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Terence Dick
Terribly Vulnerable and Terribly Hard at Cooper Cole Gallery
April 19, 2018

You can be vulnerable or you can be hard, but to be both requires a balance that’s felt more than understood. A shiver of fear and excitement accompanies the experience. James Baldwin understood this when he described the denizens of a gay bar in the fifties and curator Ashton Cooper understands this when she uses Baldwin’s description, Terribly Vulnerable and Terribly Hard, as the title for the group exhibition now occupying the multiple levels of Cooper Cole Gallery.

Christina Quarles, Untitled (100 Series), 2014, ink on paper

The centre of gravity in this sprawl of works by fourteen artists is the least small of the bunch. Anna See Hoy’s winding vines of black denim and wood spread across the floor as body parts morph into tree limbs and the meandering appendages pull the exhibition together. Two possible paths emerge when the wall-hung works come into focus: dirty monochrome abstractions or black on white drawings of hard yet vulnerable people. The latter most clearly illustrate the curator’s idea of “the body as a site of resistance.” Some like the David Shrigley-esque pictures by Jibz Cameron or the (mostly) female forms of Mira Dancey (whose large wall vinyl Bend is perfectly placed) are explicit in this regard. Christina Quarles’ hippie-vibing retro-cartoon adds a slice of poetry to up the intrigue and G.B. Jones’ hyper-real car accident landscapes leave the bodies out to imply their terrible fragility and impermanence through absence.

Harmony Hammond, Bandaged Grid #2, 2016, oil and mixed media on canvas

The straightforward representations are counterbalanced, contrasted, and challenged by a motley crew of abstractions that share the shades-of-black ethos echoing throughout all the work, but do so through various means: pencil and spray paint, Xerox prints, manipulated photographs, oils, grommets, and canvas. They require an opening-up on the part of the viewer, a vulnerability that matches the hardness – that is the difficulty, that is the resistance – that comes from not giving anything away too easily. A painting like Dana DeGiulio’s Mutter holds back as much as it offers in its black folds and grey smears. Pati Hill’s print of a paving stone celebrates and mocks the possibility of finding the universe in a grain of sand. And Harmony Hammond’s mixed media patterns pair ordered ends with degraded means. In each case the uncertainty leaves one balanced between hesitation and embrace.

I have often been accused of overthinking things, but with an exhibition like this part of the pleasure is hanging on to that moment of uncertainty as you move from work to work and feel the ground shift with every new angle introduced. The irresolution creates a wonderful, terrible sense of vertigo that might evaporate under scrutiny, might just be appearance, or might not ever be fulfilled by any one of the artists displaying themselves like the boys in Baldwin’s bar. But that initial thrill tinged with a knowing dread is what draws me in and keeps me coming back, if only for the kick that possibility brings.

Terribly Vulnerable and Terribly Hard continues until May 12
Cooper Cole Gallery:
The gallery is not accessible.

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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