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Patrick Howlett
PATRICK HOWLETT in London 11/15/11
November 15, 2011

As I started to write this entry London became the first Canadian city to forcefully evict its Occupy movement. If you know London this may not be surprising, but one can be hopeful that the peaceful nature of the civil disobedience and its removal might prompt the mayor and police into communicating more openly with protestors the next time around. We’ll see. As for art, it has been a busy fall, with some shows about London itself and a major three-venue exhibition to boot (not out).



Colin Carney, Delay, 2010, archival digital print

At Forest City Gallery recently there was a catalogue launch for the previous show and the opening for Here, Then and There, an exhibit featuring the paintings of Ian McLean and the photographs of Colin Carney. The catalogue is for …and then the city told itself the same old stories, an exhibit of text murals that supposedly revealed important narratives about London by the broken city lab collective. The collective’s claim that “a knowingly under-informed reading of the history of the city provides a useful foundation upon which we can develop a more nuanced view of the contemporary city” boggles the mind but certainly informed the show. Fortunately, the current exhibit deals with notions of place that are ambiguously compelling. McLean’s paintings depict modernist architecture with richly coloured, hazy brushwork while Carney’s photographs of cabin and lake environments have multiple exposures than almost make you feel as though you are watching a video.   



David Altmejd, Le Berger, 2008, mixed media

At Museum London is one part of Barroco Nova, a three-venue exhibit that looks at Baroque tendencies in contemporary art. “Barroco” is the Italian root that “baroque” comes from, referring to a pearl of irregular shape. I enjoy how two of David Altmejd’s irregular giants bring out the latent future-past qualities of the museum’s architecture: there is a cool asymmetry in the way the Le Berger monster is reflected in the mirror surface of Le Dentiste. Kelly Wood’s large-scale photos turn experimental music into math, by digitalizing sound into a picture of binary code. Imposing a conceptual order that translates the songs into ornate designs, they evoke wavy, static landscapes. However, they are resoundingly abstract in the way they represent what is not present: the music. A melancholic resonance is built into the form of these works that allegorizes the changing role of photographs in a digital age.   

The works of Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky also raise issues of presence and absence that cut to the core of the conceptual/material axes on which contemporary art seems to most often place itself. Smartly arranged nearby one of Wood’s photographs, their Music of Chance is an illusionary chain of banal and precious objects cast with an unbroken sheet of tin foil that winds its way around a wall along the gallery floor. Like the similarly cast cars at the Artlab venue of the show, their work seduces the viewer with its seeming “thereness”: the hollow interior is revealed only upon close examination or extended duration. The formal ambiguity of the work mesmerizes with both brutal and elegant specificity while simultaneously being on the edge of collapsing into image.



Kim Moodie, Untitled, 2011, ink on paper

Also at Museum London, Kim Moodie’s show of drawings boggles the mind in a good way. Cartoon figures emerge, disappear, and reemerge in over-populated patterns of ocean and land, battles and tangles wreathing across the white surface of the paper. The larger works are easy to get lost in, yet almost impossible to read with a single view. They are so tightly drawn that they become a field of undulating grey when you step back to take in the whole work. A wall of smaller drawings called Fate in Progress give the viewer some allegorical clues as to what might be going on in the more intense work. Meanwhile other works have more space between figures and action that allows both the drawing and the viewer to take an occasional breath. They make me think of meditative counting exercises where you have to start over each time you lose track: mind exercise.



Amy Lockhart, The Collagist, 2009, drawings, paper, string, acrylic paint

More cartoon figures and much else can be found in Not Bad For London, a group exhibit featuring seven London artists at Michael Gibson Gallery.  The tongue-in-cheek title comes from a Jason McLean drawing, where a lone tree sits next to a forked river called The Thames. But you can feel the love here, in both the first gallery full of the individual artists’ work and the second room full of their collaborations. In the latter, the simpatico of styles and visual goals is felt profoundly, with various permutations of artists working together in drawings and paintings. These co-authored works belie the ego that usually comes with signing one’s work or selling it in a gallery: Peter Thompson, McLean, and Billy Bert Young show all fifteen pages from their Uncle Pork Chop (scrapes away the summer) zine; Young and James Kirkpatrick recall London bars that did not stand the test of time in Ghost Taverns; McLean and Young similarly revisit personal landmarks in The old haunts (which seem to be largely made up of arcades); and Marc Bell and McLean reach particularly bizarre moments in their works Risk Free Kenny Rogers Roaster, Bells Potting Soil and Bingo Noswad (The Island has a power). In general, biographical elements abound, together with cryptic and absurd narratives, phrases and figures that are mapped and layered in diagrammatic compositions that tend to be dense but buoyant. In her animation The Collagist, Amy Lockhart depicts the collagist’s hands rhythmically placing elements on a support while smoking and drinking coffee, activities that eventually cause the collage’s demise. But with existential humour The Collagist starts again on a cleared support, steadfastly building up again from what looked promising: not bad for London.


Patrick Howlett is an artist and writer currently based in London, Ontario, where he also teaches Drawing and Painting. His work has appeared in exhibitions in Canada and internationally. He is Akimblog's London correspondent.


Forest City Gallery: http://www.forestcitygallery.com/
Colin Carney & Ian McLean: Here, Then and There continues until December 10.

Museum London: http://www.museumlondon.ca/
Barroco Nova continues until January 1.
Kim Moodie: All But Not continues until December 11.

Artlab: http://www.uwo.ca/visarts/art_lab.html
Barroco Nova continues until December 16.

Michael Gibson Gallery: http://www.gibsongallery.com/
Not Bad for London continues until November 26.

 

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