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.
At first, your only impression of Blue, the light-based sculptural installation by David Spriggs currently at Raw Gallery, is of the colour itself. In the otherwise pitch-black exhibition space, an otherworldly blue light hangs silently in the air, formless at first but oddly contained, an indeterminate presence lacking context. Struggling to focus and find your bearings, you're left with your own freewheeling associations -- dusk light in summer, cobalt glass, Mary's cloak, a TV left on at night -- and not much else.
Colour seems like an intrinsic, stable quality of the world around us, when in fact it's in a state of constant flux, vulnerable to minute variations in the spectrum of available light. What's more, it exists entirely in our heads.
For 30 years, Winnipeg photographer Bruce Kirton has been an anthropologist and archivist in other people's homes. With the aid of a large-format camera and an array of tungsten lights, he produces stunningly detailed documents of everyday domestic interiors. The images serve as indirect portraits of the friends, acquaintances, and consenting strangers who inhabit them.
Kirton's eight-by-10-inch film negatives capture something like 100 times the visual data of a typical smartphone camera. Still, for all the exacting detail this allows, Kirton is a documentarian only to a point. His work acknowledges that the act of photographing a subject transforms it, as does the act of observation itself.
Nothing is quite as it seems in Michel Boulanger's haunted countryside. The digital animations featured in Terre blanche, his exhibition at the Maison des Artistes, lead us into uncanny, unstable simulations of rural landscapes, leaving us to find our own way out.
In the titular work, conflicting modes of agricultural production provide a volatile backdrop for an unseen character's inner turmoil.
Mélanie Rocan seeks out the kinds of images that we don't choose and can't control, crafting lurid tapestries from chance occurrences, dreamscapes and "involuntary memories."
That last phrase comes from Proust, who used it to describe the cascading torrents of imagery and sensation that arrive unexpectedly and unbidden, set off by triggers as insubstantial as a half-remembered taste or smell. It inspired the title of Rocan's touring solo exhibition, Souvenir involontaire, which makes its third and final stop at Plug In ICA, a homecoming of sorts for the Winnipeg-based painter.
"The cabin" has a prominence in certain regions of the Canadian psyche that I won't pretend to fully grasp, but I can certainly understand the appeal.
I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida, surrounded by "vacation properties," which are something else entirely. You might have known a family that kept a "beach house" or a "summer home," but the words carried overtones of impossible privilege, conjuring images of a breezily out-of-touch lifestyle that few could reasonably hope to realize.
HOWEVER enlightened we might think our views on gender and sexuality have become, open affection among men remains something of a taboo. In popular culture, we only see it tempered by humour or aggression (see: every buddy flick ever, most team sports). For gay men -- even the white, educated, urban gay men who've benefited most from changing attitudes and increased protections -- those affections often remain hidden as a matter or self-preservation.
The legacies of legal, medical and religious discrimination, the enduring trauma of the AIDS crisis, and the continued, constant threat of homophobic violence are at most distant subtexts in Intimacies, the current exhibition at Martha Street Studio. Just the same, the historical need for secrecy that these conditions engendered seems to have had lingering effects, with each of the show's three artists creating subtle, furtive and highly coded expressions of male attachment and desire.
Any catastrophic event, whether it's a major disaster or private trauma, exerts a bizarre, gravitational effect on our experience of time. It becomes the point towards which all past experiences lead and the moment from which all others follow. Like a dull ache or low-pitched rumble, it hangs in the background of consciousness only to resurface suddenly, intrusively in the present -- sometimes with overwhelming force.
The moment itself can seem to last forever, witnessed as if from a distance, like slow-motion television footage. For survivors, the minutes and months that follow pass unpredictably, dragging on or flying by in irregular waves. Disaster warps our recollection of everything that came before it: the calm before impact seems eerie in hindsight; we compulsively retrace our steps.
Most of us use a whole roster of household appliances every day without ever stopping to think about the invisible -- but potentially lethal -- stream of electricity that powers it.
In 1903, Thomas Edison infamously tried to demonstrate the hazards of alternating current, which now powers all of our homes and businesses, by using it to electrocute a circus elephant. Today, sensibly, safety precautions dictate that we keep our energy at a comfortable remove, insulated and grounded, tucked away in walls and ceilings or buried underground.
Anyone who's ever come back from a trip to the beach with a pocket full of rocks and shells should be able to relate to Rivers, Lyndal Osborne's current exhibition at the University of Manitoba School of Art Gallery. Where someone else might be content with a jar of beach glass on the windowsill, however, Osborne intensively combs the landscape, stockpiling what amounts to an eccentric museum collection's worth of natural specimens and cast-off human artifacts.
The show restages Shoalwan: River Through Fire, River of Ice, a work first produced in 2003. The sprawling installation is built around a treasury of over 100 different found materials that Osborne collected along the banks of two rivers half a world apart. These range from rose hips and fragments of eucalyptus bark to shotgun casings, golf balls and horse bones.
Roy Ascott, a senior British artist and theorist active since the 1960s, is an undisputed pioneer of network-based art. He also seems like a bit of a kook.
In the early '80s, a decade before the Internet existed in any recognizable form, he recruited far-flung collaborators to engage in group storytelling and other activities using the rudimentary predecessors of modern email. Though technology has advanced, the ideas of virtual identity and decentralized authorship that Ascott explored 30 years ago have only become more relevant.
I don't know how much the toys we play with as kids actually shape the interests we pursue as adults, but it makes sense that they might offer some early clues. With hindsight, the things we enjoy as children can often seem to predict what will eventually become lifelong passions -- and occasionally even viable careers.
Visual artists cut their teeth on finger paint and Play-Doh. Somewhere right now a parent is watching their future heavy metal drummer wail away on her Fisher-Price xylophone (and having an uncomfortable vision of the future). For kids who grow up to become architects, engineers, and city planners, it might be Lego kits and wooden blocks that provide the first formative experiences of building structures and organizing space.
Artists thrive on contradiction. A sculptor might try to convey a sense of weightlessness and movement in solid stone; a painter might lay down clashing hues to create tension or depth; and artists of all persuasions throw together unexpected images, themes and ideas just to see how they react.
Chambre Matricielle ("Matrix Chamber"), Montreal-based printmaker Andrée-Anne Dupuis Bourret's installation at La Maison des artistes, reflects a multitude of contrasting techniques and concepts, but it's unclear whether the work manages to exceed the sum of its opposing parts.
If I asked you to list time-honoured forms of First Nations cultural expression, abstract painting and basketball might not immediately spring to mind. A pair of exhibitions closing Friday at Urban Shaman, however, suggest maybe they should.
Jeff Kahm, an Edmonton-born Plains Cree painter and faculty member at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, N.M., offers a subtle twist on familiar strains of abstract painting in Paradigm, his exhibition in Urban's main gallery.
Stories and symbols help us express complex ideas about who we are, what we value, and how we should behave. They come to us passed down through oral tradition, religious teaching, literature and art. Others we pick up along the way: we recount embarrassing family anecdotes, dreams, and things we saw on TV to help frame our experiences, while everyday landmarks become symbolic signposts in the stories we tell about ourselves.
Like any good storyteller, Winnipeg-based Anishinabe painter Jackie Traverse draws on a wide range of sources in Ever Sick, her exhibition at Neechi Niche. Cherished teachings and time-honoured motifs intersect with wry caricatures of contemporary urban life, while events from the artist's childhood (both real and imagined) become the basis for personal mythology.
Raw: Gallery often plays host to artists concerned with "architecture" in the broadest sense, as an umbrella term for all the ways we occupy, manipulate, understand and organize the space around us. Their work can be deceptively simple and sometimes tricky to talk about because of that. Exhibitions last year saw Crys Cole scraping contact microphones across the walls, transforming invisible variations in surface texture into audible sound, while Patrick Harrop created the illusion of weirdly undulating, luminous columns using only lights and twirling lengths of fishing line.
Like those earlier projects, Caustic, up for just a week and closing July 12, functions as a subtle, surprising demonstration of spatial phenomena. The installation by Kyle Janzen and Chris Burke, who work together as Jnznbrk, is also essentially a room-sized, walk-in lava lamp functioning as a wholly engaging, purely sensory experience that neither relies on nor demands critical analysis. It's "trippy." Even "bitchin'."
TWO slides stood out during Winnipeg printmaker Suzie Smith's artist talk for To Break & To Build, her solo exhibition at Aceartinc. Tucked among images of her own recent work and the artists who've influenced her, she included examples of a simple pen-and-paper game, the sort of thing kids might be encouraged to play on long car trips to pass the time. The first player dashes off two squiggly lines, and the second has to find some way to work them into a picture -- a bear, a bug, a boat, or anything else. She shared it as a fun aside, but it went a long way towards illustrating her approach to art-making, which is at once methodical in its focus and irrepressibly playful.
"Conceptual" and "process-based" art, both central to Smith's practice, emphasize the idea of the work and how it's made -- the materials an artist uses, what she does with them and for how long -- over the form and appearance of the finished object. While this can yield work that looks clinical (or like nothing at all), Smith chooses to work within the familiar technical and visual framework of fine art and commercial printmaking. The results are accessible and engaging while showing a level of restraint that highlights the inquisitive, exploratory nature of her methods. Smith is playing games, but the rules are always clearly defined.
Countless artists have found inspiration on long walks in the outdoors, and their works help us visualize and understand our place in the landscape.
Nineteenth-century painters expressed wonderment (and ownership) over the North American colonial frontier in their theatrical canvases; in the 1960s, the Situationists tried to experience familiar cities in new ways, using randomized walking routes and remixed maps. Members of indigenous societies around the world have developed practices combining visual art, map-making, spiritual tradition and oral history. Contemporary artists such as Richard Long have framed walks in the countryside as artworks in their own right.
Vocabulaire, Michèle Provost's current exhibition at the Maison des artistes, began with a bit of fieldwork. Combing the streets of Gatineau and Ottawa, the artist set out to collect French words from advertisements and signage, choosing a hundred or so that seemed to reflect some ambiguity, oddness, poetic resonance or personal association, isolating them from their original contexts and offering chance-encountered words like "formidable" and "frou-frou" up for individual consideration.
Imitating a forensic investigation or scientific survey, Provost photographed each of her linguistic "specimens," attaching the images to numbered, date-stamped filing cards. From there, she plotted each word where it was found on a pair of hand-embroidered maps. Aligned with the city grid, the words intersect from all directions, creating accidental poems that Provost gives form and structure though her meticulous stitching. The subtleties of any chance juxtaposition will be lost on those of us who don't speak French, but the maps are engaging objects in their own right. Even the process of searching out recognizable terms echoes Provost's own search and the broader idea of "orienting" oneself in the landscape and in language.
News and entertainment companies, advertisers and politicians regularly engage in choreographed diversion, guiding our attention in some directions rather than others, satisfying certain desires and manufacturing new ones at the expense of other, unaddressed needs.
A Total Spectacle, currently at Atomic Centre, aims to demystify and disrupt the network of influence and misdirection underpinning some of our most cherished diversions -- contemporary art included.
Attraction and repulsion can be powerful sensations, felt physically, bypassing critical reflection and even conscious thought. Hard-wired to some extent, these "instinctive" responses also reflect and are, in fact, inseparable from personal history and cultural conditioning. What's more, they carry over into our responses to other people, to what we find physically and morally "attractive" or "repulsive," manifesting most frequently (and most unfortunately) as a fear of and hostility toward difference.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery's 100 Masters: Only in Canada assumes the ambitious task of telling a 500-plus-year history of European and North American art with works drawn from museums across Canada (plus the honourary province of Minnesota). The exhibition highlights the strengths of those collections, but it also reflects their limitations.
It boasts frequent highlights and represents a unique opportunity for Winnipeggers to encounter works by some of western art history's biggest names, but it's unclear whether 100 Masters will fully match the expectations of visitors paying as much as $25 each to see it.
As another academic year winds down, there's plenty to celebrate at U of M's School of Art. This year marks the school's centennial and the first full year spent in its landmark new ARTlab building. Two faculty members were just shortlisted for the prestigious Sobey Art Award. Its fledgling graduate program is Manitoba's first, and the new School of Art Gallery has brought one quality exhibition after another to the Fort Garry campus.
As significant as those accomplishments are, they wouldn't count for much if it weren't for the creative achievements of the school's students, which Winnipeggers have had two opportunities to experience in recent weeks. On April 26 and 27 Platform centre hosted a brief off-site exhibition of works by photo and video students, and in the preceding week the BFA Graduating Exhibition saw the class of 2013 take over ARTlab's top two floors. (The show was accompanied by the launch of a 115-page, full-colour catalogue -- something my extortionately expensive art school alma mater in the States certainly never produced for my graduating class.)
A painting really only has two parts: a film of coloured slurry and whatever surface it's applied to. Until relatively recent times, the "support"-- sometimes a panel or a plaster wall but usually stretched fabric, sometimes linen or black velvet but usually canvas -- wasn't given much attention. It was there to hold the imagery, meant to disappear behind layers of gesso and paint, sealed off at the edges with a decorative frame.
Once photography became the default means of making images, however, artists grew more attentive to paintings' status as unique, physical objects, and as a result the "support" took on a more prominent role. Starting in the 19th century, painters began working directly on unprimed canvas, letting the weave of the fabric show through. Later, in works ranging from Ellsworth Kelly's irregularly shaped monochromes to Lucio Fontana's slashed canvases and Sam Gilliam's un-stretched, draped, and folded paintings, paint itself would be co-star at best, if it even made an appearance.