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Montreal
Tammer El-Sheikh
2017 Critic's Picks
December 20, 2017

The New York Times’s most-read stories of 2017 are, in descending order: the Las Vegas shooting, the Mayweather vs. McGregor fight, and Hurricane Irma. The Mirror’s list of famous 2017 deaths includes a whole lot of men of the music industry and the silver screen. Erin Moran from Happy Days and Mary Tyler Moore were among the seriously outnumbered women on the list. There were pop star suicides too: US rapper Lil Peep (aged 21) and K-Pop star Kim Jong-Hyun (aged 27). At the darkest reaches of this rabbit hole I found a site called 2017 Sucks, then scratched my way out with lighter fare from the CTV News list: “Toronto man builds park stairs for $550, irking city after $65,000 estimate”; “Canadian missing since 2012 found in Amazon rainforest”; “Epic fight between moose and wolf captured by drone.”

This past fall Ed Atkins led us deeper into trivia for the end-of-days. For his solo show Modern Piano Music at DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art he took a 2013 headline as a point of departure: “A loud crash, then nothing: Sinkhole swallows Florida man.” The works in the exhibition follow the artist’s HD avatar (versions of a beleaguered white guy, save for one chimp) as he falls through the floor of his home, languishes in smoky bars, drinks down his melancholia, braves invasive security-screenings at airports, and finally straps himself in for a doomed British Airways flight. The works are operatic, and in case we need the reminder, Atkins’s score for the final video is Ravel’s Bolero. The artist calls his character a “middle class white male in a horrible looping nowhere who nevertheless demands our empathy.” Looking back on this after a year of rising or falling irredeemable men in the media makes the empathy Atkins’s avatar demands hard to summon. It also makes his work just right for the occasion.



Chloë Lum & Yannick Desranleau, Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black, 2016-2017, two channel 4K digital video with sound

It’s been difficult to look away from ugly news this year, even as it dulled the senses, corrupted the story-form, and chipped away at our faith in humanity. Chloë Lum and Yannick Desranleau’s Is It The Sun Or The Asphalt All I See Is Bright Black at CIRCA Art Actuel was a port in the storm. Split between a two-channel video installation featuring contemporary dancers in ten sketches and a room full of their wearable sculptures, the exhibition was like a dream that sends you back into waking life with heightened awareness, deepened sensitivity, and an appreciation for the intelligence of the body, whether able or infirm. The show’s slowed-down videos included quiet narratives about illness, pain and anxiety, and about finding respite from all that in “queer things” and “feminine things” – names for the wonderfully inventive objects with which the dancers improvised. The empathy one finds hard to offer Atkins’s character comes easy in Lum and Desranleau’s work.

Alexis Lavoie’s Faits divers at Galerie d’Art d’Outremont struck a balance between cynicism and hope, with small canvases of shameful moments grabbed from various media sources and larger paintings of shameless moments of debauched love. His images are humanely blurred to protect us from the glare of their tragedy, or to suggest that in their original mass-media contexts they are broadcast to be forgotten and replaced with newer, more harrowing ones. Stills of teen suicides, kidnappings, and executions are treated indifferently with the painter’s signature blur. A long line of these pictures led to a brighter corner in the exhibition featuring large, spare, and finely composed paintings of mostly-naked revelers, lovers, and ghosts in ill-fitting party hats or gas masks, carrying balloons, or cozying up with piñatas and various party favors. The work reminds us to keep a squinty-eye on the disasters of our time whilst celebrating like fools at the end of the world.

Happy New Year!


Tammer El-Sheikh is a writer and teacher based in Montreal. His art criticism has appeared in Parachute, Canadian Art, ETC and C Magazine.

 

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