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Terence Dick
Bjorn Copeland & Nikki Woolsey at Cooper Cole
June 07, 2017

Assemblage is the biggest con of the art world, and any artist presenting some arrangement of scavenged refuse (or store-bought goods) as their own should, at least, be prepared to weather that accusation. You think it's bad enough being told your post-painterly abstraction could be done by a six year old with a protractor and some non-toxic acrylic? Wait until someone tells you their cat drags in random doodads covered in dirt and asks, “Would you like to put that in your gallery?” Even the Simpsons have yanked this chain with an episode where Homer accidentally becomes a celebrated junk artist for a brief time. If debris is your medium, you need to accept this ridicule. Recognition might one day be your reward, but before that comes the possible response that your work is garbage.

Bjorn Copeland, Compress/Sustain 13', 2017, mixed media

For its current exhibition, Cooper Cole Gallery has paired two artists who scavenge for inspiration. Bjorn Copeland is the brattier of the two with his clunky medium-large industrial/commercial waste combos that dare you to ask, "Is that it?" When they work, like with his row of metal containers suspended between wall and column with a horizontally deployed car jack, he repurposes the overlooked to poetic ends and literally elevates base goods to new heights. However, when he crumples up a discarded advertising tarp with grommets, all you get is a crumpled tarp with grommets. Nothing to see here, as they say. Which is apropos given the works on paper included in the show begin life in the dark as drawings before Copeland turns on the light to add a smattering of cut-out food flyer features. It’s easy to be sceptical about such seemingly careless efforts, but it helps to remember Copeland initially made his mark with the noise band Black Dice, so a degree of negative aesthetic backpedalling is in order.

Nikki Woolsey, Gressive, 2017, glass, embroidered elastic, greasy shammy

Down in the gallery’s recessed space, Nikki Woolsey’s compact and delicate objets trouvés sit and hang in stark contrast to Copeland’s bombastic statements. Where he uses metal, she relies on glass to serve as her foundational material. This shift, along with the reduction of scale, draws the viewer closer to create an intimacy that invites connection. Her liquid forms have frozen around personal effects that hint at the longer stories we’re often reluctant to tell. The presentation is cleaner – these things have been forgotten in attics and junk drawers rather than back alleys and ravines – so they feel less like a comment on consumption and our wasteful ways and more like a evocation of how we imbue objects with meaning and then cherish them because they act as talismans for future use. Woolsey redeems her knick-knacks by giving them a new, albeit fictional, life. In the language of sanitation collection, I believe that’s called “upcycling.”

Cooper Cole Gallery:
Bjorn Copeland: Extra Medium continues until July 8.
Nikki Woolsey: Daily Luge continues until July 8.

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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