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Terence Dick
HERE at the Aga Khan Museum
August 30, 2017

If I want to feel old, I look in the mirror. If I want to feel insignificant, I go to the Aga Khan Museum and stare in wonder at centuries-old artefacts from civilizations that rose and fell, created and destroyed, travelled and merged infinite lifetimes before I spent my microcosmic moment doing assorted pointless things on this planet. Will there be any evidence of me a millennium from now? Probably not. I never get this feeling looking up at the night sky, but I do get it looking at fragments of a column and some well preserved bowls. Luckily, my trouble with time faded as I moved from the museum’s permanent collection and made my way up to their temporary contemporary exhibition. It, conveniently, focuses on space, or rather, place.

Babak Golkar, The Fox, The Nut and The Banker’s Hand, 2016, taxidermy fox, silver tray, varnished wood, concealed object

However, as Einstein pointed out, time and space are intimately connected. The centrepiece of HERE: Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists is a marble stele from the museum’s holdings. It is dated 377 AH according to the Islamic lunar calendar (987 AD in the Gregorian calendar), but was modified over the intervening years and repurposed in different periods in ways that didn’t erase the previous purposes. As such, it stands as something from multiple times and multiple cultures, much like the artists without singular identities gathered by curator Swapnaa Tamhane in this understandably wide-ranging exhibition.

Travel, traditions, and transactions are all experiences that link space or location with time. Something like Vancouver-based artist Babak Golkar’s stuffed fox brings together various narrative traditions with value systems by hiding an artwork within this work and requiring that it not be revealed for one hundred years. This, alongside the stele, could be an exhibition unto itself. The importance of material lists or descriptions is something that manifests itself in other pieces here, which makes sense because those ingredients make up the identity of the work so why not play with them? The master of this is Derya Akay with his Resin, Lath, and Everything Else built into the wall of the gallery and including, according to the descriptive text, beeswax, cochineal bugs, and “drunken watercolours from 2012” among other things. With his dense assemblages of highly evocative elements, he’s become one of my favourite artists of the last little while.

Khan Lee, Hearts & Arrows, 2013, video

Akay’s maximalism is contrasted with the singular efforts of Khan Lee, whose video documents the carving of an ice sculpture in just enough time to capture the rising sun over Vancouver’s harbour, and Sukaina Kubba’s glistening latex and varnish sheets that hang over the ancient reminders down below. Somewhere in the middle ground, Osheen Harruthoonyan’s highly evocative and yet relatively straightforward landscape photographs emerge from the shadows while Harkeerat Mangat’s short documentary on a recording session that took place at the museum manages to be both direct and self-critical.

For an exhibition that starts with a stone column that can’t be limited to one culture and one time period, HERE is best navigated according to the lineages that occur to the visitor. There are ample opportunities for different connections to be made by different people – or even different interpretations by the same people at different times. The one thing that acts as an anchor, both in time and space, is the all-caps HERE. Beyond that, the world swirls in its infinitely disarming and delightful variety.

Aga Khan Museum:
HERE: Locating Contemporary Canadian Artists continues until January 1.

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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