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Opinion

Winnipeg boasts an uncommonly vibrant visual arts scene for a city its size. The Winnipeg Arts Council includes more than 50 galleries and artist-run centres on its online Cultural Map, but despite a wealth of venues, it can be hard for artists in the early stages of their careers to find space to show their work.

Publicly funded and commercial galleries are usually booked solid and beyond reach, while rental locations are expensive, lack built-in audiences, and offer little in the way of promotion and support.

Alternative spaces can better meet the needs of recent art school graduates, self-taught artists and other, harder-to-categorize weirdos, but these have limited staying power. Reliant on volunteer labour and precarious leases, these galleries flourish and fizzle in the span of a few years, a normal and often healthy state of affairs. Unfortunately, since C Space closed last year, Winnipeg just hasn’t had any.

In that light, the first show at Aceartinc.’s new Flux Gallery, a professional, juried space devoted to up-and-coming artists, would be exciting in any case, and I Dreamt [Last Night] That My Teeth Were Crumbling doesn’t disappoint. The confident, focused solo debut by 2015 U of M School of Art grad Rachael Thorleifson is a reminder of the emerging voices we might otherwise be sleeping on, and a refreshing promise of things to come.

Comprising a suite of abstract canvases and two ethereal installation pieces, the show presents a reticent but alluring facade that masks Thorleifson’s exploration of vulnerability— or at least the idea of it.

A dream of crumbling teeth can be read as a sign of powerlessness and indecision (this according the content farmers at teethfallingoutdream.org, whose authority on the matter I trust implicitly). With deathly chill, Thorleifson swaddles these insecurities in seductive surfaces, all crisp white canvas, washes of Day-Glo colour and chintzy silver foils. Her ear is tuned critically to melodrama, to the polarized tenor of adolescent feelings, and the manufacture of high emotion in retail settings, pop culture and contemporary art alike.

In the paintings, listless puddles of near-fluorescent sky blue and careful swipes of caution orange and highlighter yellow bloodlessly pantomime the "expressive" gesticulations of modernist abstraction. They’re arresting and lovely, if a bit bratty, betraying occasional, earnest echoes of Helen Frankenthaler’s soft-bodied dreamscapes.

Hero Zero by Rachel Thorleifson

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Hero Zero by Rachel Thorleifson

A clear vinyl banner tacked to the wall spills onto the floor, spelling out "HERO ZERO" in a drippy silver horror font. It reads like a deflated standard for teenage angst and a possible shout-out to Swiss glam-pop artist Sylvie Fleury, who used a similar typeface in paintings that absurdly, ominously announced: "MINISKIRTS ARE BACK."

First shown in last year’s BFA exhibition, the show’s commercial gloss helps link the newer paintings to the Instagram-ready 1990s angel-baby esthetics of Thorleifson’s other recent work. At last Friday’s opening, a large rectangular Mylar balloon, the show’s remaining component, floated at ceiling height looking like a cheap celestial pillow. Tacky and sublime, it’s probably deflated and fallen by now, signaling the inevitable comedown from heaven’s after-after-after-party.

Up for just a week, this first promising show at Flux Gallery closes Friday, Feb. 19, but solo exhibitions by Michael Mogatas and Nancy Nguyen are still to come in March and April. A submission call for shows in May, July and September closes March 4, with details available on Aceart’s website.

 

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