Explaining what you don’t like about an exhibition can be just as complicated as explaining what you do like. I initially thought I didn’t like Ed Fornieles’ third of the three solo shows currently on view at Division Gallery because he divorces himself from the art he makes. According to the video interview with the artist’s avatar that is displayed amongst his paintings and sculptures, the work is generated by a program that begins with a prompt (in this case, “friendship”) before providing the artist with a randomly calculated set of parameters that determine the final production of the art thing. It is meant as an exercise in transparency that Fornieles claims to find liberating, but the results – grey clay figures or grey acrylic people – feel soulless and incomplete. This makes sense since the art is in the programming, not the painting. The artist (or his stand-in) argues that painting is all about faith, but all I feel is the lack of inspiration that lead him to hand over the one thing that makes art worthwhile: imagination.
Chloe Wise, If I were a flower, 2016, urethane, oil paint, marble plinth
Chloe Wise is hardly lacking in inspiration or imagination. Like many young artists, her voluminous output crosses media to include painting, sculpture, installation, and video. Unlike many young artists, she gets interviewed by Vogue magazine. The coverage by a glossy fashion Bible makes sense because she is fascinated by fashion, commodities, luxury, and the pretty young things that advertising feeds on. This selection of her work is admittedly a reduced version of a larger project that was presented in full at Division’s Montreal HQ, but the elements – both tantalizing and trying – are here. Her use of simulated food (the kind of petrified meal models one might find in a diner’s front window) as a stand-in for flesh, consumption, and desire is effective in attracting and repelling the viewer as well as conceptually messing with the sanctified space of picture frame, pedestal, or architecture. Her video Feral and wide-eyed in the garden, on the other hand, annoys me to no end with its belaboured posing, pretentious soliloquys and bad sound. It makes me want to watch Jack Smith, Pipilotti Rist, Sue de Beer or Ryan Trecartin. They all dealt with youth, style, make-believe, and media with more verve. This just makes me feel old, but not in a bad way. I have accepted that the latest thing has passed me by, and I’m happy to be rid of the blinders of being in vogue. I’m much more interested in the wider view.
Megan Rooney, A Wax Rose. A Soft Punch to the Ear, 2017, installation view
Thankfully, the final part of the trio intrigues and opens up rather than plays games and acts coy. Megan Rooney’s major contribution is a mural spread across the gallery walls and made at night because she doesn’t like to paint in front of others. The ghostly landscapes and distended outlines of body parts, the squiggles and smears, the floor-to-ceiling ambition and the small details waiting to be discovered all resonate with the artist's presence – her arm and hand in particular. Her over-painted pinup portraits needlessly bind her images to mass media, but the one original canvas and the work that spreads across the walls feel outside of time. The scale reminds one there are bigger concerns – even if they are intensely personal. The exhibition envelops you and makes you feel the rare moment of connection to which all art should aspire. It stands in stark relief in this venue.
(Final note: There is also a major installation of Jon Rafman’s work at Division that includes a swing-set, an Astroturf maze, and a virtual reality experience that is creepily transcendent. It’s definitely fun, but whether it’s any good will have to be addressed another day.)
Division Gallery: http://www.galeriedivision.com/toronto/exhibitions
Ed Fornieles: Stand By Me continues until March 4.
Chloe Wise: Horrible Sound As Well continues until March 4.
Megan Rooney: A Wax Rose. A Soft Punch to the Ear continues until March 4.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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