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Words to grow on

Text-heavy art exhibit celebrates 40 years of Winnipeg-based poetry journal

Untitled (Wall Painting) by Ben Cove

ERNEST MAYER PHOTO

Untitled (Wall Painting) by Ben Cove

Earlier this year, Kegan McFadden considered the legacies of five short-lived, artist-run magazines from the 1990s in Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow, an exhibition he curated for Plug In ICA. Six months later, and just across the street at Gallery 1C03, the Winnipegger turns his attention to another, more enduring publication. On view until Nov. 14, A Putting Down of Roots marks the 40th anniversary of the Winnipeg-based poetry journal Contemporary Verse 2.

While both shows paired archival materials with a smattering of artworks, Yesterday pointedly underscored the present absence of experimental publishing outlets. CV2, by contrast, is very much alive and kicking, and the current show feels considerably more vital.

Available to peruse at a dedicated reading station, CV2's entire print run occupies shelves spanning the gallery's rear wall. Three tabletop vitrines collect assorted ephemera -- personal correspondence, funding agreements, subscription reminders and rejection letters -- but when it comes to recounting the magazine's history, McFadden lets its volumes speak for themselves. Instead, aided by eight artists whose works employ or reference text, he uses the occasion to explore the many parallels and frequent overlaps between poetry and visual art.

Where most poets set finely crafted images and chance collisions of words within a framework of lines and stanzas (which become visual in their own right), even text-heavy "visual art" relies on a syntax of material supports and physical encounters -- most of the time, anyway.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 22/10/2015 (727 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Earlier this year, Kegan McFadden considered the legacies of five short-lived, artist-run magazines from the 1990s in Yesterday Was Once Tomorrow, an exhibition he curated for Plug In ICA. Six months later, and just across the street at Gallery 1C03, the Winnipegger turns his attention to another, more enduring publication. On view until Nov. 14, A Putting Down of Roots marks the 40th anniversary of the Winnipeg-based poetry journal Contemporary Verse 2.

While both shows paired archival materials with a smattering of artworks, Yesterday pointedly underscored the present absence of experimental publishing outlets. CV2, by contrast, is very much alive and kicking, and the current show feels considerably more vital.

Ernest Mayer photo
Installation view

Ernest Mayer photo Installation view

Edgar Heap of Birds' Untitled

Edgar Heap of Birds' Untitled

Available to peruse at a dedicated reading station, CV2's entire print run occupies shelves spanning the gallery's rear wall. Three tabletop vitrines collect assorted ephemera — personal correspondence, funding agreements, subscription reminders and rejection letters — but when it comes to recounting the magazine's history, McFadden lets its volumes speak for themselves. Instead, aided by eight artists whose works employ or reference text, he uses the occasion to explore the many parallels and frequent overlaps between poetry and visual art.

Where most poets set finely crafted images and chance collisions of words within a framework of lines and stanzas (which become visual in their own right), even text-heavy "visual art" relies on a syntax of material supports and physical encounters — most of the time, anyway.

In her model for a larger, outdoor sculpture, Laurel Woodcock cuts the phrase "on a clear day" from the top edge of four steel sheets. We imagine the pieces scaled up, in line with the horizon, the weight of the metal offset by the weightless text — a monument to unencumbered vision and a physical barrier to it.

A 1997 poster by Lawrence Weiner (one of the most significant figures in conceptual art, which holds that the idea of an artwork is more important than its execution) muses on both the ephemerality and durability of words "written in the sand" and "on the wind," but read and re-read across changing seasons.

Eminent Southern Cheyenne artist Edgar Heap of Birds extends this breezy theme in four monotype prints reflecting on the "nuance of sky," but he abruptly brings us down to earth with a fifth, slightly unhinged pronouncement: "Indian still target Obama Bin Laden Geronimo."

In his essay for the show, McFadden links the abrasive tone of several works — an "ego"-centric poem-drawing by John Will and Divya Mehra's boldface observation, "She poses a problem because she keeps exposing a problem" — to CV2's "cantankerous, boisterous, determined and driven" founder, two-time Governor General's Award-winning poet Dorothy Livesay.

Fittingly, others allude to a kind of institutional memory. Stashed among the paperwork in one vitrine is a dish of cookies by Turkish artist Erdem Tasdelen, dainty porcelain casts of the scalloped madeleines that triggered Proust's "involuntary memories" in In Search of Lost Time. Natasha Peterson's cyanotype prints (an early photographic process) made from partially rubbed-off sheets of Letraset type offer a nostalgic throwback to the days before desktop publishing, visually echoing Heap of Birds' own cloudy, blue-hued texts.

And what would an anniversary be without a few words of encouragement? Just outside the gallery, U.K. artist Ben Cove's Untitled (Wall Painting) cheekily speaks to the managed chaos and skin-of-the-teeth tenacity required to keep a poetry journal running for 40 years: a jumbled heap of letters spells out "Everything is going to be alright." Here's hoping, and here's to 40 more.

 

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

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History

Updated on Thursday, October 22, 2015 at 11:37 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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