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Work in progress

Exhibition at Aceartinc. blurs lines between the work of art and the act of working

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It's hard to know where to begin with Escutcheon Athletics and the Toms & Bitches of Turtle Island.

Rather than showing completed artworks, Aceartinc. invited "Escutcheon Athletics" (something between a pen name and a house brand for British-American artist JD Hollingshead) to use its space as a hybrid studio, exhibition, and performance venue for a period of two months.

With work for the exhibition is being completed on the fly, there's no guarantee that the show you see will look much of anything like the beginnings of a show I saw last week, nor that it'll coalesce into something that looks like "a show" at all. When I visited, it consisted of some large-scale wall drawings, various woodshop and studio furniture (all in active use), miscellaneous piles of books and sporting goods, and some empty beer cans and coffee cups on a pedestal.

It's hard to know where to begin: beyond even the informal, open-ended format, contending with Escutcheon Athletics requires that you sort through jumbled references to heraldry (medieval imagery pervades), traditional handicrafts, art history, Zen Buddhism, meditation, and sports--bits and pieces held together with threads of personal mythology and labyrinthine backstory.

To pin everything down would require an encyclopedia (or at least an elaborate flowchart), but maybe a heap of notes scratched out on bar napkins and receipt-backs would be more appropriate. The overall "structure" of the work only starts to become clear when its stories are animated by the artist himself.

Apart from his own practice, Hollingshead has worked extensively fabricating artworks for prominent U.K. artists like Douglas Gordon, Jim Lambie, and Nathan Coley. The experience helped him cultivate a wide range of technical skills that he's put to use in his own work, including a functional, hand-crafted wooden weight-bench built featuring hand-cast iron weights. As part of the exhibition he's learning to finger-weave locally- and seasonally-appropriate ceintures fléchées. There are small metalwork projects on the go.

Exactly how these fit together isn't yet clear.

The real substance of Escutcheon Athletics is in fulfilling them. What they'll amount to remains uncertain.

Molten metal pumped into the opening of a termite colony will harden in the different passages and chambers, creating a concrete record of countless insect-hours spent burrowing. Once out of the ground, the complexity and scale of the resulting casts can be breathtaking. The termites themselves don't live to see it.

There's a closing reception on Feb. 15. We might have to wait until then to brush the dirt off and see what, if any, coherent structure Hollingshead's frenetic busywork leaves behind. I'm prepared to be surprised.

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer, and educator from Tampa, Fla.


Athletics and the Toms and Bitches

of Turtle Island


óè Jan. 11-Feb. 15

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 C6

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