Saturday, September 14, 2013

Yaletown to Chinatown

Although not part of the SWARM 14 program, the Contemporary Art Gallery took advantage of the event's second night crowds to open its Mike Nelson exhibition.

A couple of months earlier I was hired to write a preview of this exhibition for a lifestyle magazine I sometimes contribute to, only to be told last week that they had to cut the piece due to spatial constraints (this usually means an advertising deal fell through).

Here is the unedited (but paid for) preview:

Mike Nelson
Contemporary Art Gallery
September 14-November 3, 2013

Among the highlights of the 2011 Venice Biennale was Mike Nelson's labyrinthian reorientation of the twee British pavilion, where the English artist restaged a site-specific exhibition he made for the 2003 Istanbul Biennale that included his art work, his photo-documentation and aspects of the building it was housed in.

For his CAG exhibition (his first solo show in Canada), the 46-year-old Nelson once again reaches back, this time to give us two newly-minted commissions: the first, co-produced with Toronto's Power Plant, is a series of sculptures derived from his 1997 science-fictive installation The Amnesiacs (a "20th century biker gang" comprised of fur trappers, pioneers and historic North American outlaws); the second, co-produced with Banff's Walter Phillips Gallery, is a lens-based project derived from family photos taken between 1957 and 1972 by renowned Canadian anthropologist Wilson Duff.

While the revisitation of past works, not to mention riffing on the production of others, is common practice among visual artists these past hundred years, what makes Nelson's installations especially relevant is his treatment of narrative. According to CAG curator Jenifer Papararo, "Mike manages to convey a narrative indirectly, without a linear structure. I like this aspect of his work. I love narrative, but I don't always want to have it unfold in front of me -- I want to create it too."

Papararo is referring to a more open-ended, dialogical art experience, one that was once supported and encouraged in the modern novel (at least since the 1922 publication of James Joyce's Ulysses ), but over the years has been taken up by visual artists, many of whom work in a variety of mediums and, like Nelson, draw on a "vast cultural reference range."

Two local artists Papararo brings up as exemplars of this tendency are Stan Douglas and Rodney Graham, both of whom "share a strong drive for investigating conventional forms of storytelling, namely through cinema, theatre and literature." Of those emerging, she sees similar strategies in the work of Gareth Moore and Kara Uzelman; how they employ "underlying narratives to guide the material presence of their works and installations, using fictions based on characters to build larger serial works."

But if a further case is to be made for bringing Nelson to town, Papararo mentions the artist's ongoing fascination with "North American masculine stereotypes," those who have, for whatever reason, chosen to lead a loose "nomadic" lifestyle. "And what better place to do that than in Vancouver, with its fresh history?" asks the curator, before adding, "I wonder if that pioneer spirit remains? Maybe Mike will help us find out."

                                                *        *        *

From the CAG I peddled to Artspeak. Unfortunately, like the Equinox the night before, the doors were closed.

But they were not closed at Gallery Gachet,

where I exchanged nods with the writer Cecily Nicholson.

From there to Cineworks Annex,

where I watched a film/digital moving picture projected from an enlarger onto a horizontal surface.

Then the new UNIT/PITT, which is massive.

After that I pedalled two blocks south to East Georgia, for curator Mo Sa'lemy's to-be-returned-to Encyclonospace Iranica at ACCESS,

and, finally, 221A, for Brady Cranfield and Jamie Hilder's Due to Injuries.

My SWARM stops complete, I returned to my bike for my ascent up Main, eventually to a refurbished church that, like its former self, excels in the production and consumption of spirits, of which I had more than a few.

No comments:

Post a Comment