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They’re all winners

Showcase of Sobey Art Award finalists highlights thought-provoking work from across Canada

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/11/2014 (1006 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

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.

Medusa, by Chris Curreri

Medusa, by Chris Curreri

Mom is God, from Blanket Statements by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber.

Mom is God, from Blanket Statements by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber.

From the Same Bunch, from Blanket Statements by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber.

From the Same Bunch, from Blanket Statements by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber.

Nadia Myre invited hundreds of participants to illustrate their physical and emotional "scars" using canvas, scissors, pencils and thread. While good art therapy doesn’t always make for good art, Myre’s clinical handling of private pain makes for complicated viewing. She organizes the identical square canvases visually and thematically, the surfaces transitioning from intact to violently shredded while recurring motifs like hands and hearts cluster together on the wall. Arranged like graphs, individual expressions become visual data. Seeing them together is a reminder we’re less alone — if also less unique — than we might imagine.

Evan Lee examines how anonymous ethnic and political "Others" are constructed in the media and in the public imagination. Working from indistinct newswire photos, he’s pieced together oil portraits of smuggled Tamil asylum-seekers, solidifying their identities. He layers clouds of black ink over blurry images of masked protesters, further obscuring theirs. Vitrines packed with 3D-printed models, digital renderings, newspaper clippings, photographs and political cartoons examine the seizure of the Ocean Lady (the vessel harbouring the refugees) from countless angles, expanding our perspective of the event but promising little in the way of clarity.

Perhaps surprisingly, Chris Curreri’s traditional black-and-white photographs of smushed, extruded and reconstituted clay (taken while he was enrolled in a ceramics class) keep viewers teetering on the edge between desire and disgust. Translated into seductive silver tones, the clay takes on the character of smooth skin one minute, excrement and torn flesh the next. Medusa, a faceless concrete bust of an androgynous bodybuilder, confounds distinctions between male and female, hardness and softness, inert material and flesh.

Sackville, N.B.-based Graeme Patterson reinvigorates another slightly antiquated medium, creating dense, disorienting stop-motion animations that spill over into live-action video and sculptural installation. Ostensibly the story of an anthropomorphic bison and anthropomorphic cougar who are friends, Secret Citadel (presented as a video projection and a selection of Patterson’s finely-crafted, animal-headed stop-motion models) creates a dark, fantastical world unto itself.

Meanwhile, Winnipeg finalists Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber engage in world-building and storytelling of a different kind. Together they’ve compiled a fictional "library" of carefully-crude miniature paintings, each depicting a single, absurd volume (titles include It Sucks that You Died and Loud American Stories), which they’ve installed as a mural of brightly-coloured tiles. Alongside another expansive series of typewritten pieces mimicking late-night musings or confessions, the work highlights the artist’s sardonic, stoner-ish humour and the conversational ease of their collaboration. (Their individual sensibilities — Dumontier’s droll minimalism and Farber’s more manic approach — are easier to tease apart in Blanket Statements, the pair’s concurrent show at Actual Gallery).

Somebody took home top prize Wednesday night, but of course they’re all winners — each of the finalists won $10,000. More importantly, they’ve all contributed thought-provoking and deeply rewarding work to the national conversation. Sobey Art Award continues at the WAG until Jan. 11.

 

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

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