Steven Leyden Cochrane

  • #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.
  • Paths that cross

    The women who take part in MAWA's Foundation Mentorship Program are all starting out in their artistic careers, but each starts from a different place and sets off down a different path. Some have just finished school; others are coming back to practices they set aside years ago. Some have been artists all along and are just now going public. Like their established artist-mentors, the seven 2013-2014 graduates cover a wide range of media, subjects and styles, so you might not expect Little Deaths, their year-end showcase at Aceartinc., to follow any one particular thread. After a year of regular group discussions and one-on-one studio visits, however, it shouldn't be surprising that many works in the show do seem to be "in dialogue" with one another, and fitting themes of transformation and discovery quietly emerge.
  • Shifting territories

    When I picture a "landscape photograph," I imagine something majestic but motionless -- a scenic vista, tastefully framed, or a calendar pinned to a cubicle wall. This doesn't reflect our real-life experience of the landscape, though, and it doesn't reflect the way we interact with photos.
  • Photo exhibition examines religion's contentious place in American life and politics

    Today marks the eighth American Thanksgiving I've spent in Canada. For the past two years, immigration proceedings have kept me from going home at all. More and more, my experience of the country I was born in comes from news and second-hand sources, and with each passing month what I see seems more and more foreign. Nevertheless, the holiday and a new exhibition at U of M's School of Art Gallery have conspired to put me in a familiar American frame of mind.
  • They’re all winners

    THE winner of this year’s $50,000 Sobey Art Award was announced Wednesday night at a gala event hosted by the Winnipeg Art Gallery, but I’m writing this from the comfortable ignorance of several days ago. Frankly, I prefer the view from here. Selections for prizes like the Sobey (the visual art equivalent of the Giller or Polaris awards, basically) tell us something about trends and institutional preferences, but it’s more rewarding to see them as snapshots of emerging Canadian art, just one of many possible perspectives. On view at the WAG into January, the current exhibition showcasing each of this year’s five regional finalists is worth taking in for that much alone, never mind who won last night.
  • Nightshades highlights anxious abstractions by promising young Winnipeg painter

    One way to think of a painting is as a collection of edges, a network of intersections and boundaries. Edges distinguish forms, separating figure from ground. They occur naturally every time one brushstroke comes up against another of a different colour, thickness, texture or translucence. The handling of each edge marks a choice, conscious or unconscious, on the painter's part. Transitions can be sharp or seamless, hard or soft, and each has a different effect. For a certain kind of personality, at least, the decision-making process can be nerve-racking. Since graduating from the University of Manitoba's School of Art in 2013, Natasha Gusta has built her practice around just that kind of artistic anxiety. Every move in Nightshades, her compact, energetic show of abstract paintings at C Space, seems to have been second-guessed, each action opposed, contradicted or reworked in some way. While that apparent indecisiveness seems like a recipe for confused, tepid painting, Gusta plays diverse forms and competing approaches off of one another deftly. Likewise, her meticulous handling keeps the chaos (mostly) contained and the waters clear.
  • One of the Prairies' most important contemporary artists takes an unflinching look at Canada's uneven history of cultural reciprocity

    Ten feet tall in witchy black pumps, Ruth Cuthand's monstrous White Liberal Lady #1 looms over the entrance to Back Talk, the Saskatchewan artist's commanding mid-career retrospective at Plug In ICA. Scrawled in pencil up a column of sickly white translucent vellum, she snakes her neck to leer at us, extending a grotesquely taloned hand. Part schoolmarm, part storybook hag, the "White Liberal Ladies" who terrorize the 1990 series Misuse Is Abuse are familiar embodiments of cartoon wickedness, but for Cuthand they represent something complicated and deeply personal. She draws on experiences growing up near the Blood reserve in southern Alberta, where the "free" pencils distributed by Indian agents came engraved, "Misuse is abuse: Property of the Government of Canada," as well as later experiences navigating the racist expectations and everyday aggressions of ostensibly "liberal" non-indigenous women. As the drawings attest, she came out of these encounters guns blazing, if not entirely unfazed.
  • C'mon in, make yourself uncomfortable

    In 2008, photographer Nathalie Daoust was given unprecedented access to the Alpha-In, a Tokyo "love hotel" catering to S&M enthusiasts. She would go on to spend months documenting the hotel's outlandish themed suites -- rentable nightly or by the hour and styled to look like dungeons, caves and operating rooms -- as well as the women working there as dominatrices and escorts. An exhibition of the project, Tokyo Hotel Story, opened last week at the Maison des artistes. As an exploration of "alternative" sexuality or a challenge to traditional gender roles, it's less subversive than the artist might have us believe, but, in a week when the crucial distinction between consensual kink and sexual violence has been the subject of a national conversation, it's also more instructive than one might expect.
  • Lighten up

    Kristin Nelson's Make -- Soft opened at Raw Gallery of Architecture and Design last month, and I have to say, I love what she's done with the place. Visitors familiar with the Raw's distinctive, darkish ambience will note the transformation starting at the door. Green artificial turf carpets the stairs leading down to what's normally a dimly lit, black-box basement space. The charcoal-coloured walls have been repainted brilliant white, and the usual sparse spotlights are bolstered by fluorescent tubes that evenly illuminate each darkened corner.
  • Animal instincts

    Most of us can relate to other, non-human animals on some level, to the extent that we like to think they have human traits and motivations. We can't know for sure what (or even if) they actually think and feel like we do, but animals populate our myths and movies, serve as emblems for countries and sports franchises, and become cherished members of human families. The way we regard and relate to animals is shaped by cultural norms and practical concerns (namely the need to feed and clothe ourselves), but it also shows us the limits of our ability to empathize, something at the heart of solo exhibitions by two very different emerging artists. In Émouvoir ("to move"), which closes this week at the Maison des Artistes, Yvette Cenerini's slick digital collages illustrate animal behaviours that seem to suggest familiar, human-like emotions. Each composite image depicts a specific research finding or field observation, case study in "joy," "fear," "hope," or "pain." A grieving mother gorilla cradles her infant's corpse for days after it dies. Brain-damaged rats lose their fear of cats and laboratory mice lose their will to live. Cockatoos find May-December romance and military dogs develop post-traumatic stress disorders.
  • It's weird

    I grew up in Tampa, Fla., a half-hour from the museum housing the largest Salvador Dalí collection in North America. On a 10th-grade field trip, I taught myself how to roll my tongue standing in front of The Hallucinogenic Toreador, a four-metre-tall acid trip of a canvas depicting a bullfighting ring full of marching Venuses de Milo and giant houseflies. I feel like Dalí would have appreciated the randomness of that. The same reproduction prints I had on my bedroom wall as a teenager are currently for sale in the WAG gift shop. Dalí Up Close, which opened to record crowds in an after-hours blowout for last week's Nuit Blanche, came as a welcome reminder of why, like so many people, I was drawn to the Spanish surrealist when I was younger. It also reminded me why (like many others) my enthusiasm dimmed a bit as time went on.
  • From the ground up

    Painting might not be dead, but it can seem a bit exhausted. There are only so many ways to put pigment on a surface, and most have been thoroughly explored. Painters hoping to push boundaries have to work that much harder, looking beyond the medium's traditional forms and frameworks or else picking them apart, reconstituting the pieces to create something new. Three exhibitions by nationally recognized Winnipeg painters (including two nominees for this year's $25,000 RBC Painting Competition) showcase a full range of innovative strategies. In fruit on black, the first solo exhibition in Actual Gallery's main space, Krisjanis Kaktins-Gorsline's fruit-script canvases jump their bounds, dense patterns metastasizing into a sprawling, mixed-media floor installation and wallpaper-like murals. In the paintings, energetic brushwork peeks through stenciled veils recalling text, construction fencing or one of Robert Motherwell's Elegies seen through an insect's compound eye. Creeping across the walls, the pattern threatens to swallow the paintings whole.
  • Redrawing the map

    There's no pretending the map of Canada was drawn with indigenous rights or needs in mind. There's no need to hold a press conference to remind us that few in positions power give much credence to indigenous knowledge and perspectives (our current government clearly never got the memo). It's no surprise, then, that Memory Keepers: Methodologies of Memory, Mapping and Gender, which opened recently at Urban Shaman, might forgo conventional mapmaking altogether. Instead, the three indigenous female artists brought together by curators Erin Sutherland and Carla Taunton work to develop new ways of understanding and categorizing identity and place, vocabularies that honour traditional knowledge and personal experiences that defy classification.
  • Two exhibitions of female artists explore natural cycles and human impact

    FOR two years, Tracy Peters has watched natural and human cycles play out from a unique vantage point at the city’s edge. In that time, an abandoned, century-old grain shed in Charleswood has been her studio, her subject, and a work of art itself. SHED Unusual Migration, which opened at Aceartinc. last Friday, marks a sombre, reflective coda to the project. Peters first printed enormous photographs of the forest floor on translucent vellum, slicing them into ribbons that she wove through the shed’s wooden slats and left exposed to wind and rain. She documented the changing light and listless accumulation of golden-tufted foxtail barley seeds blown in from an adjacent field, photos and footage that would become the raw material for austere and beautiful installations and video works.
  • Inventiveness & integrity

    'I don't want to see young artists of native ancestry paint themselves into a box in search for authenticity," Daphne Odjig writes in the catalogue for 7: Professional Native Indian Artists Inc. "It is within you." Sound advice from an artist who's lived by example.
  • Don't knock it

    I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm the type who scrambles to knock on wood at the slightest hint of bad luck. Fortunately, there's almost always some nearby. Timber puts a roof over most of our heads, and wherever trees are plentiful people have turned to wood to craft the useful, ornamental and even ceremonial objects we carry through our daily lives. For Tree'n ("made of tree," the way "wood'n" things are made of wood), curator Jenny Western and designer-craftsman Ben Borley pool their expertise to assemble a group of six Manitoba artists and craftspeople looking for new ways to shape the familiar material. Organized by the Manitoba Craft Council and hosted at Aceartinc., the exhibition showcases an impressive variety of "tree'n" wares, ranging from functional and decorative pieces to wooden works that defy categorization. Unifying the diverse collection of objects are their makers' skill, inventiveness and deep, self-evident understanding of the material.
  • Emerging artists' show somehow succeeds in spite of itself

    THERE'S no "right" way to make a painting, but Jessica Evans and Patrick Klassen do their best to do it wrong. Piss Performance, their exhibition at Prespace Gallery, challenges some of our most basic, most reasonable assumptions about how paintings should be made and shown. The work is "difficult" the way an unco-operative three-year-old is difficult: impertinent and uncompromising, it teeters between transcendent goofiness and unaccountable malice with occasional, startling flashes of left-field insight.
  • It's Actually Winnipeg

    I'm pretty sure I gasped out loud when I walked into Actual Gallery for the first time last Thursday. Judging from the wide-eyed expressions of friends and colleagues already inside, I wasn't the only one caught off guard. The quantity and calibre of the work (both impressive) came as no great shock. The roster had been announced weeks earlier, comprising 18 of Winnipeg's best-known and most well-regarded visual artists. Even the massive opening-night turnout, which gallery director Lisa Kehler estimates topped 400, was to be expected given the reputations involved.
  • Immaterial world

    Video tends to leave me cold: it's a ghostly medium. It's everywhere in the visual landscape, but, like an airport terminal TV, it slides imperceptibly into the background. It's intangible. A film or photograph is still a thing you can touch, but a video is data -- a series of digital instructions set in chilly, flickering motion. At the same time, some of our most intimate exchanges now play out onscreen. New aunts and uncles "meet" baby nieces and nephews for the first time on Skype. Video provides a venue for romantic encounters and a bewildering variety of sexual expression. As a technology, it helps meet our need for connection even as it exists somewhere separate from our physical, tactile perception of the world.
  • And for my next trick...

    Sometimes art is a joke; sometimes it's more like sleight-of-hand. Both prime us for one outcome (the setup) and then deliver something else (the punchline or the big reveal), taking seemingly ordinary situations and rendering them either fantastical or absurd.
  • Finding his light

    To many viewers, abstract art can seem to speak its own unfamiliar language, making it hard to relate to or understand. Geometric abstraction, with its rigid forms and chilly precision, can come off as particularly impenetrable, detached and dull. An Art at the Mercy of Light, the current exhibition at the University of Manitoba's School of Art Gallery, proves that it doesn't have to. Highlighting recent works by Eli Bornstein, one of the Prairie provinces' most influential senior artists, the exhibition shows that even austere, highly refined abstract works can reflect a heartfelt engagement with the natural world, a sensitivity to subtle environmental factors and a regard for viewers' unique perceptions.
  • Airport insecurity

    When it opened in 1975, Mirabel Airport was the world's largest. Sitting on 400 square kilometres of expropriated farmland northwest of Montreal, it was intended to replace the older Dorval Airport (now Montreal-Trudeau), serving as Canada's eastern gateway. Instead, the federally helmed project fell into immediate decline, spawning decades of resentment. Proposed highways and rail lines linking Mirabel to Montreal were never built. Traffic flagged as Toronto became the primary nexus for international travel in the region. Kept alive artificially though the 1990s, the airport's last passenger flights took off in 2004.
  • Arctic exploration

    Nearly all artwork is the product of cultural exchange, and Inuit art in Canada is no exception. Though it was shaped by centuries of tradition and the unique constraints of arctic life, Inuit art merges traditional themes with contemporary perspectives, and it reflects the uneven legacy of contact with the south. For decades, Inuit artists have combined traditional and recently-introduced materials, techniques and subjects, balancing their own aims against those of government initiatives and the demands of southern buyers. Influence flows both ways, however, and art from the Far North has made a definite impact south of 60 degrees.
  • Wagging the dogma

    Growing up in a non-religious family, I first learned many Bible stories not in Sunday school, but art school. At least half of learning to paint is looking at other people's paintings, and until relatively recent times, the lion's share of Western art dealt in Judeo-Christian themes. As a student, between slide lectures and museum visits, I couldn't help but absorb a vocabulary of devotional imagery: Annunciations and Assumptions, Last Suppers, Doubting Thomases, and Noli Me Tangeres, the ecstasies and grisly demises of martyrs and saints.
  • Breaking down the Bauhaus

    Though it's easy to overlook, the influence of Bauhaus design is evident in everything from apartment blocks and public sculpture to sans-serif typefaces and flat-pack furniture. Operating in Germany between the wars, the school championed a unified, modernist esthetic, favouring clean lines and stark functionality, one motivated equally by practicality and idealism. Beyond architecture and design, the school sought to erase boundaries among disciplines, inviting distinguished visual artists such as Piet Mondrian, Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee to serve as lecturers. In Re: Build Them, his exhibition at the University of Winnipeg's Gallery 1C03, Ian August draws examples of Bauhaus and Bauhaus-inspired architecture back into the realm of fine art, investigating how the structures and the ideas behind them have held up over time.

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

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

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