ARTFUL BLOGGER: The horror show that was Kingston Pen

BY PAUL GESSELL

2_The Dome from above

The Dome from Above, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

The late Roger Caron became one of the most famous inmates of Kingston Penitentiary and not because he was a macabre serial killer like other residents such as Clifford Olson, Russell Williams, and Paul Bernardo.

Instead, Caron was a serial robber. But he was also a writer and won the Governor General’s Award for Non-fiction in 1978 for Go Boy: Memoirs of A Life Behind Bars. In the book, Caron describes his first impressions of Kingston Penitentiary, which closed in September 30, 2013.

“Kingston Penitentiary seen through a winter blizzard was enough to strike terror into the bravest heart,” Caron wrote. “Nine acres of cement and steel perched on the very banks of Lake Ontario and buffeted by a bitter and howling wind blowing off the frozen lake. It had the appearance of a fortress: high, gray walls all around; and tall guard towers commanding each corner of the wall. Seated within, on high stools and cradling high-powered rifles, were the blue-uniformed sentinels with license to kill and maim.”

Cell decorated with Harley Davidson, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Cell decorated with Harley Davidson, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Caron’s description is apt, according to a new book of hard-edged photographs taken by celebrated Toronto photo-artist Geoffrey James during the last months the federal institution was operating. The book, Inside Kingston Penitentiary: 1835-2013, from Black Dog Publishing, is filled with dozens of gritty, depressing, and very revealing photos of the architecture, inmates and guards of this infamous place. An exhibition of those photographs continues at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston until Dec. 7.

“I first entered KP at the tail end of its life,” James writes in his book of photographs. “Slated to close after being in operation for 178 years, it was a world that I wanted to experience and document before the prisoners were transferred.”

Recently vacated cell, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Recently vacated cell, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

James admits he was ill-prepared for the experience, his knowledge of prison based on often inaccurate Hollywood portrayals of life behind bars. But James soon figured out the place. The hopelessness of KP is found in his shots of mournful prisoner graffiti, groups of joyless prisoners idling, not just for a moment, but for lifetimes, and the old stone architecture that is the stuff of nightmares and horror movies.

The one hopeful area James found was an outdoor compound containing a teepee and a native sweat lodge.

“It is the sacred ground of the Native Brotherhood,” James writes. “There are sweats every month and quarterly changing of the season ceremonies. I attended two of the ceremonies and they were a ray of light in a bleak landscape.”

A “ray of light” perhaps, but not brilliant sunshine. The photographs of the Aboriginal men in their rituals still seem drenched in despair.

The book and photographs by James have created an important documentary record of life in Canada’s oldest and most infamous prison. It’s the kind of book that should have been shown to Roger Caron as a teenager — it just might have dissuaded him from embarking upon a life of crime.

Geoffrey James: Inside Kingston Penitentiary is at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston until Dec. 7.

Exercise yard, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

Exercise yard, 2013. Photo by Geoffrey James

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.

 

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.

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Inuit art’s Japanese connection revealed in new exhibit

BY PAUL GESSELL

Polar Bear and Cub in Ice

Polar Bear and Cub in Ice, 1959 Niviasi Printed by Iyola Kingwatsiak or Kananginak Pootoogook Stencil CMH, CD 1959-012 SS © IMG2010-0207-0001-Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

Most art scholars know that Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh, and other famous 19th century European artists were influenced by Japanese art. Fewer scholars know of the links between Inuit and Japanese art. A splendid new exhibition at the Carleton University Art Gallery explores those surprising links.

Iyon Nokka

Iyon Nokka, 1958 Kichiemon Okamura Printed by the artist Kappazuri stencil Gift of Alice W. Houston CMH, 2010.171 © IMG2010-0207-0004Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

The original idea for the exhibition, Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration, came from Carleton’s Miang Tiampo, an associate professor of art history, specializing in Japanese art. Tiampo took her idea to what was then called the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The museum, with the help of Tiampo and one of her students at the time, Asato Ikeda, organized the exhibition and, in 2011, sent it to Japan for a showing. A Canadian tour followed, culminating in the newly opened show at Carleton.

The Inuit-Japanese connection was fostered by James Houston, an artist and federal bureaucrat working during the 1950s in the Cape Dorset area in what is now Nunavut. Houston is considered the father of modern Inuit art for his efforts to link Inuit artists with markets in southern Canada and abroad.

Owl, Fox and Hare Legend

Owl, Fox and Hare Legend, 1959 Osuitok Ipeelee Printed by the artist, with James Houston Stencil CMH, CD 1959-021 SS © IMG2010-0207-0037-Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

In 1958, Houston went to Japan for three months to study printmaking so he could help develop a printmaking industry in Cape Dorset. Houston returned to the Canadian North with new skills and a suitcase full of Japanese prints and printmaking tools.

Inuit printmaking was never the same. The Arctic artists learned better how to create stark black-and-white prints and to highlight so-called negative space — the uncoloured parts. They adapted Japanese tools: Japanese wooden chisel handles were replaced by caribou antler; horsehair brushes became polar bear bristle brushes. Inuit artists even began “signing” their work with a personalized seal akin to those used in Japan.

The Carleton exhibition includes examples of these initial Japanese-inspired works, alongside some Japanese prints of the same era. The similarities in style and content are striking. Call it early globalization.

Three Caribou

Three Caribou, 1957 Niviasi (1908–1959) Printed by Kananginak Pootoogook (1935−) Stonecut CMH, CD 1957/58-003 © IMG2010-0207-0019-Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

The first Inuit printmakers to benefit from Japanese inspiration were Osuitok Ipeelee, Iyola Kingwatsiak, Eegyvudluk Pootoogook, Kananginak Pootoogook, and Lukta Qiatsuk. All have since died. Examples of their works from 1959 are in the exhibition.

Houston Kneeling Priest

Kneeling Ainu Priest, 1958 James Houston Printed by the artist Woodcut Gift of Alice W. Houston CMH, 2010.171 © IMG2010-0207-0016-Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

Back in 2011, the Canadian Museum of Civilization loudly trumpeted the exhibition as the museum’s handiwork. Norman Vorano, then the museum’s head of Inuit art, was listed as the leading scholar in the exhibition catalogue. A press conference was held at the museum to unveil the catalogue. But there was no exhibition of the actual prints at the museum or elsewhere in the national capital.

So, why didn’t the museum stage an exhibition of these prints? Some museum officials say it was more a Carleton project than a museum project. But in 2011, it was touted as mainly a museum project. That, of course, was before the Museum of Civilization became the Canadian Museum of History with a mandate that has caused tremendous confusion.

Tudlik Bird Dream Forewarning Blizzard

Bird Dream Forewarning Blizzard, 1959 Tudlik Printed by Iyola Kingwatsiak Stonecut with rolled background CMH, CD 1959-016 SC © IMG2010-0207-0011-Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

The museum claims it is still interested in acquiring and exhibiting indigenous art, although there are signals that leave a different impression. The head of First Nations art, Lee-Ann Martin, retired last Christmas and the head of Inuit art, Norman Vorano, left earlier this year for a job at Queen’s University. Neither has been replaced. The two jobs are to be rolled into one and a curator hired at some time in the future.

Behind the scenes, the museum has debated whether it should be involved in Aboriginal art at all. Indigenous art used to be considered handicraft, rather than fine art. So, indigenous art was exhibited in ethno-cultural institutions rather than fine art museums.

However, the National Gallery and other major art institutions are increasingly treating indigenous art as fine art. So, should the Canadian Museum of History continue to acquire and exhibit Aboriginal art?

Museum officials maintain they have an abiding interest in Aboriginal art. If that is, indeed, the case, maybe that museum could have found the space to display an Inuit art exhibition it created three years ago.

Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration, curated by Norman Vorano, Ming Tiampo, and Asato Ikeda, produced by the Canadian Museum of History, on at the Carleton University Art Gallery until Dec. 14, 2014

Owl

Owl, 1959 Lukta Qiatsuk Printed by the artist Stonecut CMH, CD 1959-004 SC © IMG2010-0207-0036-Dm Photo: Marie-Louise Deruaz

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Ghosts haunt book launch at famous pub

BY PAUL GESSELL

ManInTheShadows

D’Arcy McGee’s Irish Pub on Sparks Street was named in honour of the Montreal MP fatally shot, mere steps away, in the early hours of April 7, 1868. Canada was not yet a year old when Thomas D’Arcy McGee was killed by a .32-calibre bullet as he tried to unlock the front door of Toronto House, a Sparks Street rooming house managed by the Widow Trotter.

Patrick James Whelan, an Irish-born tailor and a Fenian sympathizer, was convicted of the assassination and hanged Feb. 11, 1869 at the Carleton County Gaol, now a Nicholas Street youth hostel. The Fenians were American-based, anti-British, Irish nationalists — we’d call them terrorists today — who staged periodic raids on Canada to destabilize the Conservative government of Sir John A. Macdonald. McGee, an Irish-born Catholic, was perceived as a traitor by the Fenians for supporting Macdonald.

Whelan was convicted of McGee’s murder on circumstantial evidence and, to this day, his actual guilt is often questioned. His possible innocence was certainly raised in the one-man play, Blood on the Moon, written and performed by Ottawa actor Pierre Brault, first at the 1999 Ottawa Fringe Festival, later in an expanded nationally touring play, and also in a television drama.

Henderson_Gordon

Author Gordon Henderson. Photo by Jason van Bruggen

Now Toronto journalist and documentary film-maker Gordon Henderson has written a novel throwing more doubt on Whelan’s guilt. Man in the Shadows is Henderson’s first novel. He will launch it in Ottawa Sept. 30, naturally, at D’Arcy McGee’s Pub on Sparks Street. The ghosts of both McGee and Whelan will undoubtedly be haunting the event.

The central character in Man in the Shadows is a fictional young man of Irish descent named Conor O’Dea, who serves as an aide to McGee. The Catholic Conor is romantically involved with the equally fictional Meg Trotter, the protestant daughter of McGee’s landlady. But most of the characters in the book, such as McGee, Macdonald and Whelan are true historical figures and, under Henderson’s watch, never stray far from the historical record in thought, word, and deed.

And then there is the fictional unnamed man who is the titular Man in the Shadows. He is a Fenian who has come to Canada to wreak havoc — first by assassinating McGee and framing Whelan for the crime, and then by plotting the assassination of Macdonald.

Henderson’s book is a good, fast read that even young readers — especially young readers — will enjoy. The fictional characters, including Conor and Meg, are likable but rather one-dimensional. As well, some of the plot elements, especially the attempt to kill Sir John A. on a toboggan slide at Rideau Hall, are more farcical than serious fictional history. This is definitely literature-lite, but the book does help demonstrate that Canadian history can be as exciting as a CSI crime drama on television.

Gordon Henderson will launch Man in the Shadows Sept. 30 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at D’Arcy McGee’s Irish Pub at 44 Sparks St. There is no admission charge.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Transformation of “Ugly Duckling” Main into Swan

BY PAUL GESSELL

Perspective-from-west-2-web

Main2 — Stuart Kinmond’s “windows” on Main Street, a future art installation (2017), which will be part of the redesign of that street

Commissioning artwork to enliven a busy commercial street is a good thing. Unfortunately, not all commissions by the city produce art that is all that suitable or memorable. Sometimes the street sculptures are too small, covered by snow in winter and, during the rest of the year, are simply lost amid a jumble of newspaper boxes, utility poles, and fire hydrants. And sometimes the art is just downright too baffling to be appreciated by passing pedestrians and motorists.

So, that’s why there was cause to celebrate when Ottawa artist Stuart Kinmond recently won the commission to add some pizzazz to Main Street, which is to be “renewed” and “redesigned” by the city starting in the spring of 2015. That work will take about two years, so don’t expect to see Kinmond’s handiwork until 2017.

The winning installation will be a new outdoor gathering place for people on Main near Hazel. This location is meant to capitalize on the pedestrian flow between Saint Paul University, the Main Farmers’ Market, and the various restaurants and businesses across the street.

Main2 - On the squareEntitled Main2 (Main Square), “the artwork will be comprised of blue and green geometric-shaped benches shaded by three, six-metre-tall towers, each framing colourful, multi-layered glass images of the surrounding landscape of Old Ottawa East: The Rideau Canal, the Rideau River, and the land between,” according to a city communique. “In researching his proposal, Kinmond looked at the community’s ecclesiastical heritage, in particular the prominent presence of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and Saint Paul University. The association of stained glass with these religious institutions influenced his choice of materials.”

Before settling on a design, Kinmond rode his bike around the community, noticing some “beautiful places” he had seen before but never associated with Main Street, a thoroughfare he calls an “ugly duckling” badly in need of some pedestrian-friendly revitalization.

“When you look at the map, Old Ottawa East is a linear community with the canal on one side and the river on the other, with Main Street running like a spine down the middle,” Kinmond said in an email interview. “Very close to downtown, the community has a wide variety of housing types — a sweet place to live. However, most of the attractive features are not evident when you drive along Main Street. So the concept originated to make these features visible, like windows onto the street.Main2 - Night view

“As I became more familiar with the area, Main Street seemed to be like a diamond in the rough — a neglected thoroughfare with a beautiful community around it. The street needs a strong infusion of pedestrian-oriented activities and opportunities. There is not a single public space along the whole length of the street for the pubic to sit and gather. So, the idea of a public square seemed like a desirable addition to the street. Hence the idea of Main2 (pronounced ‘main square’). My design became a mini-public square, including the benches, the paving, and shade structures, as well as the windows with coloured glass. The three windows have images of the canal, the river, and the land between,” he wrote.

This is Kinmond’s second public art commission in Ottawa. Last year, he was awarded a commission for artwork at the O-Train stop at Carleton University.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: New book weighs in on controversial bombing of Germany

BY PAUL GESSELL

cook_necessarywar_hc

Tim Cook’s new book, The Necessary War, is is the first vol. of his two-part series examining Canada’s contributions to WW II.

Late on July 24, 1943, close to 800 Canadian and British bombers flew from England to Germany’s second largest city, Hamburg, to begin an unprecedented four-day aerial assault by the Allies on that industrial city. during the Second World War.

By July 28, approximately 42,600 residents of Hamburg were killed and 37,000 wounded. The city was destroyed. More people in that one city were killed than in all of the six-month Blitz of Britain during 1940-41. Germany began to fear defeat.

The much decorated Ottawa author and military historian, Tim Cook, recounts the horror visited upon Hamburg in his new book The Necessary War: Canadians Fighting the Second World War 1939-43, Volume I. Much of the book deals with the still controversial issue of Canada’s participation in Bomber Command, whose daily flights over Germany killed tens of thousands of civilians, like those in Hamburg. The goal was to crush morale, decimate factory workers, and pressure Germany to move troops, which were stationed from the Eastern Front in Russia, back to protect the homeland.

The debate over the morality of Bomber Command continues. Just seven years ago, the Canadian War Museum was embroiled in a very public controversy over a text panel in an exhibition about Bomber Command. Some veterans and politicians claimed the text panel turned the airmen into “war criminals” wantonly killing civilians. The text panel was eventually changed, but only after the museum’s director Joe Geurts lost his job, becoming yet one more casualty of Bomber Command.

By Sarah Cook

Ottawa’s Tim Cook, the author of a new book about Canada’s controversial role in Bomber Command in the Second World War. Photo by Sarah Cook

And now Tim Cook has joined the debate. Cook is a historian at the war museum and a much published author, mainly on the First World War. Now he’s turned his attention to the Second World War in the first of a planned two-volume book detailing major battles and issues involving Canadian troops. The book does not claim to speak for the war museum. Yet, one can not ignore the fact that Cook is a very influential historian at the museum and has input into the way history is treated there.

Cook does not pontificate in the book. Instead, he provides facts — the reasons for the aerial campaign and its bloody effects.

In the description of the destruction of Hamburg, Cook notes that unusual weather, combined with the incendiary bombs, created a massive firestorm sucking in oxygen from streets and buildings to fan the flames: “Entire blocks were consumed in the blaze, terrified civilians were cooked alive in the streets, cowering mothers and children suffocated from lack of oxygen in shelters and even those who dived into the canals for safety were later found boiled alive. In the scorched streets, corpses were reduced to charred bones, mummified remains and coagulated human body fat.”

The result was pure horror. But one must also remember that during the bombing of German cities, the Nazis were well into their program of ethnic cleansing, which killed six million Jews, plus millions of other groups and minorities. Germany had to be stopped. And eventually it was, at least partially by the actions of Bomber Command.

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers

BY PAUL GESSELL

image

Horns (10 x 8 x 2.5″): mixed media: altered plastic horse, clay, gesso, colour pencil crayon, charcoal, graphite, smoke, claw — 2014

The first thing you see are the miniature horses. Then you notice the horses are disabled. One has a peg-leg. Another purportedly moves about on blocks of wood. Their mouths are open with their tongues hanging out. The tongues are removable.

Welcome to the world of Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers. That is the name of a unique exhibition of 18 Manitoba artists at General Fine Craft, Art and Design in beautiful, downtown Almonte, a half-hour drive from Ottawa. (While everyone knows Manitoba is home to mosquitos and frigid temperatures, fewer probably know about the province’s turbulent labour history, which includes riots, where apparently a trolley was tipped at least once).

The exhibition is the brainchild of Winnipeg artists Diana Thorneycroft and her partner Michael Boss. Thorneycroft has family in Almonte. On one trip, Thorneycroft visited the Mill Street shop of General Fine Craft, Art and Design and offered to co-curate with Boss an exhibition of the 18 Manitobans — most of whom display a wonderfully wicked sense of humours, their works varying from embroidery to funky pottery to a particularly mischievous 3-D miniature tabletop scene of anti-Harper protesters. Artist Peter Graham personally brought that piece, Harperlandia 1, in his airplane carry-on from Winnipeg.

Thorneycroft is best known these days for her photographs of dioramas containing dolls and other props that depict often horrifying incidents in Canadian history. The dioramas range from the death of artist Tom Thomson while canoeing, to clergymen abusing children.

Her newest body of work involves purchasing plastic toy horses about six inches high and then heating the animals so that the warmed plastic can be manipulated. The horses are disabled in various ways and their faces distorted so that their mouths remain open and their tongues can be removed.

image[2]

Sugar (10.25 x 10 x 3.5”): mixed media: altered plastic horse, clay, sugar, electrical wiring, coloured pencil crayon, lead weights, leather — 2014

“This allows the new owner to put something they believe to be magical in through the horse’s mouth, to eventually land in its belly,” says Thorneycroft. “The process of this activation then makes the horse the owner’s personal talisman.” (The entire process is inspired by West African voodoo.)

The disabled horses are stand-ins for people with disabilities. They encourage us to view the disabled in a respectful manner. Thorneycroft’s growing stable of horses will eventually find their way into photographable dioramas about people with disabilities.

On the gallery wall are two photographs of miniature motorcycles made of cardboard. Those are Boss’s contribution to Thorneycroft’s horses; surely a gift for the biker with everything.

One of my favourite pieces in the show is actually the cheapest. It’s a goofy doll called Muskrat Head, which has an elongated head made of fur, and the body is an assemblage of a vintage hand towel, ceramic, cotton, and stone — a creation by Dana Kletke, selling for $200.

Nearby is the most expensive artwork — a $5,000 cast glass sculpture by Ione Thorkelsson called GK41338: winged lung. Yes, it’s a lung with wings, and it’s pure magic.

Another favourite is Fox with Fiddle made of hand-modelled glazed ceramic. A rather sly looking fox, about six inches high, holds a fiddle in one “hand” while the other “hand” holds a mask close to its face. Jordan Van Sewell is the artist. Take a bow, Jordan.

Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers continues at General Fine Craft, Art and Design at 63 Mill St., Almonte, until Oct. 12.

 

 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Material Witness’s “wow” factor dulled by 101′s space

BY PAUL GESSELL

KarinaBergmans _Bronchi

Bronchi (Take A Deep Breath, Breathe), 2014, by Karina Bergmans, tyvek hazmat suits, paint, blower, air

The individual works in a new exhibition at Gallery 101, Material Witness, have considerable “wow” factor. But put these works together haphazardly in a crowded, badly lit, grey room, and the “wow” factor melts away. Simply put, Material Witness is far less than the sum of its parts.

Material Witness is meant to highlight the ways contemporary artists are exploring and expanding “fibre art” or art that is made of textiles and other materials from the traditional, predominantly female, sewing room.

“Textile is a powerful and versatile medium put to use throughout human history for travel, clothing, agriculture, architecture, historical documentation, expression of identity, and experimental art,” says the Gallery 101 promo for the exhibition.

“Barry Ace, Karina Bergmans, Bozica Radjenovic, Mona Sharma, and Emily Rose Michaud are each occupying creative termini at the edges of fibre art. Each artist has followed the path of their artistic practice to an expression that is as logical to the heart as to the formal and aesthetic conversation of professional contemporary art practices.”

Laura Margita, gallery director and exhibition curator, chose the works wisely from the five artists for Material Witness. It’s a pity the former industrial garage that is Gallery 101 still looks like a grim, dimly lit, artphobic space.

The room is dominated at one end by an 11-foot-high, floor-to-ceiling, cloth depiction of human bronchi, in which the passageways resemble a maze of plant roots and carry oxygen to the lungs. Artist Karina Bergmans has attached a hidden blower that pumps air into the giant bronchi, making them sinuously move, as if they were alive and sustaining a body. Bergmans has nicknamed the piece “Take a Deep Breath,” although the official name is Bronchi. Last summer at Ottawa City Hall, Bergmans had an impressive solo show of oversized body parts made from different fabrics.

Bergmans’s sculpture is so large that it overshadows the intriguing photo beside it, which is part of a body of work by Bozica Radjenovic. In this photo, the artist wears a red dress, which she knit herself and covers her from face to knees. Dressed this way, Radjenovic holds in her arms a knitted red body suit, minus the body, making the suit appear to be that of a deflated person.

Pieta, 2014, by Bozica Radjenovic

Pieta, by Bozica Radjenovic

The resulting image references Michelangelo’s famous Vatican sculpture, The Pietà, showing the Virgin Mary holding the body of Christ after the crucifixion. Radjenovic’s photo is dramatic, moving, and mysterious. But surrounded by far larger sculptures, the photograph is lost. It needs to be viewed on its own in a more intimate space.

Nigik Makizinan - Otter Moccasins, 2014, Barry Ace, bound leather boots, otter pelts, velvet, capacitors, resistors, diodes, light emitting diodes (LED), deer hide, synthetic porcupine hair, cotton thread, brass hawk bells, felt.

Nigik Makizinan – Otter Moccasins, 2014, Barry Ace, bound leather boots, otter pelts, velvet, capacitors, resistors, diodes, light emitting diodes (LED), deer hide, synthetic porcupine hair, cotton thread, brass hawk bells, felt

The works of Aboriginal artist Barry Ace, best known for his beadwork, were displayed better. One of them, Nigik Makizinan — Otter Moccasins, sits in a vitrine in the centre of the room and can be viewed from all sides. The arrangement consistently drew a crowd on opening night.

Ace has taken a “found” pair of men’s brown shoes and decorated them with Aboriginal-style beadwork. Attached to the shoes are “trail dusters” — long, flowing strips of otter fur attached to beaded material. The “trail dusters” were originally meant to obscure a walking person’s tracks in the dirt. Ace has cleverly used tiny computer parts as beads, so these dusters — metaphorically speaking — can eliminate cyber trails.

The artist-run Gallery 101 has been in Ottawa since 1979. It has constantly lived hand-to-mouth, surviving numerous near-death experiences. Maybe this lacklustre space, which the gallery moved into this past spring, is the best it can afford. But couldn’t some creative minds have brainstormed a way to use the space in a better way? It is possible for art to impress when viewed in old industrial spaces. And given that the gallery was able to attract some of the city’s most daring artists to participate in Material Witness, it’s a shame the gallery could not show off these works better.

Material Witness continues at Gallery 101 until Oct. 4. 

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Photographs reveal tragic history of Japanese-Canadians

BY PAUL GESSELL

Tashme Internment Camp, Sunshine Valley, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack, part of Registered, an exhibit at Shenkman Centre

Tashme Internment Camp, Sunshine Valley, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack, part of Registered, an exhibit at Shenkman Centre until Sept. 23

Shortly after the Japanese air force bombed the American port of Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, Vancouver City Council passed a resolution demanding that all Japanese-Canadians, even the ones born here, should be removed from the Pacific Coast.

The federal government agreed and ordered all 22,000 Japanese-Canadians on the West Coast to be moved inland, some to internment camps in the British Columbia interior and some to labour camps on sugar beet farms on the Prairies. Homes, cars, businesses, farms, and fishing boats belonging to Japanese-Canadians were seized, never to be returned.

Ottawa photo-artist, Leslie Hossack, has created an eerie photographic history of that shameful time in Canada’s past. Her body of work – “interpretive photographs,” Hossack calls them — reveals some of the key buildings involved in the “power and persecution” of Japanese-Canadians.

There’s Vancouver City Hall, an RCMP barracks, a huge rural barn turned into apartments for the internees, a Japanese language school, Japanese-Canadian-owned businesses and, perhaps most shockingly, the back of the Livestock Building in Vancouver’s Hastings Park.

Concerning the latter — about 3,100 Japanese-Canadian women and children were housed in animal stalls, still stinking of manure, in this rambling building in 1942, before being shipped eastward. The back of that building is shown in a seven-foot-long photograph in Hossack’s new exhibition, Registered, in the Trinity Art Gallery at the Shenkman Arts Centre in Orleans.

For Hossack, history is not just found in books. It is also found in buildings. And the buildings depicted in Registered contain the DNA of an entire generation of Japanese-Canadians.

“Buildings are an accessible part of our history – we can touch the handrails, climb the stairwells, wander the hallways,” says Hossack.

City Hall, West 12th Ave. and Cambie Str., Vancouver, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack, part of Registered, an exhibit at Shenkman Centre until Sept 23

City Hall, West 12th Ave. and Cambie Str., Vancouver, B.C. (2013), photograph by Leslie Hossack

Hossack specializes in photographs of architecture. Previous bodies of impressive work include Stalinist architecture in Moscow and Nazi architecture in Berlin. Her photographs of the buildings are manipulated to create idealized images as unsettling as an Alex Colville painting. There’s a sense of the hyper-real, hauntingly bathed in a soft light.

“I am drawn to buildings associated with major events of the 20th century,” Hossack says in an artist’s statement. “In fact, my entire body of work is held together by my fascination with monumental architectural structures built to convey status and wield power. I take great interest in researching the history of the locations and the events that I explore, and the written descriptions that I compose form an integral part of my artistic practice.

“My photographs are interpretive, not documentary. I am captivated by what an architect creates when putting pencil to paper. My intention is to fashion an image that reveals what I imagine the architect originally designed, minus the chaos and clutter of contemporary life. I feel compelled to deconstruct historic buildings – to take them back to the drawing board.”

Along with the photographs, Registered includes framed copies of Japanese-Canadian registration cards, which internees were forced to carry until 1949, four years after the war’s end. As well, Hossack has framed collections of newspaper clippings from those days about the Japanese-Canadian situation.

Next year, the exhibition will resurface, at dates yet to be set, at the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Association in Burnaby, B.C.

Registered continues at the Trinity Gallery in the Shenkman Arts Centre until Sept. 23.