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Lost in the Memory Palace

Photo courtesy of the Art Gallery of Ontario

“In the middle of a stage sits a man surrounded by turntables and records.” Therefore, begins the soundtrack for “Opera for a Small Room”, the most compelling I believe, of the seven immersive installations on view in Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller’s retrospective “Lost In The Memory Palace.” This exhibition offers the viewer a unique experience and insight into the works of a duo that are in the upper echelon of art production.

Each piece in the show is an intriguing escape utilizing multi-layered soundtracks, video, robotics, sequential mechanics and a multitude of props. In “Opera…,for instance there are hundreds of LP’s littering the floor and an array of turntables all present to tell the haunting tale of a loner whose only company is himself and the opera music that is his passion. Lights brighten and dim as the disembodied male voice enacts a stream of consciousness monologue over the music.

A re-occurring theme in some of the duo’s work is the absence of a protagonist, which only further heightens the tension. The spectator is directly involved in wondering who the main player is, how they are implicated and why are they telling their story. This absent performer perpetuates a mystery where the silent witness (spectator) suspends their incredulity and actively participates in crafting their own ideas of what may be occurring. Any ambiguity or scoffing that one may have is only quelled by a total un-arming of self and a willingness to let go of any pre-conceived notions.

As one wanders the exhibition, each piece is contained in their own room. Anticipation builds as you open the door to enter and are suddenly confronted with the scenario or must enter a room within a room. Such is the case with “Storm Room” from 2009. This installation is a thrilling feast for the senses which takes place in a house in Japan. Three plastic buckets punctuate the bare floor in this stark setting whose only fixture is a small wall mounted bathroom sink. Throughout ten minutes, the participant is taken through and actual thunderstorm happening outside of the large picture window. Lightening flashes and thunder booms during the height of the storm, rain lashes down on the other side of the pane while the center bucket catches a thin stream of water dripping through a small hole in the yellow stained ceiling. As you are entranced with these natural phenomena, you cannot help but relate to your own experiences with thunder, lightening, rain and the magic of watching an intense storm. This was even made more real as I observed a toddler with her parents, enthralled at the unfolding action. However, who are the occupants of this house and where are they? Alternatively, are they just a memory? Co-curators Kitty Scott and Bruce Grenville have kept in mind a technique called the “Memory Palace” method in curating this show. This is an archaic form of memorization where a person can walk through a location in their mind to recollect facts and memories.

In the most sinister installation “Killing Machine” you are confronted with a box like structure containing a medical procedure chair covered in pink faux fur. But don’t let this playful covering fool you. Complex pneumatic and robotic arms whirl and whiz around the empty seat releasing menacing probes into the absent victim, while a passive disco ball overhead reflects what little light there is in the room. Strains of suspenseful, haunting music augment the heightened tension as the chair reclines and the ballet of machinery performs their menacing deeds. In this Kafkaesque nightmare you have no recourse but to imagine every horror movie you have ever seen while your present reality is suspended in dis-belief.

A dark, crowded hoarder’s scenario is laid out in the couple’s earliest work from 1995, “Dark Pool.” This rectangular room contains old furniture, magazines, books, lamps, chairs, ephemera, refuse and what looks to be a still used to produce some dank amber liquid. This overstuffed lair provides the narrowest of passages for the viewer to navigate, observe and even take respite in one of the upholstered chairs. The audio portion is an eerie mix of music and enigmatic whispers that suffuse the surroundings in mystery. I can’t help but to ponder while sitting amongst the installation the background behind the owner of this assemblage. What story is the artist’s trying to portray via the remnants of what is left behind by the missing person or persons? Where are they now or have they just abandoned their belongings? It is like stumbling upon a fantastic archaeological dig, intact and waiting to be discovered.

Other pieces within the retrospective are a new work “Experiment in F Minor” which contains a table with 72 speakers upended that plays music based upon shadows overcast by the observer. “The Muriel Lake Incident” from 1999 is a video contained within a small theatre diorama, and the 1995 video “Road Trip” round out the exhibition.

Concurrently in the Henry Moore Sculpture Court Janet Cardiff’s much touted choral masterpiece “Forty Part Motet” is installed. Forty speakers frame an enclosure where the listener is surrounded by the strains of the renaissance piece “Spem in Alium” by Thomas Tallis from 1573. Subtle yet powerful the music wraps around and bathes the audiophile in a hyper-surround environment.

Becoming a part of Janet Cardiff and George Bures-Miller’s work you are truly a participant on every level utilizing all of your senses and engaging within the environment which acts as the work of art itself.

The exhibiton continues until August 18th. at the Art Gallery of Ontario


Art Wanderings March 29

I hurriedly pulled the cord on the Ossington bus just in time to get off at the stop across from the MKG127 Gallery. Just in the knick of time, I saw Michael Dumontier’s name in the window for his current exhibition “In the Middle of the Air”. I had recently read a review about this show and wanted to view it first hand.

 Upon entering the small gallery you are teased with a very understated and minimalist interpretation of divergent materials cast into mundane everyday items and manipulated shapes. Take for instance a red wooden sock leaning against the wall or a flattened cast of an egg with a crack running through one-half. There is also a replica of an Evergreen tree in one corner comprised of sparsely spaced pieces of string. Dumontier with his sly wit cleverly references such masters of Minimalism as Robert Mangold and Richard Tuttle. A rectangle on the wall with one of the corners folded over or a needle and thread carefully dissecting a canvas are other meditations.

 These narratives forces one to ponder the overall minimal signal of the artist but also pushes the viewer to re-interpret our sometimes over complicated analysis of life itself in the digital age.

On view until April 14

Image courtesy of MKG127


 From one extreme to the other I headed further east to MOCCA where Tasman Richardson’s Necropolis was on view. This is an experience that is nothing but minimal. The main space of the museum is taken over with a darkened, immersive labyrinth installation comprising video and sound. Upon heeding the warnings at the entrance from the attendant regarding flashing strobes and the risk of seizure, very dark environment and not to backtrack once you enter, I did not know what to expect except from what I had previously read.

 The participant (I use this word, as one has no choice but to participate on every sense level) moves up, down and through black walled narrow hallways passing through or emerging into a miasma of sound and images. One comes face to face with competing TV images of the main protagonist in Poltergeist and The Ring just as they stare blankly and vacantly at their antagonist.  A replica of the Rose Window taken from Notre Dame shows an image of Joan of Arc in each pane of glass taken from a different scene from numerous movies. Four other new media experiences including a wild, narrow gauntlet of mind bending strobing colour and pulsing sound round out the exhibition focusing on infusing the environment with braided sound, looped video and infused with just a touch of dread. 

Image courtesy of MOCCA

The experience leaves the visitor with a new take on how our current gadget oriented technological world can be taken to an obsessive level in which one day we may be an unsuspecting pawn at their mercy.

On view until April 1.


Image courtesy of Luminato

With the abundance and prevalence of surveillance in our city and the world in general today, you would think that we as citizens would be immune to its influence. Not so. The tables have now been turned as we have now have a chance to act as webcam and viewer.  Just take for example David Levine’s installation/performance piece “Habit”, staged at OCAD as part of the Luminato festival.

 Expecting to arrive at the Great Hall and witness another boring and inane web-cam show on a large monitor, was not the case. Instead, a few others and I stumbled onto a live theatrical performance taking place in a pre-fabricated and fully functioning two bedroom house. Functioning in every way from working stereo, kitchen sink and bathroom shower. Three actors co-exist as roommates in this panopticon of sorts, inhabiting a chaotic and messy abode in the midst of, or at the end of, one hell of a Halloween party. 

What ensues is live theatre, reality TV, voyeurism and high melodrama at its most extreme. Spectators are drawn in and are participatory at the same time, able to move around the outside of the house freely while the drama unfolds. Able to part the sheer curtains on the windows and stick your head in to get a better view, you are at once connected yet strangely alienated at the same time. You are a willing witness, yet feel utterly creepy for intruding on this space as a peeping Tom or Thomasina. The two males and one female are keenly focused on their script by Jason Grote, but are free to navigate their blocking to their own desires for a ninety minute loop, eight hours each day. They masteryly do not acknowledge the audience and yet are able to ignore all of the outside noise and intrusive distraction to deliver one hell of a performance. Not to give away any of the story but suffice it to say, I saw more in forty-five minutes of viewing than I would see in any soap opera. Go see for yourself. 

Be forewarned however, it does include mature content, violence and nudity. Yes, nudity. I was so close to the action at one point that I was splashed by the water from one of the male actors washing, in yes, that functioning shower! 

What Habit does is take the voyeur in all of us, up-end it and shove it right back in our face. Who needs a web-cam anymore when you can now see the action up close and personal.

Habit runs at OCAD until Sunday June 19th, 11 to 7.

Watch a YouTube snippet:

News From Nowhere

Image courtesy of Red Head Gallery

An unsettling proposition awaits one while viewing the work of Joan Kaufman’s exhibition at Red Head Gallery. What you will encounter is an eerie and provocative montage of video, sound and photography that stirs the senses.

The video portion, which is in five channels, sits in a circle on the floor, encompasses to me, a murder of crows. They are both menacing and beautiful in their movements and formations gracefully flocking from one screen to and out of formation.  The black silhouette of the birds against a stark red background only serves to heighten a taught sense of melodrama.  Accompanying the video is a haunting musical score that enslaves you into a hypnotic “gaze” of the avian flight.  The accompanying wall mounted photos speak of fetishistic fantasy, veiled sexuality and skin art (a favourite of mine as I possess several tattoos myself).

The exhibition probes the human psyche via unanswered questions, longing, arousal and the mystery that is unveiled when one looks into another human soul, surrendering your disbelief and lifting the isolation that so much permeates our society. The exhibition runs until November 27th.

Georgian Bay and Drapell

North Wind II 2008

                                                         Image courtesy of the artist

I was quite lucky to be able to attend the VIP reception for Joseph Drapell at the Spoke Club on King St. this past Wednesday evening.

Here is an artist that paints with heart and soul  imbuing his work with spiritual undertones that reflect his life and surroundings. Drapell is a master at technical skills developing his own implements like great artists of the past and using them to produce dramatic and stirring abstract landscapes of earth and cosmos. This artist rebels against the current “instant” art scene and it’s so-called stars, and produces work with paint that draws the viewer inward, forcing you to reflect on what you are witnessing. I am always fascinated by Drapell’s work and find myself in front of one of his paintings lost in thought at the magnificence of the representation before me. His work is not just paint applied to canvas but it is a part of the artist himself, a true and genuine outpouring of emotion and skill; not found to often in  today’s art scene. He is a true modern day master. It is only fitting that he is now getting the recognition that he deserves.

The exhibition continues until January 28, 2011

Art Toronto

Well another year for the popular Toronto International Art Fair is upon us. With over 100 galleries represented there is an eclectic, albeit it, conservative representation on display. With that much art to look at it can become a little overwhelming ,so this is where your editing skills come in handy. As a seasoned art vet I was able to cover the exhibition in a little over two hours, knowing which galleries and artists to give my attention to. A little disappointed though that the VIP lounge has stopped serving complimentarycoffee, a must have to keep ones energy level up for the miles of aisle walking!

Not many surprises or changes this year, however there was a showcase of visual art from our neighbours to the east with a Spotlight on Quebec Galleries showcasing many artists from this province

The highlight of the show for me was the work of one artist, Alex Guofeng Cao,   This artist takes iconic personages from popular culture and creates their portrait comprised of tiny shaded, pixelated images from another icon. For instance the face of Michael Jackson is composed of hundreds of tiny images of the face of Marilyn Monroe. Pam Anderson, on the other hand is comprised of a scandalous painting from the 1800’s. Can you identify which one? As I jested with the gallerist on hand, I ascribed these portraits t as being composed of their alter ego. She replied that it was a good way to put it. Really must be seen to be believed.

The fair runs until Monday November 1st. at the Toronto Convention Centre.

The Grange Prize Exhibition 2010

Josh Brand


Well I”m sure that everybody in Toronto today is thinking about voting for our new mayor. However when that is all decided you might want to exercise your right again and consider voting for your favourite photographer in this prestigious contest.

Each year the four short listed candidates work is exhibited at the AGO and at the International partner institution, which is the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College, Chicago. Sophie Hackett is the  curator for the exhibit at the AGO end, while Karen Irvine is the curator in Chi-town.

There is no shortage of exceptional talent this year with a diverse body of work with eclectic tastes highlighting the photos of Josh Brand, Kristan Horton, Leslie Hewitt and Moyra Davey. What stands out for me from the four is the minimalist work of Brand which is quite Zen in its meditative positioning to the over the top creativeness of Horton. Especially worth noting is a look at Horton’s book Dr. Strangelove, Dr. Strangelove on view at the AGO. This is a book in which the artist picks apart scenes from this movie and positions a still from selected scenes alongside a re-created scene made from found objects and junk from the artist’s own studio. Incredible! and not to be missed. I guess it is not hard to glean whom I voted for.

You can view the work in person until January 2nd. at the AGO and online at www. Voting continues in person and online until October 31st.

Kristan Horton

Images courtesy of

World Press Photo 10

I was totally blown away today after viewing this exhibit down at Brookfield Place. This contest is held every year and exhibited in different cities around the world. It promotes the craft of photo-journalism and the free exchange of information on important world issues revolving around the environment, politics, war and human interest.

The calibre of the photos are outstanding and each one stands alone in telling a gripping story with a predominate message. Some of the photos are shocking and disturbing detailing death, torture and misery, but others are touching and intimate; inspiring in their own right. Indeed the words that come to mind for me after leaving the photos were stimulating, heart wrenching, violent, pathos, gruesome, educational, beautiful. The offering on display certainly makes one think of our world in a whole new light, expanding what could be a narrow view of our sometimes insular surroundings. Certainly an exhibit not to be missed. The show runs until October 28.

Sorry, the images are copyrighted so I cannot include any in this post. You really have to see them in person anyway to get the full impact.

An Emerging New Talent; Janna Watson

This promising new emerging artist gives a very impressive showing of recent work entitled Light Is Not Heavy. A recent graduate of OCAD, the artist has already built up an impressive portfolio along with a list of collectors. 

Watson combines a highly effective use of stain and paint on panel to render graceful, intuitive abstracts that are further brought to life with a coating of resin. The artist also utilizes accretions of pigment to render a slight 3D effect to some paintings incorporating raised areas which only serve to add impact to the painting. A minimal use of straight lines and geometric shapes (although prominent) underscore ambitious swirling and flowing of the brush. My favourite piece in the exhibition is “Boomtown in my Heart” which is just such an example of the fluid dynamic movement that saturates each piece. 

Her large works in the show are very organic in nature I find, and tend to immerse the viewer, drawing you inwards to explore the entire surface, sometimes trying to gain clues from the title of the piece. 

I am sure that we will be seeing more of Janna Watson’s work in the future. Now, if I could only afford one of her pieces. 

You can view the artist’s work at Bau-Xi Gallery until October 23.

Ethereal Theatre


                                                                                                 Images courtesy of Bau-Xi

Art With Heart

I know that I’m a little late with this news but there is still time to view the incredible artwork that is up for auction for this fundraiser for Casey House.

I was quite impressed when I viewed the lots at Bonhams Auction House on Friday. There is quite a bit of talent up for bidding wars with the likes of Lynne Cohen, Edward Burtynsky, Gerald Ferguson and Annie Pootoogook to name a few. The in person preview ended today but you can still see the collection on line at

If so inclined you can also attend the gala and auction this Tuesday October 19th at the Carlu.