Steven Leyden Cochrane

  • Thinking inside the Box

    In the low-rent, no-margin world of alternative art spaces, it can be a struggle just to keep the doors open with a roof over one's head. David Churchill and Frank Livingston, founders of the city's smallest and most accessible artist-run centre, learned that lesson the hard way.
  • Dusting off the good china

    You might not think twice about a broken plate or coffee mug, but pottery like it has shaped 20,000 years of human history. More durable than other artifacts, ceramics first appear millennia before writing or even farming. Mediterranean amphorae were the industrial shipping containers of their day; later, the European drive to acquire and knock off Chinese porcelain spurred centuries of global trade and key developments in mass-production. Curated by Sigrid Dahle for the Manitoba Craft Council, Play, Precarity and Survival opened late last month at Aceartinc. Its six artists examine our enduring and surprisingly complicated relationship with crockery, exploring intersections between fine craft, mass production and contemporary art. Most address the legacy of Chinese ceramics in some way, pointedly and playfully shattering widely held North American ideas about cultural and economic exchange.
  • Local artist's austere drawings and videos contemplate astronomical distances and personal space

    The moon appears often in A Certain Distance, the first exhibition by Winnipeg artist Sylvia Matas at Lisa Kehler Art and Projects, and it makes a similar first impression. Like the moon, on their surfaces, the careful graphite drawings and silent videos seem elusive, distant and somewhat cold -- silent and motionless above all else.
  • Flight of fancy things

    As someone who grew up in America, there are really only two fundamental rights I cherish: the right to buy whatever I want and the right to go wherever I want, whenever I want and cheaply. Sure, one country's basic conveniences are the rest of the world's unsustainable fantasy ("short-sighted global death wish," whatever), but even here, where shopping sucks and travel is expensive, these expectations form part of the cultural fabric.
  • Exciting things are afoot at artist-run Exchange gallery

    Aceartinc. occupies a unique and crucial place in this city's artistic landscape. It's the only jury-programmed, artist-run gallery in Winnipeg that's open to artists of all backgrounds, all disciplines and all levels of experience. Anyone can apply for a show through the annual open call and all exhibiting artists are paid. (This year's Aug. 4 submission deadline is fast approaching, FYI.) Aware of its special part to play, the gallery's staff and board of directors have worked over recent years to expand its audience and understand its needs. (A while back, astonishingly, co-director hannah_g tried to arrange individual studio visits with every local artist in the gallery's membership.) They've tested out new programming models, generously opened their venue to a range of community groups and even knocked down walls in order to make the space more versatile.
  • Established Winnipeg curator draws on years of collecting to craft evocative, fictional portraits

    The drive to collect, like the impulse to make art, suggests a certain degree of wishful thinking. It's comforting to imagine the things we make and acquire might "live on," "speaking" for us after we've quit the scene, but can they? Like artworks, personal collections -- from shoeboxes crammed with tchotchkes and dog-eared letters to climate-controlled museum archives -- imply an intimacy that transcends time and absence, but they can only bring us so close.
  • Exhibition a frustratingly incomplete look at groundbreaking performance artist

    The Sacred Clown & Other Strangers, British Columbia artist Skeena Reece's 10-year survey at Urban Shaman, offers frustrating glimpses of a performer doing innovative, funny and bracingly confrontational work -- very little of which we actually get to see. Reece, whose background is Tsimshian/Gitksan and Cree, integrates storytelling, stand-up comedy, ceremony and theatre, embodying a persona modelled after the Sacred Clown and other indigenous Trickster figures -- mischievous, impertinent characters who call out society's failings and indiscretions. Featuring audio-visual components and elaborate costumes and staging, her performances suffuse painful personal and collective histories with absurdist, antagonistic humour.
  • A breath of fresh art

    After a few false starts and discouraging setbacks, the sheets are off the tomato cages, and I'm choosing to believe that summer is here to stay. So this week, while a number of local galleries gear up for First Friday openings on June 5 -- exhibitions at Urban Shaman and Platform Centre, the MFA show at the School of Art, and, on Saturday, the grand opening of Lisa Kehler's new gallery in the East Exchange -- what better time to take a hike and take in some art in the out-of-doors? My favourite new piece of public sculpture was still a work in progress when I walked by over the weekend. Under the guidance of Toronto artist Jenine Marsh, the kids at Art City used sand, clay and their superior spatial-reasoning skills to make moulds for casting concrete masks. Each face in the crowd was incorporated into a quirky, geometric mini-monument, which, after a few finishing touches, makes its Broadway debut just down the street, on the patio of Edward Carriere Salon.
  • Anxieties about the body unfold in artist's eerie, beautiful fabric portraits

    We usually talk about "body image" in terms of self-esteem and cultural expectations, of insecurities fuelled by mass media and the unattainable standards to which women's bodies in particular are held. It's possible to read Hannah Doucet's photo- and fabric-based portraits along similar lines, but Present Absence, the Winnipeg artist's confident and clearly articulated exhibition at C Space, also skims the surface of deeper, existential anxieties.
  • Get lost, kid

    My earliest childhood memories are marked by a mix of wonder and fear. Before we learn the names of things or develop the grammar to communicate our experiences, we sense that there's an order to the world, but we struggle to grasp its mechanics. That uncertainty is both exciting and scary: the landscape a young child inhabits is a wild patchwork of best guesses and overwhelming new sensations. In that setting, boundaries shift constantly. Every new encounter is at once incomprehensible and charged with meaning: the pile of clothes becomes the monster in the closet. We recover fragments of that childlike perspective in the wilderness, which might be an actual forest or any environment outside our comfort zone -- any context that reveals and magnifies the limits of our understanding. Art can do the same thing, and it's precisely a child's sense of fearful wonderment that Libby Hague sets out to reproduce in We're Not Out of the Woods Yet, her engrossing print installation at Martha Street Studio.
  • Graduating U of M students showcase ambitious, promising new work in annual exhibition

    The University of Manitoba's annual BFA Graduating Exhibition is consistently one of the year's largest and most rewarding group shows. With 25 artists spread over two floors of the ARTlab building, certain trends have space to emerge (installation dominates this year; potted plants remain must-have accessories), but there's also something to suit -- and challenge -- most tastes and sensibilities. Kathleen Bergen and Bram Keast-Wiatrowski expand on illustration with an engrossing watercolour animation and mural-scale collage drawing, respectively. Ceramic works range from Brenna Linton's sweet, Canadiana-kitsch dinnerware and Kristin Murray's tranquil Doric Grove of stacked vessels to Disa Haldorson's marvelously perverse Boudoir installation, in which grotesque house cats lewdly groom themselves amid a tableau of ceramic sex toys and sabre-tooth tiger fangs, antique furniture and bottles of gin.
  • Student teachers

    I like student art, often more than the "professional" stuff I end up writing about. It's less self-satisfied, less safe, or at least it can be. It's refreshing to engage with artists who are, themselves, still works in progress. With classes over, the School of Art's annual BFA Graduating Exhibition just around the corner, and recent graduates regularly killing it at Ross Avenue's C Space and elsewhere, a trio of current and upcoming shows put the spotlight on artwork by students at all levels. On opening night, the work in Aceart's annual curated student show seemed slightly adrift in the large gallery, but the five modestly-scaled selections show huge promise. Working in traditional printmaking, Kelsey Smith contributes a surreal lithograph portrait, while James Turowski creates a map of houseplants in his charming linocut/silkscreen diptych, Home. Both painters, Carolyne Kroeker and Mellissa Hallett's contributions differ wildly in technique and tone. For her self-effacing installation Excuse Me (Sorry), Kroeker sewed and painted trompe-l'oeil canvas smocks to match her surroundings, documenting herself as she disappears into door frames and cinderblock walls. Framed by a menacing corona of dinner forks and steak knives, Hallett's canvas, Cavegirl vs. Boxer Boy, throws together multiple media, X-ray views, gestural mark-making, self-portraiture and cutlery for a bizarre and electrifying cage match.
  • Here's a fun experiment

    A scientist conducts her experiments by tinkering with variables and recording the results, a process that might yield new discoveries or literally blow up in her face. (The outcomes are rarely so dramatic.) The same goes for "experimental" film. Filmmakers tinker with cinematic convention, subverting narrative structure or eschewing it altogether. They explore unexpected subject matter, manipulate the physical properties of film, and devise novel soundtracks and projection setups. The results of these experiments are as varied as their laboratory counterparts: often interesting, sometimes thrilling, and (at least for this film philistine with his aging-millennial attention span) frequently unwatchable.
  • Construction sights

    Lisa Stinner-Kun documents constructions sites, capturing unfamiliar views that, like the half-built environments themselves, seem tantalizingly incomplete. In Construct, the local artist's exhibition at Martha Street Studio, large-scale prints reveal brightly lit, eerily empty interiors in impressive detail, but they withhold just as much, leaving viewers to complete the picture. The images are meticulously composed and quietly captivating. Some of their appeal owes to curiosity: building sites are generally off-limits, and looking at the photographs gives the illicit sense of having stowed away until after the work crews have all gone home. Though she doesn't specify her locations, Stinner-Kun favours institutional settings, such as museums and university buildings. Her interiors tend to be airy and anonymous, imposing and impersonal, but seeing them in their unfinished states destabilizes them, rendering them vulnerable and leaving us pleasantly disoriented.
  • Outside the gallery, artists need to watch where they're going

    The art world tends to be a "safe" place, and I probably spend too much time there. Buffered from the outside world, galleries and art schools provide venues for testing new and sometimes fragile ideas, attracting attentive, sympathetic viewers. Outside that protective bubble, however, all bets are off. Putting work in the real world lets artists reach wider audiences and make bolder statements, but it also provides highly visible opportunities to get things wrong.
  • Three artists explore form, function and ideas of gender in group show

    Tools, which opened earlier this month at Gurevich Fine Art, is a packed, playful exhibition showcasing impressive workmanship and inventive use of materials. You could also view it as a challenge to pervasive gender stereotypes, but I wouldn't.
  • MAWA's annual art auction and cupcake party is a homecoming for the artists it's helped create

    Last weekend, Mentoring Artists for Women's Art celebrated International Women's Day with a characteristic outpouring of education, skill-sharing, and community-building. In her First Friday lecture, Alexis Kinloch dissected the gruesome history of gender representation in medical imagery, returning Sunday to facilitate a Wikipedia "edit-a-thon" aimed at raising the profiles of overlooked female artists. Saturday's Craftstravaganza was a globe-trotting "mega-workshop," with four master craftswomen sharing techniques ranging from Rwandan basketry to Bhutanese knitting. Now, a week later, we get the chance to celebrate MAWA itself and the community of artists it's done so much to cultivate and support. This Sunday's Over the Top Art Auction and Cupcake Party is poised to be more than just a sugar-fuelled shindig and fundraiser--with more than 100 artists contributing work, it's also one of the year's biggest group exhibitions.
  • Block by block

    Peter Tittenberger is in it for the long haul and evidently content to take things one step at a time. A presence in the Winnipeg arts community since the late '70s, first as a photographer, he only recently went back to school, earning a BFA and embarking on a new practice mixing ceramics and found-object sculpture. His solo exhibition Him and Me, which opened last week at the University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03, is his first since 1986, and it reflects a lifelong process of exploration and consideration. Towards the end of his artist talk last Friday, Tittenberger took out a worn-looking map of Winnipeg with most of the streets highlighted in fluorescent ink. He marks them off one by one as he completes a one-man survey, on foot, of every last boulevard and back alley in Winnipeg. He expects to finish the project sometime in the next few years.
  • Night at the Herbarium

    Remember plants? They're green? Live outside? Turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose? Me neither.
  • Unlikely processes

    BEFORE minimalism became a catch-all term for everything from typefaces to home décor, it referred to a specific moment in 1960s sculpture. The formula was simple: stark geometric forms and industrial materials; cubes, planes and boxes made from plywood and sheet metal. The idea was to strip sculpture back to its most essential elements (volume and area) and hopefully make viewers more aware of their movement through space. Instead of a thing on a plinth to look at, minimal sculpture was a "presence" to encounter, an obstacle to navigate. People got the point quickly enough (or just couldn't be bothered), and artists moved on. Many like Caroline Monnet, however, still revisit the movement, either to celebrate its reductive approach or to ruffle its clean lines. In Unlikely Process, her current exhibition at Raw Gallery, Monnet does a bit of both.
  • 'Seeing' stars

    When we look at the stars, what do we really see? In the title of her exhibition at Aceartinc., Montreal-based artist Fiona Annis quotes a persistent myth that harbours a kernel of truth: "The stars are dead but their light lives on." True, the stars we can see with the naked eye are probably all still chugging along, but when they do blink out it will take years -- if not tens of thousands of years -- for their last gasps to register on Earth. Even light can only move so fast: if only on a human scale, our view of the night sky is still, in a very real sense, a look back in time.
  • Invisible cinema

    At the Corner opened at Platform last Friday, but standing in the Artspace Building lobby, you might wonder if you missed the show. The gallery is mostly dark, and the walls are mostly bare. Lined-up stacking chairs face something hidden behind one corner; an oddly angled ceiling fan points toward another, also out of sight. Soft lights flicker at the edges of the room. There's more to see inside but not much more, or not at first.
  • Facing the unthinkable

    If history is a story told by "the winners" and, at least recently, one told largely through images, we're only getting half the picture. The photographs of Allied soldiers unsealing the death camps at the close of the Second World War are indelible. The Nazi regime fastidiously documented its own crimes, magnifying their horror. Though they provide indispensable evidence, these images show us the perspectives of liberators and perpetrators, but never victims. They present Europe's Jews and other targets of Nazi brutality as either walking ghosts, dehumanized test subjects, or worse. To see them fully, we rely on the testimony (and art) of those who survived and the surviving accounts of those who died.
  • Four ninety-nine, five hundred... five hundred and one

    Less than six months after opening, Actual Gallery is "under reconstruction" following the departure of founding director Lisa Kehler and most of the gallery's artists late last year. In a well-advised and welcome move, Actual is hosting an exhibition by Winnipeg mainstay Cliff Eyland while some of the dust settles. Helpfully, he always seems to have a few hundred new paintings lying around. Eyland is known for his small-scale works on panel, his staggering output, and his love of libraries. The three-by-five-inch format that he's used for decades recalls old-school catalogue cards, and he's been known to "install" index-card-sized artworks between the pages of circulating volumes. Ten years ago he made more than a thousand paintings for a permanent installation at Millennium Library, and he just installed 5,000 more at the central branch in Halifax.
  • #Decolonize2014: Boundary-defying exhibitions by indigenous artists help define art in Winnipeg this year

    The most powerful experience I had in a gallery this year wasn't at a typical art show. A travelling memorial to missing and murdered indigenous women, Walking With Our Sisters made its Winnipeg stop at Urban Shaman in March. More than 800 carefully arranged pairs of unfinished, hand-embellished moccasins gave concrete presence to an ongoing crisis that many would rather view abstractly -- too often with deadly consequences.

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

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


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