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Winnipeg
Steven Leyden Cochrane
Colin Lyons at aceartinc.
March 10, 2016

A fixture of the artist-run circuit over the better part of a decade, Colin Lyons has consistently refined and expanded upon a distinctive complex of techniques and themes. He exploits and cleverly extends the manual, mechanical, and chemical processes of traditional printmaking, repurposing them to explore the diminished presence of industry in North America and our collective ambivalence toward architectural and technological relics of the recent past. Through tinkering permutations, he’s produced diverse but interrelated bodies of work that span sculpture, print, performance, something like Land Art, installation, and exhibition design. A Modern Cult of Monuments, his current show at aceartinc., lays out several of these overlapping frameworks, making for an engaging if somewhat dizzying first pass. However, as the processes at work unfold and the show’s mechanics come into focus, its complicated workings begin to feel inevitable – if hardly less impressive in their execution.



Colin Lyons

Parts of the show recall a factory floor, others a laboratory, museum gallery, showroom, or ruin. Thanks to Lyons’s unerring sense for sight-lines and symmetries, navigating it feels like a guided tour, with a number of carefully-staged, highly-specific gestures laid out for us in sequence.

In clustered Perspex tanks filled with various solutions, reclaimed zinc and copper etching plates create a battery that helps electrochemically restore a salvaged metal object. In a neighbouring tank, an acid bath gradually turns a fabricated replica to heaps of slate-grey dust. Other cleaned-up found objects and artificially weathered duplicates face off in a purpose-built, double-sided wall vitrine. Corroded copies of obsolete machine parts (museum holdings, in this case) are laid out on a platform of stainless steel cubes. Close at hand, grids of photo-etchings show the objects in more flattering light, their tonal range and printing artifacts nostalgically echoing 19th Century tintypes.



Colin Lyons

In a video, Lyons uses a levigator to polish the foundations of a ruined sawmill six miles north of Kamloops, slowly and laboriously achieving a reflective, headstone-like finish. A ten-foot-long folded document assembles his research and correspondence about the “Six-Mile Mill,” a site sparsely attested in local records. Printed on newsprint with corrosive ink, we’re offered a fragmentary history designed to self-destruct. Other rocks – concrete rubble from restoration sites in Montreal and Cleveland – litter the gallery like fieldstones, their polished faces revealing fossil-like strata of aggregate materials.

Born in Windsor, raised in Petrolia, and currently based in Hamilton, Lyons’s Rust Belt, go-labour sensibilities are clear, but how he conceives of his role as an artist is more ambiguous. There’s a heroic posture to the video, certainly: Lyons, larger than life in his apron and shirtsleeves, polishes his rocks while a freight train passes in the background. In fact, he engages equally in processes of documentation, preservation, destruction, and pastiche, uncovering compelling material in each approach.

An engineer in his approach as much as a printmaker (or sculptor, or anything else), Lyons gives himself problems to solve. For all the clever artistic solutions he comes up with, though, and all the meticulous stage direction, when it comes to the exhibition’s biggest and most compelling questions, we’re left with enough space to work things out ourselves.


Aceartinc.: http://www.aceart.org/colin-lyons-a-modern-cult-of-monuments
Colin Lyons: A Modern Cult of Ruins continues until April 1.


Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.

 

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Posted by Duncan Sanderson, on 2016-03-10 13:02:51
 
I appreciate this critique! I can visualize the
degradation described. There also seems to be a strong time component to this work.