: the humble objects and scenes common to still life are necessarily offered as a point of engagement—a way into the artist’s process and intent, whether narrative or formal. On the other hand, still life has always been used as a formal exercise to examine composition, material, colour, and other such aesthetic choices. A pared-down definition could read: “a representation of inanimate objects composed in an artificial environment.” The limited properties of this genre make it perfect for practicing technique. But what moved it into the realm of the avant-garde and keeps it relevant today is that still life can be used for formal study as well as read for the specificity of its subject and object significance. It teeters between form and content, but no matter which way it leans it still holds its basic properties. A continued embrace of formal convention in still life seems to go against avant-garde tendencies to forge the new by breaking with tradition, yet the formal tradition of still life has persevered. The basic conventions of the genre appear to be ideally suited for avant-garde pursuits, offering the parameters for formal investigation, as well as providing a ground from which to rethink the way images and objects are read.

Still life continues to resonate. It persists in contemporary art and in how that art is conceived, produced, and presented. Outside of the vanitas, with its concatenation of oddities, from human and animal skulls to texts ruminating on death’s relation to the material realm, the history of still life is most commonly filled with innocuous domestic objects from empty bottles to kitchen utensils, and this is exactly why it was relegated to the lowest order. In contemporary terms, this use of the domestic— the common, mundane, and everyday—is as much a commanding subject as it is a formal conceit. Consequently, the use and selection of seemingly ordinary objects persists, whether meaning derives from the decision to merely depict everyday objects or from the fact that these common things are depicted as symbols. A represented object always means something, but, when the composing of typical objects in a constructed setting is bracketed within the genre of still life, what is added in its continued connection to historic terms and aesthetic convention?

The group exhibition Triumphant Carrot: the Persistence of Still Life, which includes fifty works by thirty artists, explicitly and formally addresses this question. The number of artists and works seems small in relation to the subject—still life’s history, specifically in the development of the avant-garde yet it is large for the exhibition spaces of the Contemporary Art Gallery. This relatively large selection of works is intended to reflect this genre’s continued importance in current art production and discourse, and is conceptually tied to the basic formal principles of still life. Each of the petit genres carries its clichés, but they seem to register most strongly within still life and as such, were a central point of interest in selecting the works for this exhibition. Many of the pieces were chosen because they stick closely to the formal conventions and typical subject matter of still life. There is an intended repetition of the basic principles of the genre: objects placed in a commonplace setting, on a table top, in a nondescript interior.

As a theme, still life is more tied to these formal conventions than it is to one over-arching meaning. Its bond with the everyday and the domestic is implicit, but what can be drawn from the consistent representation of the objects in this domain? Even within the tight frame of still life, there is no directed course of investigation and no real need to define a solid line that connects the works in the exhibition, beyond the generalizations of the genre. Yet there are links, and since the assembled items typically represented in the still life are central to its continued relevance and to the development of the avant-garde, I will articulate some common tenets in the works by associating meaning with objects—objects whose meanings were codified in the seventeenth century, through still life. And although these objects aren’t necessarily represented in the individual works, they are used to express and loosely categorize common subjects, references, and modes of engagement.

CARROTS

The first part of the exhibition title appropriates a title from one of Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s photographs from their Équilibres Series  made in the mid-1980s and recently published as a book. The triumph of the carrot is linked to the success of still life, but also captures a wit that runs through many of the works in this show. This incorporation and reduction of the terms of still life, work with a subject and form that are cliché filled and somewhat oversaturated and can produce a comic effect: Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky place a wine bottle on a skull, as if jokingly taunting the vanitas, and Ron Tran cannily and concisely turns the average shopping-mall portrait studio into a still life scene. In this series of photographs Tran has used props from the portrait studio to compose still lifes, turning an ornate couch on its side then propping it up with a bouquet of flowers; in another photo he has balanced an overturned chair with a guitar and a tire on a mountain of velvety black fabric. It is easy and enjoyable to imagine the way that many of the objects, particularly the tire, have been  used to flesh out the characters of the sitters, to whom Tran’s configurations read like epigrams. In his single-channel video, A Line Meant in Passing, Robert Arndt presents a bizarre array of objects, from a white and yellow porcelain monkey’s head to an antique, silver and fabric head compress. The strange assemblage of objects moves slowly across the screen as the camera seems to pan along an unending table of curios. The absurdity lies not only in the selection of objects, but also in the sheer number of them and the manner in which they’re presented, as if on a conveyer belt, creating a constant detachment and reattachment to the mix of oddities as they pass in and out of the frame.

FLOWERS

Another common connection between many of the works is a re-posing of the social and commercial way objects are distributed, collected, and displayed. I see flowers, an item that rivals fruit as one of still life’s most typical subjects, as a symbol for the distribution of objects, as well as their beauty and diversity, and as a symbol that reflects commerce as an invention and representation of desire. This is expressed in the scale of Hans-Peter Feldmann’s flowers as well as in his use of standard advertising materials, high gloss laminate prints, and grey metal frames. Feldmann commonly searches out the cliché.  For his three works in this exhibition, he uses a close-up of a single flower in bloom, each a different blossom in the same tightly cropped composition. The images are so familiar; we’ve seen each of these flowers a hundred times, on greeting cards, as calendars, and in advertisements. As images, they carry a sentimentality that more aptly spills into the realm of kitsch, and which Feldmann has captured and rendered as caricature by using a scale that is out of proportion. The works loom over the viewer, standing more than six feet high, in vibrant colours in an overly glossy laminate. Elad Lassry may be the artist who most consistently and overtly mixes the language of still life with that of advertising. Lipstick (2009)  is emblematic of Lassry’s ability to stage and contain the terms of still life through an exaggeratedly formal presentation—each lipstick rests on its own individual pedestal and is contained by a frame that is in the same concentrated emerald green lacquer as the bases. Similarly, Kelly Lycan, in NYC Roof Top Objects (1992/2009), exercises a fascination with the terms of display and how presentation defines meaning, determines value, and qualifies aesthetic interest. For this video, she clips together photographs of all the objects she found on a New York City apartment-building roof top, displaying them on a plywood stage she also found there. Ceal Floyer gathers items around her too, in Helix (2006), but here they are chosen using a formula: Each item selected must fit into one of the twenty-eight varying holes of a circular helix template, so even though there is randomness to the choice of objects, there is, in addition, a calculated rigidity that determines their order and thus limits the terms of their display. Presetting limitations is also part of Erica Stocking’s Dead Space/Living Room (2010), for which she built a miniature living space underneath the stairwell in the CAG’s front entrance, using only material she found in the gallery. The room looks like a display suite, with a throw rug, once a mop head, precisely placed over an ottoman made from a packing blanket, some scraps of wood, and metal braces. She also made lamps, which light up, from a plastic funnel and a vacuum-bag filter; the sofa and chair she made are solid enough to sit on, yet the mise en scene she constructed is less for use than it is about display—getting the room to look just right with the most basic of materials and simplest means. In Jeff Wall’s Florist’s Shop Window, Vancouver (2008), the supplies for display are the pictured material. As the title establishes, the work is a photograph of a florist’s shop, but there are no flowers in the window, only the wares of display (an empty ceramic pot, netting, glass vases, a large box of plastic wrapping, and some brown paper). Wall has not staged this picture, but framed it. There are no flowers luring the shoppers in or enticing them to consume, just the lackluster arrangement of florists’ tools, which define the terms of display and are conveyed by Wall through vacancy and the concealment of the primary objects — flowers– typically the items to be represented.

SKULLS

Skulls were typical in the vanitas—paintings that included objects of wealth and power, from kingly crowns to world maps, and that showed the desire to conquer the world.5 The vanitas began during the late Middle Ages with the development of the merchant class in the West. The genre, a criticism of growing capitalist structures, was used to warn against the accumulation of goods as being a meaningless endeavour. Match (1981–86), by Ron Moppet, incorporates some of those early signifiers of vanity, a pearl necklace, pipes, and an overturned bust, as well as a tool of his trade—a paint brush. These items are stacked amongst painted cut-out forms, including a silhouette of a man smoking a pipe, mounted on a sealed desk drawer elevated by two blocks of wood. There is contradiction in the evolution of the vanitas; as it developed, the paintings themselves became an instance of the luxury goods they critiqued.6 The cheap string of plastic pearls, stacked drugstore pipes, and found materials in Ron Moppett’s sculpture seem counter to the lushness of the mid-seventeenth century vanitas, but it still registers as criticism of an accumulation of goods. In the late twentieth century, Match can be read in connection to mass production, suggesting not just that one’s relationship to the goods is transitory, but also that life itself may be compared to the quality of these goods. Sam Taylor Wood’s A Little Death (2002) places a dead hare and lone peach on a dark wood table in an otherwise empty room: using a reduced number of objects emphasizes the dead animal portrayed. Historically, this emphasis might have represented a triumphant demonstration of our dominance over all other animals,7 but in Taylor Wood’s graphically detailed time-lapse video of the still life scene decaying over one month, it seems to convey vulnerability rather than strength. A Little Death can be read like a skull in the vanitas, which is intended to shatter illusions more than to propagate them. The skull is a lament for the fleeting nature of all things, but it is also the object that remains after death. It becomes material, an object. Regardless of what the skull symbolizes, as a thing it has longevity. Gerald Ferguson’s cast-iron fruit pieces capture this paradox of transience and permanence, rendering the apple, a perishable item, in solid iron, turning its tender and easily bruised skin as well as the preciousness of the artwork, into an indestructible object. This iron apple has been used for years by its rightful owner as a doorstop—with no mark of damage; it seems to be more like an object that could do damage. The transformation of fruit into a not-perishable material has become a quotidian desire—from the still life painting to the bowl of plastic fruit. Fabricated fruit bowls are now readily available in glass, wood, and ceramic, and sit on countless kitchen tables. Kelly Mark has reversed this equation, turning the quotidian mass-produced wooden-fruit bowl into a drawing. Mark has covered the entire surface of  such a bowl, as well as the small side table it sits on, in pencil. The graphite has a dual effect: It simultaneously substracts the colour of the fruit, turning it grey, and gives it a new bright sheen. She has brought the object into the realm of art, but taken away its originally intended aesthetic. Through the process of drawing it (covering it in graphite) she has erased it from its everydayness.

BOOKS

In One Month of Reading in the Mirror (2007), Brad Phillips depicted all the books he read in a month (a stack of Patricia Highsmith novels), which he placed in front of a mirror. This record of the past speaks to the tropes of representation—from personal narratives that are elaborated by the quantity of things, or are elaborated as things—to the process of accumulating and forming attachments to things, which resists the sentimental but also leans toward it. In another work, Phillips twists sentimentality by painting the back of a standard eight-by-ten–inch standing frame which, according to Phillips, contains a portrait of his father, and titling the work Dead Beat Dad (2007). This is an image Phillips has painted serially—at least eight times. In flipping the portrait, Phillips distances himself from his father, but the emotional tie lingers in his representation of his father who, although not portrayed, is rendered meticulously in a deep and forlorn darkness. There are similar romantic signifiers in Liz Magor’s work, but she literally empties them: discarded candy wrappers, a silver tray with nothing left on it but cigarette butts, a well-used coffee table with a dead seagull. Magor’s cast and stacked objects can be read as remainders of some occurrence. Although this occurrence is seemingly mundane, the anomalous layering of the objects and the objects themselves read like the introduction to a long novel, as the significance of each successive item unfolds like a chapter. In Red Stripe (2009) and Bread and Second Loaf Salt (2009), Zin Taylor arranges bread and pieces of raw lumber into concisely constructed compositions, to literary effect. These photographs are part of The Bakery of Blok and The Three Forms of Unit (1st arrangement), a larger installation where Taylor used bread making—a process requiring only basic ingredients and techniques—as a metaphor for making sculpture. The ingredients here are the various media that work to compose a narrative, and the technique involves humourous juxtapositions that read like the workings of an alchemist, told by a poet.

MIRRORS

Many of the works in Triumphant Carrot use the conventions of still life to reference their own making and the process of making in general. As such, they test what a creative gesture with cultural consequence might be. The mirror seems to aptly symbolize this self-reflection and the examination of one’s own artistic practice. Direct references to process appear in the work of Fishcli and Weiss, Rodney Graham, Damian Moppett, and Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg (in the representations of their studios), but also in much of the other work in the exhibition. Fischli and Weiss introduce a precarious balance into the equation. There is definite whimsy at work in their Équilbres, which poke fun at the term “still life” by presenting a balancing act whose instability could topple it in an instant. The highly composed assemblage of objects is anything but perfunctory, and immediately draws attention to the constructed nature of the still life. The work comprises 140 photographs produced in their studio, mainly using the material at hand, and there is no chance of the viewer misconstruing this as anything but a decidedly constituted scene. The maker’s hand—the artist—is offered for our consideration in a reflection on the process of making.

References to the artist and the clichés of art making are also seen in Rodney Graham’s photograph of a decayed and dry bouquet of flowers in his painting studio. In the tightly composed image, the flowers are placed in the exact centre of the frame, reading counter to the disarray of the tabletop, with its accumulation of paint drops and discarded material. The tight frame and the mess draw attention to the artist as maker, acting like a document of his studio, offering a glimpse into his process, and suggesting something personal. Damian Moppett’s painting Candle (London 2010) (2010), also references the studio: a reproduction of an earlier photograph from his Impure Systems photographic series of 1994, this is the first of many paintings that use the same image at its base—a composed, but quick assemblage of material randomly accumulated on a table. Like this particular painting, much of D. Moppett’s work refers to its making through a repetition that rearticulates still life conventions—but under a veil of process, form, and practice that is tied to personal references and is always changing in medium, style, and form.

CANDLES

Burnt candles were used in early still life to symbolize transience: the movement or end of either time or body. They were typical of the vanitas, used as one of many signifiers to mark time passing, symbolize a journey’s end, or show that time has run out in a person’s life.8 Jayce Salloum’s photographic collage, Flowers (1999–2010), records his travels over eleven years—from a research trip to Afghanistan to snapshots taken in his garden. The various flowers, often a solitary shot of one blossom, are clustered together, expanding out from a corner, forming a colourful and rich diary that accumulates foliage and bloomage as the artist continues to forge visual bonds with distant and fraught regions of the world. Arvo Leo’s postcard collage is rooted in the archetypal language of still life composition. With no particular intention in mind, the artist bought three identical postcards of a Vincent Van Gogh sunflower still life at the Van Gogh Museum and took them to Calcutta. Once in India, he found a selection of postcards, from a Bombay photo studio, that showed a still life of roses with the same scale and composition as the Dutch sunflowers. Leo then cut out the individual rose blooms to cover the sunflowers. It took two and a half rose postcards to fully replace the sunflowers on one Van Gogh postcard, and several weeks to have the postcards mailed to Holland. The subject and composition of the still life remained almost fixed, and Leo articulated this stasis with time and distance. For Eric Cameron, each layer of the 1248 coats of gesso covering the Japanese beer can in Beer Can-Can (1248) (1997–), marks time, so that applying the gesso is only one part of a larger process that involves selecting the object, recording each layer, tracking the duration of the making of the piece, and determining when to stop the process. Hanson and Sonnenberg, in a similar manner, mark moments in time through snapshots of temporary sculptures made from plaster and fruit in a limitless variety of combinations.These are unceremoniously photographed in their studio and the images trimmed to form layered collages that all have the same basic elements and are innocuously titled Fruit Bowls (1999).

RUBBER BANDS

Making a still life will always be a formal exercise—one that intentionally addresses the relations between objects and representation, and reflects the way images and objects move. Lesley Vance  and Jay Isaac both start with subjects typical to the genre and gently move that representation into abstraction. Their work rests in the realm of still life, although it reinvents still life’s formal properties, rather than its reading. Evan Lee also alters the genre’s basic formal elements through a distortion of space. He uses a flatbed scanner as the setting for his still lifes. With this technique, he flattens space while managing to render a field of darkness that seems to stretch meters into the background; the resulting trompe l’oeil not only tricks the viewer but also adheres to a basic principle of the genre. James Carl’s Thing’s End (2008), in a like manner, commands a double take; in fact even with a second look, it is impossible to tell that the nearly 880 rubber bands aren’t real. The only way to recognize that they’re representations is to read the label or touch one. Carl is known for his meticulously rendered sculptures of common objects, at times made in excessive amounts, but what is particularly striking in the sheer diversity of the types of bands, varying in width, colour, age, and material, is that each band is unique, yet still defined by the basic formal principles of all rubber bands.

THINGS

Each of the works in the exhibition could traverse the object categories I have outlined above. Arndt’s video may more aptly sit under the heading “Flowers,” as many of the objects represented were sourced from consumer websites, or it could fit under “Skulls,” linked to the central ideas of the vanitas. Graham’s Dead Flowers could easily be categorized under “Skulls,” Taylor Wood’s work under “Candle” and Cameron’s under “Rubber Bands.” I have used this system of categorization partly because iconography was integral to early still life, but even then, the meaning of the objects wasn’t definitive. Flowers could be symbols of vanity or of death, as their beauty would soon wither away.9 Skulls, books, clocks, candles, a wine glass on its side, and soap bubbles were all used to symbolize transience.10 More specifically, mussels or lobsters alluded to Jesus’ resurrection, and grapes symbolized the Eucharist.11 And so my intention has been to capture the importance of the object in the still life genre by referencing a transitory system of meaning and association, as well as to establish the importance of our relation to the quotidian object and, as such, to its representation. Sven Lütticken begins his discussion of Breton and Duchamp by stating, “In modern art, the increasing resemblance of art objects to everyday objects raised the threat of eroding of any real difference between works of art and other things.” 12 Lütticken isn’t necessarily concerned about an erosion, but is interested in what it means to signal the difference of the artwork from other things. Still life typically transforms the everyday object into art, but what is the use value in defining this difference? Lütticken goes on, “If we grant that a work of art is both more and less than other types of things, this should not be regarded as an incentive to exacerbate and fetishize those differences, but rather as a point of departure for analyzing the complex interrelationships of artworks with these other things—and for examining certain works of art as problematizing and transforming this very relationship.” The genre of still life, in contemporary terms, is a good place to continue this conversation in order to examine how we define art—within or outside of the context of everyday life—and how we see it existing within or outside of economic and social systems.

Intellectual investment in the terms of still life has equalled an elevation of its status, and in the early part of the twentieth century, still life was advanced mainly through formal investigation. Prefiguring Crow, Norman Bryson, in his definitive text on the subject, queries why still life hasn’t entered the discourse of art criticism. He states that “perhaps as the genre at the furthest remove from narrative, it is the hardest for critical discourse to reach.”13 Bryson’s history doesn’t venture past the nineteenth century, and thus doesn’t investigate the formal concerns of Cézanne or the Cubists, but it does articulate a lack in  critical discourse in the history of the genre—one that I think is now readily visible. What this quote by Bryson signifies to me is a clear potential to engage with contemporary still life in a manner that runs deeper than the surface of the picture plane to activate an investigation of the substantive relations between personalized narratives, aesthetic exploration, and our production, accumulation, and association to objects. Jenifer Papararo

1 Thomas Crow, “The Simple Life: Pastoralism and the Persistence of Genre in Recent Art,” in Modern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven, Connecticut and London: Yale University Press, 1996, 173.

2. Crow, “The Simple Life,” 174.

3. Margit Rowell, essay in the catalogue for the art exhibition of the same name, Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life (New York City: Museum of Modern Art, 1997).

4. Rowell, Objects of Desire, 24.

5. Norbert Schneider, Still Life: Still Life Painting in the Early Modern Period. (Los Angeles: Taschen, 2009), 86.

6. Schneider, Still Life, 79.

7. Schneider, 60.

8. Schneider, 77 and 86.

9. Schneider 81.

10. Schneider 81–82.

11. Schneider, 116.

12.Sven Lütticken, “Art and Thingness, Part One: Breton’s Ball and Duchamp’s Carrot,” E-Flux Journal. Issue 15, (April 2010), http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/112.

Norman Bryson, Looking at the Overlooked: Four Essays on Still Life Painting (London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 1990)9.

Published as part of Still Life available at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver. http://www.contemporaryartgallery.ca

Corin Sworn, Endless Renovation, (detail)

The first iteration of Endless Renovation was performed in front of a live audience, where the artist read from a transcript that corresponded to a selection of found images. The images were sourced from a discarded collection of nearly 600 35mm slides she discovered in an alleyway several blocks from her home in Glasgow.  Employing a standard art historical method of presentation, Sworn used two slide projectors to show the images, as if empirically comparing one against another. This approach places an emphasis on the visual — precisely where Sworn starts. She states she has no other choice, “all I have to interpret the images is what is held within them …,” but she breaks from this solipsistic mode of inquiry by merging poetic quotes within her own thoughts. In describing the first slide she flows into the words of the American poet John Ashbury, “you cannot take it all in, certain details are already hazy and the mind boggles.” In quoting this phrase, it is almost as if she is alleviating herself and the audience from fully comprehending what we are looking at, acknowledging that she has set herself a difficult task in attempting to characterize the intent of their maker.  It is a performativity where the act of conveying her impressions, also shape the narrative and thus the reader’s understanding.

The performative elements of Endless Renovation’s remain central to the exhibition at the CAG. Even though the narration is now recorded and synced to two automated slide projectors, they are active components assembled into a minimal installation with glass and mirror shelving, a flower arrangement, various vases and tailored curtains. Each object, the room’s composition, the scent of flowers and diffuse lighting form the precise setting for the images and the artist’s postulations, but they are also characters that emblematically reflect Sworn’s task of deciphering the images. A selection of vases from different decades is placed on mirrored wall shelves.  Semi-weekly one is chosen to hold a floral arrangement made in accordance to the tastes of the era of the vase. The flowers sit on the floor with a light from an antiquated slide projector shining directly on them, casting a sharp silhouette on the wall. Even though the component parts of this piece are resolved, this formal sculpture is speculative. It is the florist’s interpretation of the tastes of an era that ultimately determine it. The layered curtains, with their simple pattern are representative of the light emitted from the lens of the slide projector, defining the beam’s shape as well as giving the immaterial particles substance. The design is symbolic of the artist’s process, which is linked to the viewer’s interpretive experience and a more general understanding of how time – past and present is represented and perceived. This connotation may seem overstated for such a basic pattern, but these concepts are weaved through out Endless Renovation.

The exhibition is a space of projection, starting with Sworn’s reading of the slides — her contemplations about this process as someone who is putting forward their ideas for interpretation while simultaneously interpreting.  Sworn begins her unhurried reading of the odd assemblage of images by lingering on the first slide, which she has singled out from its counterparts. For her, it differs in that the others “are composed in a style that might be considered objective” while the first slide is notably a mistake, a slip of the camera capturing a crop of the ceiling and paper lampshade. This error, which could have easily been thrown away by the photographer or ignored by Sworn, shapes the reading of the rest of the images. As she progresses through the slides, there is a point where the images become more consistent; they repeatedly use the same composition, displaying an object in the center of the frame in a blank or austere background. It seems the photographer is an ingenious clock-maker whose designs allow hours, minutes and seconds to be interchangeable.

There is some resolve in discovering this information, but it opens more questions than it answers, and it is here, in this moment of knowing, where Sworn projects a wider spectrum of ideas, about time, perception and memory.  To further question hers and the viewer’s assumptions, Sworn imposes subtle interferences. She has positioned the projectors on perpendicular walls, making it difficult to view both images at once and she has incorporated obscure references. Inversely, she has offered some transparency explicitly speaking to her process as well as making the transcript of her narration available. At one point in the narration, Sworn reveals that she also found a dairy marked Temporary diary: June to November 1985 (so the images were not all she had to work with) from which she learnt what car the photographer owned and the dates of his meetings, but it did not reveal a name, and even if it did would that knowledge offer her or the viewer more insight?

Sworn gestures at leaving the work open to boundless readings while also tightens the frame of viewer’s experience.  It is her idiosyncratic voice that lays a lyrical and poignant story on to someone else’s images. She selected and ordered the slides as well as the context in which they are shown, but nothing is solidly held in place. In the artist’s words, “these moments of projection produce territories of imagined possibility.” Speculation no matter how tentative still offers meaning, which Sworn has made manifest in the objects, images, her poetic interpretation and the relationships between these things. Jenifer Papararo

Endless Renovation by Corin Sworn exhibited at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (November 18, 2011 to January 15, 2012)

Following A Line, 2010

Pablo Bronstein, Peter Gazendam, Susanne Kriemann, Kyla Mallett, Alex Morrison, Frances Stark and Paul Sietsema

“As I write this, I feel very sad and somewhat inadequate.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m a weak and insecure writer, a weak and insecure artist or both. I feel like I’m going to cry.”  This sentiment expressed by Frances Stark in Structures That Fit My Opening and Other Parts Considered in Relation to Their Whole (2007), may read here as an odd opener. If the writer isn’t confident why would one read on? But maybe identification with this pathos is precisely what encourages further reading.  Being sure is maybe not the strongest position. ‘Maybe’ seems a key word. ‘Seems’ an even more fitting one. The wavering qualifiers in these statements is commonly and negatively read as a hesitation defined by uncertainty, but what I want to put forward is that this moment of doubt, this stumble in conviction, can act more as an opening than a finishing point. It can be a powerful point of entry. This doubting is certainly where I enter the Stark’s work. Her representation of her art practice in Structures That Fit My Opening…, a PowerPoint presentation that is played in her absentia, is built on uncertainty, but poignantly with a tool that is normally used to present information with exactitude. This contradiction between the authoritative tool and the artist’s self-reflexive portrayal is one that not only questions the value of her authorship, but also the delineation of her position. She states that she would like to push herself “toward a better understanding of what kind of ‘liberation’ [she] as a woman, artist, teacher, mother, ex-wife [is] really after.” These conflated but divergent roles articulated by Stark should also reflect an equally multi-faceted reader, so as Stark defines herself in complex terms she also defines me, the reader.

In the seminal text The Open Work written by Umberto Eco in 1962, he activates the reader, defining them as interrupters who generate meaning alongside the author and, as such, rendering the author’s stance as one that is continually in flux. He placed the rights of the author and the rights of the reader in a balancing act, where intention and interpretation can be equals, but it is a teetering game. This subjective collaboration between author and reader has been the dominant model for over half a century, but there is still something to be gained in testing the dialectics between author’s intent and reader’s understanding. For example, what happens when interpretation is stressed over intention? Stark and all the artists in Following A Line test this equation, forming a lateral relationship between author and reader, but here it is without direct intent and without defined meaning. This is not to say there isn’t a leaning toward a presentation that signifies meaning, but what is offered is anything but determined.

“A low variant from a split tongue,” is a linguistic phrase that signifies two modes of expression. Basically, it defines one side of diglossia, which is a switching between languages according to circumstance, divided between common (low) and specialized (high) usages.  Alex Morrison literally turns this pronouncement into signage. Carved in a font designed by William Morris mounted on an ornate metal frame, Morrison chooses the vernacular as his point of identification, yet it is articulated somewhat obtusely using a specialized language. The sign is substantial; it is over two feet long and six inches wide so has a significant presence, but its legibility is somewhat obstructed by the elaborate gothic-styled font and word placement. Like the tongue, Morrison’s sign is split between two languages – one that mixes high and low. The sign itself is a vernacular form and stylistically it denotes and conflates the arts and crafts movement with late medieval design and the lay language of commerce, but it is anything but common, even if it declares itself so.  The sign is not conversational. It is more the high variant, speaking a different register — one that is literary rather than ordinary, and thus requiring a reader more than a listener. But what is Morrison trying to say? How is he approaching me, the reader? He is divided, that is for sure — but he is also performing. There is a defined performative element when choosing to use high variants. To speak in the high, like writing this text or giving a speech, takes effort; it is specialized and to use it one must be conscious of the form. Morrison is no doubt putting low and high in opposition but creating an ambiguity in his identification with either side by formalizing the low but speaking high.

For Intermezzo, Pablo Bronstein uses the formal format of the lecture as a starting point, transforming a partly informative presentation on the 16th century French painter Antoine Caron into a dance exploration of gesture and space. The conventions of the lecture at its base require a speaker, a topic, and listeners, and it is generally given with the purpose of instruction. Bronstein doesn’t even adhere to these fundamentals. As a reader (listener), it is difficult to know what is historical fact or fabrication as Bronstein extrapolates the details of Caron’s paintings, focusing on the figures, stances and gestures and the elaborately rendered settings, drawing out the theatricality of each.  Bronstein used the subject of Caron, in some ways as a decoy to the subject of the 16th century intermezzo, an elaborate form of court entertainment often performed between acts of a play or at festivals and celebrations. When switching topics, Bronstein pronounces, “the power of the illusion on stage is rendered void.” This seems to be true of the lecture on Caron, which, to illustrate the intermezzo, turns into a ballet that both disrupts and speaks to the format of the lecture.  It is not that the roving and twisting themes of the presentation are uninformative, but the performativity of the lecture in part becomes the topic, the stage a prop and, towards the end, the dancer, as he mimics Bronstein’s gestures, a lecturer. There is something twofold, an ambiguity in the doubling of subject and format. The elusive topic carries meaning, but it is waylaid by the format of its presentation, challenging the instructive nature of the lecture and how information is ordered and transmitted, and what we are expected to perceive.

“Have you ever been able to sense how someone is feeling, in spite of how this person was acting?” This question is one of 12 posited in the self-help book How to Read and See the Aura to determine whether or not you have experienced an auric field. If you answer yes to any of the equally generalized questions recounting somewhat unexceptional experiences, you have witnessed the aura. For her recent work Kyla Mallett uses this book as her subject.  As she is learning to read the aura she is also figuring out how to convey and interpret her understanding which, to a large extent, is an aesthetic reading — one that pulls out diagrams and charts, and key information such as the above mentioned questionnaire, creating a colour field of 44 prints, a photograph, posters, and a slide show. She provides a fluctuating visual experience that reflects the goal of the book, which is to render the invisible – the aura — visible.  Literally, the inks she uses on the prints and posters fade and alter in hue when exposed to UV light.  She illustrates the aura, which is intangible, grounding it with something plausible, an image of the book’s cover.  The book is part of a well defined genre, symbolizing a widespread desire to speed dial to one’s self-improvement. The front cover boasts that in reading it you will “boost your vitality.” Inserting a little humour and humility, Mallett documents the book surrounded in a halo of yellow page markers, representing her own research and search for an easy route to a better state of being.  She makes herself the subject, but it is in service of her fascination with the way the book is and has been used as the most popular form and means of dissemination for this genre. There are common expectations in how this metaphysical advice is to be delivered and how the reader is to take it in which, if successful, is marked by some sort of notable transformation. Accomplishment of the task of self-improvement is contingent on some external proof, but how can it be quantified like the guidance unfolding over the pages? The proof is ephemeral, hard to measure and nearly invisible.

This difficulty with representing knowledge, and the need to demonstrate one’s understanding is common to the work in Following A Line. Many of the artists in this exhibition work from an archive of images, which they have compiled over years of research, but it isn’t essential to either artist to make this explicit or to lay out their research in an accessible form. Sietsema articulates this position well in speaking about Figure 3: “there’s so much consumption of culture and images that goes into the making of the work that the directionality of production is really mixed and unimportant.” 1 I understand his use of the term directionality to mean that he is not only uninterested in making his process visible but also feels no need to be explicit in what he is representing, yet Figure 3 reads as information, like history. It is a mostly black and white 16mm film with a few flashes of colour that seem the result of restoration to an old and poorly preserved anthropological document. The film appears to be chronicling archaeological artifacts: ceramic shards and dishes, fishing nets, basketry, coins and other common use objects.  Referencing the images in his archive, Sietsema has meticulously built each of these objects and filmed them in his studio. One after the other the unique sculptures are presented, as if to sequentially tell a history we already know. In their numbers they gain meaning, or is it redundancy? Do they become ubiquitous for any history, not telling us much at all — like their objecthood has little relevance? Periodically, Sietsema inserts abstracted scenes, creating subtle breaks in what seems to be information, but it appears this lull is where meaning might be found. Sietsema captures this intent, stating “a lot of what I do is trying to choose subjects that are basically invisible things you can see through. There is not quite enough there to satisfy you, so you look for something else, so maybe instead you look for what happens between things or why these things are connected together.” 2

The artifact is also where Gazendam begins, but he is positing what future civilizations will deem worthy of that status. He formal represents, through sculpture and photograph, how future images might be read differently or histories preserved and presented in a form that is made from a collision of cultures and disciplines who knowingly historicize. Like Sietsema, Gazendam builds his artifacts, but he begins with the image. For his new work, A Saloon Keeper, A Newspaper, Two Wars and A Doorman, he has made a series of collages from snapshots of four Vancouver public sculptures, removing their context and composing new monuments. He has transformed one into a small idol-sized sculpture that will sit on an illuminated, camouflage green, polyhedron plinth loosely based on a Tony Smith sculpture. In service to the icon, loosely constructed human-scale forms take the position of guards. Gazendam has built a scene that puts forward a new iconoclasm, re-imagining the future reception and re-interpretation of present day historical objects as new symbols that are more from the stuff of fiction than history books or museum displays. In the face of fact, he inserts a personalized interpretation of what is to come, popularizing it with subtle references to science fiction and dystopian survivalist fantasies, while also applying his subjectivity as something tangible, as a part of a legacy that imagines its future portrayal.

In the dual slide projection, Ashes and Broken Brickwork of a Logical Theory (Workers and Landscapes), Kriemann connects a series of black and white archival photographs. The images are of the same location, but are from different vantage points, times and photographers. Half of the photographs were taken by Agatha Christie of local workers at an archeological dig in northeastern Syria around the early 1930s. There is a familiarity in Christie’s images; they are proverbial, comparable to ethnographic documents. We have seen them before in text books, museums and popularized by National Geographic. This type of photography has defined history, influencing historians and readers. So much so that it is a vernacular. We come to know how to read these images as history, as archeological, as information, and as otherness. This otherness is clearly reiterated in the opposing aerial shots of the same area taken by an anonymous photographer approximately 8 to 10 years later. The physical distance of the in-flight image reflects the manner in which Christie documents her subject in her photograph. But this distance stands in opposition to how she popularized and romanticized the orient through her novels. Kriemann is noting something particular to photography, not simply how it is read or presented, but how it influences its user. Like adding a layer of history, moving time and building distance, Kriemann herself applies faint coloured gels over the images, implicating herself as a photographer and as someone who shapes how photographs are read. But as much as she is a maker of images she is also determined by them. Here rests an uncertainty that is divided between author and reader; it is as if they collapse into one, you make as you have read.

Back to the split tongue with its bifurcation: this phrase doesn’t necessarily connote multiple perspectives, but draws attention to the varying forms of their delivery. The selected works in Following A Line dislocate the conventions of how information is gathered and presented by using standard didactic tools and methods, such as lectures, films, PowerPoint presentations, archival images and signage, to convey subject matter that in some way challenges the instructive forms.  All the works begin with the familiar and have a layered history behind them. Whether it is representations of the day to day, pop culture or historical references, we have encountered these signs (images and texts) before, yet there is no delineated starting or end point. There is an ambiguity that is unsettling, leaving you to look for something else, like the relation between images, how objects and designs connect, and questioning why you are even paying attention.  Jenifer Papararo

1&2. Andrew Berardini. “Paul Sietsema: Dig forever and never it bottom,” Mousse Magazine, December 2008: http://www.moussemagazine.it/articolo.mm?id=30

Following A Line, Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (September 10 – November 07, 2010)