ARTFUL BLOGGER: Canadian contemporary art biennial quality over quantity

BY PAUL GESSELL

Howie Tsui      The Unfortunates of d’Arcy Island, 2013 Chinese paint pigments and gold calligraphy ink on mulberry paper, mounted on board 4 panels; 91.5 × 61 × 4.2 cm each; 91.5 × 244 × 4.2 cm overall National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Photo © NGC  

Howie Tsui    
The Unfortunates of d’Arcy Island, 2013
Chinese paint pigments and gold calligraphy ink on mulberry paper, mounted on board
4 panels; 91.5 × 61 × 4.2 cm each; 91.5 × 244 × 4.2 cm overall
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa
Photo © NGC

Shine a Light: Canadian Biennial 2014 is more compact than the National Gallery of Canada’s two previous biennials, but this exhibition is far more memorable, with one wow after another. Several individual artists are each given a room to display their wares, making the overall exhibition seem like a series of mini-exhibitions of some of the best contemporary art being created by Canadian artists.

Additionally, most of the art chosen for the biennial is what curators call “accessible” — in that most people will “get” the installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, photographs, and films, and not be left bewildered as to what is really going on.

From Vancouver, Geoffrey Farmer is represented by a massive installation, Leaves of Grass, originally exhibited in a somewhat different form at the prestigious international art fair dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany. The installation includes more than 16,000 photographs of celebrities, consumer products, natural disasters, and wars snipped from Life magazines during the period 1935-85 and glued to sticks stuck into floral foam, forming a crowded line 124 feet long. The whole contraption sits atop a long, narrow table with the photos-on-a-stick rising six feet above the table top. One could spend a day just eyeing this photographic review of much of the 20th century.

 

Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Geoffrey Farmer Leaves of Grass, 2012, cut-out images from Life magazines (1935–85), archival glue, miscanthus grass, floral foam and wooden table, installation dimensions variable, installation view, dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, 2012. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Courtesy of the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver and Casey Kaplan, New York. Photo: Anders Sune Berg.

Another room has seven large format photos from China by Toronto’s Edward Burtynsky. Nearby is a room for Kelly Richard’s imaginative film Mariner 9, revealing an imagined scene on Mars. Vancouver artist Luke Parnell fills a room with an installation about the commodification of West Coast Aboriginal art called A Brief History of Northwest Coast Design. Another Vancouver Aboriginal artist, Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun, has his own room to display drawings and paintings, including the iconic Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky.

The biennial is meant to showcase the gallery’s contemporary art (including indigenous art) acquisitions from the last two years. Not all new acquisitions are exhibited in the biennial. This time 80 works from 26 artists are on display. That’s only about a third of the acquisitions.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 acrylic on canvas, 142.3 × 226.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC.

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 acrylic on canvas, 142.3 × 226.1 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC.

That means works by three Ottawa artists — Melanie Authier, Lorraine Gilbert, and Annie Pootoogook — are not part of the exhibition, despite being acquired during the past two years. Last time, one of Authier’s abstract paintings became something of a signature piece for the biennial. Paintings were scarce commodities in this new exhibition. The two drawings and one lithograph by Pootoogook are from 2004-5, before this one-time art star originally from Cape Dorset, Nunavut became a tragic street person in Ottawa.

Ottawa ex-pat Howie Tsui, now of Vancouver, is in the exhibition with his contemporary take on an ancient Chinese scroll painting. Tsui’s work, The Unfortunates of D’Arcy Island, tells the story of an island off the British Columbia coast that once housed a leper colony for Chinese-Canadians. Music fans will remember Tsui as part of the band The Acorn. In the last few years that Tsui has been away from Ottawa, his work has matured — it looks less like street art, has more gravitas, and, in the case of D’Arcy Island, a strong connection to Canadian history rather than Asian fantasy.

The biennials are products of a team of curators from contemporary art, photography, drawings and indigenous art. The chief curator for this biennial is Josee Drouin-Brisbois, curator of contemporary art. In a curatorial essay, Drouin-Brisbois explains how the exhibition came to be called Shine a Light: “Artists can be seen as modern-day philosophers and visionaries who shine light on events, places, and people that have been obscured, forgotten, or marginalized by history and societies.”

Shine a Light continues at the National Gallery until March 8.

 

SOUND SEEKERS: Waxing nostalgic about Souljazz Orchestra

BY FATEEMA SAYANI

Photo credit: Luna Begin

The band in the basement of Babylon in 2005, a year before their first album was released. Photo credit: Luna Begin


The Souljazz Orchestra hosts a Vinyl Reissue Party on Saturday, Oct. 18 at Babylon with guests The Goods Sound System and DJs Andy Williams and Scott C. Expect a top-shelf dance party with a nostalgic spirit inside the club where the band first launched its live soul-jam get-downs nearly a decade ago — 10 p.m., $15.

The group is celebrating the release of their back catalogue. You can now get all five Souljazz Orchestra albums on heavyweight 180-gram wax. Expect to hear all the textures and warmth that comes across in those records. It amplifies the balmy feel of the tunes, which have drawn sold-out audiences across Europe where the band tours frequently. (Check out this archived Souljazz tour diary for a few laughs).

To mark the occasion, Sound Seekers picked its favourite Souljazz tunes from over the years. Chime in on Twitter (@ottawamag) with your top tunes from each album. Use the hashtag #souljazztoptracks.

Here’s my picks:

Freedom No Go Die (2006)
The catchy “Mista President” got everyone moving, including BBC DJ Gilles Peterson who added the track to his Top 10 list of Worldwide Best songs for that year.

Manifesto (2008)
“People, People” puts a cry for solidarity to a heady beat with call-and-response plea to keep on keeping on.

Rising Sun (2010)
“Serenity” is exactly what it sounds like, a calming eight-minute interlude that shows the band’s expansive range and talent that takes them beyond their afrobeat origins.

Solidarity (2012)
“Conquering Lion” has a regal sound. It’s got snaky, cascading horn lines and a seductive beat that follows a hot heat of sweaty, clubby tracks.

Inner Fire (2014)
“Celestial Blues” is a soulful hip-hoppin’ cover of the 1971 Andy Bey track. The band filled out the originally sparse song with a bumpin’ arrangement of trumpet, trombone, flute, alto sax, bass clarinet, vibraphone, piano, upright bass, and percussion.

To get a taste of the band’s entire catalogue, check out this mini-mix on Soundcloud.

 

 

Photo credit: Luna Begin


WEEKENDER: Five things to do on the weekend of Oct. 16 to 19

BY MATT HARRISON

DeadHearts

Film still from “Dead Hearts,” a film screening at this weekend’s Ottawa International Film Festival.

Ottawa International Film Festival
Only four years old, the Ottawa International Film Festival is definitely a new kid on the block by comparison to other, more star-studded film festivals in Canada. That said, the OIFF continues to impress with a well-curated selection of films from around the world. It opens with a gala on Thursday Oct. 16, and runs until Sunday, Oct. 19. Piquing my curiosity is the slasher film, Girlhouse (after all, it’s almost Halloween!) on Thursday, Oct. 16. And the behind-the-scenes doc — My Father and the Man in Black — about Johnny Cash as seen through the eyes of his Canadian manager, Saul Holiff, who committed suicide. His son and the doc’s director, Jonathan Holiff, piece together the untold story through letters and telephone recordings; it screens on Friday, Oct. 17. The short comedy, Dead Hearts, features a very young mortician (think ‘kid’) who will “give his heart away to find true love;” this film is billed as a “gothic bedtime tale”. It screens on Saturday, Oct. 18, and features “love, loss, kung-fu, taxidermy, and werewolves.” For the full schedule, visit the site. Prices are: individual screenings, $10; OIFF Gala (opening night), $50; or the see-everything pass, $95. All films screen at the Mayfair Theatre.
Mayfair Theatre, 1074 Bank St.

Poison!
It’s 1914 and war is in the air, spies are everywhere, and on a cool autumn evening in an old mansion, a group of socialites imbibe a new beverage unaware that cocktails can be… fatal! This is the setting for Murder with a Twist, a murder mystery being held on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (Oct. 16 to 18) at the Billings Estate, beginning at 7 p.m. each evening. The murder-mystery-comedy is put on by the Ottawa Storytellers and tickets are $15. For more info, visit here.
Billings Estate, 2100 Cabot St.

Art Battle
[Memory lane time] Back in the early 2000s, blah blah blah. But one memory from that millennial period is the brief spat of iPod battles that pitted ‘DJs’ against one another, each selection garnering either cheers or jeers from the crowds. In that vein, I see a parallel with the Art Battle format that happens semi-regularly. During the battle, artists are given 20 minutes to produce their best work, whilst patrons mill about observing the contest and then vote for the best pieces. I doubt the masters pumped out their best work in 20 minutes, but I’m sure the battle does produce some interesting composition despite the haste in which they are created. Voting is followed by a silent auction. The ‘battle’ is at Arts Court on Saturday, Oct. 18 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 student/adv. tickets; $20 regular. More info here.
Arts Court, 2 Daly Ave.

Skeletons in Gatineau (FREE!)
Most people’s impression of The Museum of Nature is that what you see in their displays/exhibits is more or less the extent of their collection — au contraire mon frère (or soeur). Ten and a half million specimens of plants and animals are housed in a building the size of five hockey rinks along the edge of Gatineau Park. Known as the Museum of Nature’s Natural History Campus, this Gatineau building is opening its doors this Saturday, Oct. 18 for a rare glimpse into the facility and its massive collection. See how dinosaurs are prepared; get insight into moss and lichens; check out the Large Skeleton Room (including ones hidden in closets!); visit various labs, and peruse the Rare Book Library, which includes Sir John Franklin’s 1823 account of his first two expeditions to the Arctic. Museum scientists, curators, and staff will be on hand to answer questions. It’s free, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There’s also a BBQ — cash only. More info, visit here.
Museum of Nature’s Natural History Campus, 1740 Pink Rd., Gatineau, Quebec

Celebrity Chef/Gardener (FREE!)
Trussed up in a tweed jacket, sipping a pumpkin-spiced latte, taking in pedestrian cacophony with a care-free air that shouts autumnal bliss — if, while striding through the city in this seasonal rapture, you happen to stroll through the ByWard Market, don’t be surprised if you bump into celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, a wagon, and lots of harvest-y food stuffs. That’s because this is Harvest Weekend in the ByWard Market —Friday, Oct. 17 to Sunday, Oct. 19.There will be a street party Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m. featuring — naturally — food, live music, a sidewalk sale, and a historical slideshow. Saturday, starting at noon, there will be activities for kids, including wagon rides and an activity tent, as well as a Food & Drink show (1 to 6 p.m.) featuring Crawford who’ll be doing demos and signing books. Sunday, the Food & Drink show continues (1 to 5 p.m.), this time featuring CBC’s gardening guru Ed Lawrence. More wagon rides, book readings, and activities for kids.
Full schedule here.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Ottawa Art Gallery resurrects pioneering artist Alma Duncan

BY PAUL GESSELL

1967 - Untitled (Blue Circle) - Private Collection

Untitled (Blue Circle) │ Sans titre (Cercle bleu), 1967, Alma Duncan. Acrylic on canvas │ Acrylique sur toile 69 x 88.8 | 69x 88,8 cm Courtesy of a Private Collection │ Gracieuseté d’une collection privée

Sometimes the Ottawa Art Gallery gets it right. Really and truly right. And that is the case with its new exhibition honouring the late ground-breaking artist Alma Duncan.

When the history of Ottawa is studied, the focus is usually on the politicians who passed through the capital. Little attention is paid to the entrepreneurs, dreamers, and artists who made Ottawa what it is, beyond Parliament Hill.

Thus, ALMA: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917-2004) gives us a window into the often overlooked past of Ottawa’s cultural life. Yes, Ottawa did have a cultural life beyond the costume balls and skating parties at Rideau Hall. Away from the vice-regal and political hurly-burly, people like Duncan were making this a far more interesting city. Indeed, Duncan was a role model for all women, not just artists, trying to live an independent life.

1958 - Self-Portrait with Red Stripes - Private Collection2

Self-Portrait with Red Stripes │ Autoportrait avec rayures rouges, 1958, Alma Duncan. Oil on masonite │ Huile sur aggloméré 50.8 x 63.5 | 50,8 x 63,5 cm Courtesy of │ Gracieuseté de D & E Lake Ltd. Fine Arts, Toronto

Duncan was born in Paris, Ont., in 1917 and moved to Montreal in 1936 at age 19. She studied under renowned artists Goodridge Roberts and Ernst Neumann, and was soon exhibiting with the Art Association of Montreal.

In 1943, during the Second World War, Duncan received a government commission to create art related to the homefront, specifically Canada’s shipyards, munitions factories and other industrial projects. That same year she moved to Ottawa to become an artist with the National Film Board (NFB). Back then, the NFB attracted some of the most creative minds in the country to come to Ottawa to make films of all kinds, including animated ones.

Duncan invaded traditionally male spheres through her wartime work and her animated films. She was always ahead of the times. Check out the self-portrait done at age 23: Alma is wearing trousers. That must have sent tongues wagging.

Folksong Fantasy, 1951, film still from Who Killed Cock Robin, National Film Board of Canada

Folksong Fantasy (1951), Alma Duncan. Film still from Who Killed Cock Robin, National Film Board

At the film board, Duncan met Audrey (Babs) McLaren. The two collaborated on animated films and lived together for four decades. (That must also have sent tongues wagging). They both quit the NFB in 1951 and formed their own film company, Dunclaren Productions, and made several internationally-noted stop-motion animation short films. In those days, women didn’t just go out to form a company and market their products around the globe. No one, I guess, told Duncan and McLaren.

By the 1960s, Duncan returned to full-time painting and drawing. She was commissioned to create a series of postage stamps for Canada Post. She painted abstract works, including the Woman Series of 1965 that were exhibited in the National Gallery to much acclaim. Those black and white artworks reduce the female form to what the Ottawa Art Gallery calls “geometrically anthropomorphized shapes.” They were a hit.

1966 - The Family - Private Collection

The Family │ La famille, 1966, Alma Duncan. Canvas collage on masonite │ Collage de toile sur aggloméré 60.4 x 103 | 60,4 x 103 cm Courtesy of a Private Collection │ Gracieuseté d’une collection privée

The idea of the Duncan exhibition originated with Jaclyn Meloche from the University of Ottawa visual arts department. Meloche had written her master’s thesis on Duncan. She took her idea to Catherine Sinclair, senior curator at Ottawa Art Gallery. Soon Meloche and Sinclair embarked upon a journey to resurrect Duncan, who just died in 2004.

The exhibition is divided into several parts: portraits, war works, nature drawings, abstracts, and bric-a-brac from her animation films. Some of the films are being shown on a continuous loop at the gallery.

Personally, I find her self-portraits the best of the lot. In those paintings, Duncan usually depicts herself in the act of painting. She was an artist and wanted to be seen as such. And in those paintings, Duncan has a confident look — a bold look. This was not a woman to be trifled with.

Alma: The Life and Art of Alma Duncan (1917-2004) continues at the Ottawa Art Gallery until Jan. 11, 2015 and then tours Ontario.

 

 

INSIDE TWEED: Examining the government’s new approach to medical marijuana

Originally published in the October 2014 print issue of Ottawa Magazine.

Photo by Julie Oliver

Photo by Julie Oliver

From job opportunities to outcries from doctors and medical marijuana users, there is much to be gained and much to be lost with the introduction of new laws governing pot production. In “Seeds of Change,” journalist Ron Corbett visits Tweed Inc., the marijuana factory in Smiths Falls, for an inside look at how they’re building the industry. Corbett also talks to legalization advocates such as Mike Foster of Crosstown Traffic, medical marijuana users who prefer the ‘grow your own’ system, and Health Canada — who sees no disconnect in the rollout of the new process (“It seems that while one arm of the federal government was crowing about the birth of a new industry, another arm was looking at the product of this new industry and saying, ‘It’s pot, right?’ ”).

Here, a few excepts from the article by Ron Corbett, with photos by Julie Oliver.

 

 

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