Dana Claxton's current exhibition at Urban Shaman is unremarkable in some ways. In some ways, though, that's exactly the point.
There isn't much to look at, exactly. While Claxton often produces densely layered video installations and performance work, this show gathers largely unadorned written pieces made in response to a six-week stay in Winnipeg back in 2007.
Twin projections cycle through a collection of fragmentary texts that flicker on a plain black background. A cluster of modest watercolour drawings made by the artist's sister, Kim Soo Goodtrack, pair Claxton's words with stylized cloud motifs. The projections are flanked by upward-pointing LED spotlights the same overpowering blue (fittingly) as the lamps used to treat seasonal depression. Another fixture casts a twirling starburst across the drawings, but as decorative elements both seem perfunctory, like mood lighting.
The words themselves are equally unprepossessing. Claxton rejects elaborate wording and metaphor in favour of plain speech and straightforward description. Understood as poems, the texts tend to fall somewhere between haiku and jump-rope chants, with Claxton only intermittently breaking from conversational free verse into passages of loping rhyme.
For material, the artist rarely looks further than the everyday. We get snippets of dialogue -- she asks two store clerks for walking directions; somebody points out Marshall McLuhan's house. We get abbreviated retellings of chance occurrences -- a lady on the bus has cankerworms on her hat; a Muslim woman and a Hutterite woman wearing their respective headscarves walk into a doughnut shop side-by-side.
She offers the occasional, vaguely mystical pronouncement ("Wind owns this town") or dreamlike image ("Jingle dress called me / to dance medicine / I shall"), but more than anything the pieces read, as both the title and their clipped informality suggests, like text messages you might send to someone back home while visiting another city.
Claxton shares observations made during her brief stay here so freely and unostentatiously that their pointedness and poignancy is only too easily overlooked. Again, though, in some ways that's the point. She notes the city's questionable claims to fame and its residents' equally questionable hang-ups, but, maybe most importantly, she offers accounts of basic kindness and community spirit that don't always make it into the stories that we (and others) tell about Winnipeg.
At Broadway and Donald, a child uproots a petunia, tossing it on the sidewalk. Later, a passerby notices and replants it. A man struggles to push a friend's wheelchair over a curb; he loses his balance, and both fall. A stranger helps the first man to his feet, who in turn helps his friend back into his chair. Of the clerks asked for directions, one provides them and says the walk is beautiful -- the other declares the route "too dangerous." "One clerk lived in beauty," Claxton writes, "The other lived in fear / At that moment I lived in both."
Out of several significant, regionally themed exhibitions running through the rest of the year, Claxton's might be the only one to straightforwardly address the complicated daily experience of actually being here. TXT4WPG's insights are equally available to anyone, but old habits and damaging preconceptions often render them elusive. Claxton offers those insights generously, without fuss or fanfare. That's hardly unremarkable.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based emerging artist, writer and educator from Tampa, Fla.
Dana Claxton: TXT4WPG
Urban Shaman Contemporary Aboriginal Art
óè 203-290 McDermot Ave.
óè Through Nov. 17