Steven Leyden Cochrane

  • 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.
  • Getting to know hue

    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.
  • Private stages

    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.
  • Sinister farm scenes brought to life by traditional drawings and digital animation

    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.
  • Imperfect recollections

    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.
  • Cottage life

    "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.
  • Hidden messages & love letters

    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.
  • Anticipation & aftermath

    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.
  • Modified appliances hint at the menacing undercurrents of everyday life

    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.
  • A river runs through it

    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.
  • Forgotten frontiers

    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.
  • Collection of children's construction sets is both trip down memory lane and surprising history lesson

    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.
  • Use of multitude of techniques and concepts almost too smart

    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.

About Steven Leyden Cochrane

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


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