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Andrea Williamson
The Travelling Light at The New Gallery
March 04, 2014

It may seem unlikely, but throughout the passing decades of board, staff and mandate changes, artist-run centres nevertheless maintain their own "flavours" of exhibition or programming styles. For example, in Calgary, and forgive me if this seems a gross over-simplification but that's the point, the holy trinity of Truck, the New Gallery, and Stride stick roughly to tendencies of, respectively: pop-like, visually exciting, highly crafted work; conceptually-driven and text-saturated work; and somewhere in between the visually enticing and conceptual. You may disagree with these identifications, but I would argue that certain "brands" of programming form, unconsciously or otherwise, in the minds of ARC patrons; they are generalizations that shape memories of a place more strongly than written mandates, and hence ideas on which to base our affiliations or affinities.

Nicole Kelly Westman, Penny Sister

It is fitting, then, that a show like The Travelling Light, put together by The New Gallery's young and prominent programming director Steven Cottingham, finds itself at this gallery. The exhibition, which "seeks to understand the effects of political and bureaucratic machinations in and upon one's personal life" gives me a sense of this particular 39-year-old community's continuity and raison d'être as a gallery committed to socially and politically engaged contemporary art. In form as well as content the show seems oddly consistent with the visually reticent, textually prolific exhibitions I remember from the early 2000's when TNG resided on 9th Avenue and Tomas Jonsson, an artist included in The Travelling Light, was programming director.

Works by the five participating artists are occupied with themes of loss, displacement, and dispossession, which feature prominently in the rapidly expanding city of Calgary and perhaps contribute to this sense of rarity or surprise surrounding a gallery's stability and survival. The collective feel of the works and curatorial voice is one of retreat and capitulation, verging on apathy (Cottingham's essay reads, "Sometimes I don't feel like doing anything at all.") Resulting from this stance of abandon, the exhibition is so physically light and vacuous that it threatens to disappear altogether, toying with the outer limits of minimalism. Two works hold together what might otherwise blow over or collapse: Nicole Kelly Westman's emails and enlarged photograph detailing her imaginative childhood and Jillian Fleck's hilarious zine which mocks what she perceives as an apathetic yet persistent community of artists. Both works offer something remedial in addition to outlining the problem of capitalism's social mores.

The New Gallery:
The Travelling Light continues until April 5.

Andrea Williamson is a Calgary-based writer and artist. Her reviews have appeared in C magazine, Swerve, Color magazine, esse arts and opinion and FFWD. In January 2013 she initiated a critical theory reading group that meets monthly in a collective attempt to approach academic texts in peripheral and humble ways. She can be followed on Twitter @andreawillsamin.



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