Sunday, 31 March 2013

The artist as pseudo-scientist: Phillipa Jones

These are some of the "specimens" in MIRIAD: a flying fox and trifle jellyfish

For the third time since it opened on March 16th, I have been to Phillipa Jones' exhibition at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery.  I rarely visit a show on multiple occasions but this time I felt like I had no choice:  I was that intrigued.

Yes, I am there because I am writing about the show – a review for C magazine.  But the real reason is because I am trying to answer a nagging question in my brain.  "Why do artists adopt the guise of scientific inquiry and use the mock scientific institution as a mode of artistic expression?"  MIRIAD stands for the Ministry of Intuitive Research in Imagined and Actual Discoveries, which is an institution fabricated by Jones.  She uses the pseudo- institution as an artistic device and part of her narrative that posits the discovery of an island off the coast of Newfoundland, which, due to the most recent Ice Age, is home to a collection of unique and endangered, or extinct creatures.  Jones then took members of the public– equipped them with the guise of experts­­ such as a cartographer, anthropologist, or more fancifully plant whisperer and shaman– on an expedition to this island.  These expeditions are sampled as scenarios for the "mock-umentary" video in the exhibition.

It seems to me that the adoption of scientific institutions is actually part of a growing trend in art practice and I am not sure what it means.  Is it to acquire legitimacy - the kind that we normally accord science?  Is it meant to expand the role of art in society?  Is it a parody?  Is it a search for aesthetics or an expression of a sensibility?

This is a portion of an epic pen & ink drawing by Jones' it is a tour de force.

And then there is the whole adoption of scientific technology as a tool in and of itself.  I am thinking about, say the use of medical imaging as a device.  There are a growing number of artists who use CAT scans, X-rays and MRIs of bodies, sometimes but not always their own.  But I think this is built on the foundation of earlier artists who were intrigued by machines, robots and technology in general.  And let's not forget those artists like Stellarc, who use their own bodies in combination with machines as performance art.

The first artist I thought of is Mireille Peron, who is based at the Alberta College of Art & Design.  She straddles art and craft camps and is the founder of the Laboratory of Feminist Pataphysics (2000).  I reached out to her to get her informed opinion on this question.  This is an excerpt from her response:

It is always nice to hear from you and what you are up too. It was a pleasure to
discover the work of Phillipa. Indeed very interesting and quite in the realm of
my Laboratory of Feminist Pataphysics! I could see why you thought of me : )
At the beginning of the 20th century, Alfred Jarry invented and described the
indiscipline of ‘pataphysics as the science of imaginary solutions. Like its
companion —real physics— ‘pataphysics remains a predominantly male domain.  It was to remedy this evident lack, that I founded in 2000 (to celebrate the
millennium) the Laboratory of Feminist Pataphysics. Feminist pataphisicists like
to think of their work as the reinvention of normative science through gendered
fictive narratives. Pataphysics is the science of the particular, despite the
common opinion that the only science is that of the general. Feminist
Pataphysics like Jarry’s pataphysics’ examines the laws governing exceptions,
and explains a universe supplementary to this one, a pluriverse where exceptions
unfold. Its study always includes the games governing the exceptions and
sporadic accident. It seems that MIRIAD fits very well all these criteria.

Mireille Peron's response contained several, insightful paragraphs and succeeded in stirring up my thinking even more.  I will continue to chew away at the possibilities as I work towards my deadline of April 5th.

In the meantime, do go and see MIRIAD if you are in town or at least google Phillipa Jones' website:

The exhibition is a compilation of several things in addition to the video: three glowing, multicoloured circular window panels, exquisite pen and ink drawings, careful watercolour paintings, atmosphere-laden, leather bound notebooks, and fantastic specimens and artifacts that conjure up a Victorian aesthetic reminiscent of the early days of the Royal Society. It is a feast for the eyes and evidence of curator Mireille Eagan's quip that Phillipa is an over-achiever.  Yes, Jones clearly has substantial talent and a work ethic to match.

The show closes April 28th.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Joanne Copp's ceramics in words and pictures

Joanne Copp's burnished vessels are noted for their luminous gold-leaf interiors.

In this day and age of all things digital it is a distinct pleasure to have and hold a gorgeous book replete with stunning images, memorable words and let us not forget –that new book smell.  Jonathon Bancroft-Snell has been busy at work on his second book about Canadian ceramics in conjunction with the publisher Ronald P Frye, based in Toronto.  Happily for us clay-junkies, according to the RPF website, they are continuing their "new series, which will seek to change the way Canadians think and appreciate Canadian ceramics." I had the opportunity to see the book before publication as I was invited to contribute a blurb for the back cover.  This is what I said:

Noted gallerist Jonathon Bancroft-Snell gives us a rare insight into one of Canada's most enigmatic ceramic artists.  Through poetic images and words, we gain a view of Joanne Copp's creative process and art that could well be a description of the woman herself –born of waves, wind and mystery and shaped by patience, time and dedication.

Gloria Hickey, author of Craft in a Consuming Society and editor of Making & Metaphor: A Discussion of Meaning in Contemporary Craft.

Jonathon asked me to read the manuscript because he felt that I understood his motivation, namely to get the public to connect with the artist and develop an understanding of the person behind the work.  As viewers and collectors we each bring our own unique agenda to a work of art.  This gets broadened when we have the opportunity to meet with the artist and that relationship enriches the experience of owning art and in turn gets shared with those that visit the collector's home,  In my own experience, I think it is safe to say that when collectors purchase a work of art they are in effect buying a piece of the artist.  Unfortunately, Copp has passed away and so the number of works is limited.  Copp was always a private person and carefully controlled what was circulated about her career.  Bancroft-Snell notes in his book that her resume did not contain any information about her early career before she emersed herself in ceramics.  I can imagine his curiosity and frustration.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Busy Times: Venice & EVA

This past weekend (March 16, 2013) I had the pleasure of attending the reception to kick start the upcoming Excellence in Visual Arts awards hosted by the President of Memorial University and his wife at their graciously appointed home on Forest Road.  As soon as I crossed the threshold of the home I was impressed by a print and noticed the signature was that of my hostess- Teresa Kachanoski.  I mentioned it to her and she took me around to see other works by her, including oil paintings.  Teresa Kachanoski is also a member of the board of Visual Arts Newfoundland and Labrador and it was evident that art really was where her heart was.  It was not a case of lip service or social duty.  The EVA Awards and VANL have a valuable ally in Teresa Kachanoski.

This coming week (March 23, 2013) the event to be at will be the fundraising cocktail party at Christina Parker Gallery in benefit of the Terra Nova Art Foundation, and more specifically, its effort to get Will Gill and Peter Wilkins and their art to the upcoming Venice Biennale.  Tickets are $150 each.

 An example Of Peter Wilkins' work.  I think Peter has interesting insight into the decorative impulse.

It is hard to underestimate the importance of Will Gill and Peter Wilkins' participation in such a high level art event as the Venice Biennale.  It is a career highpoint without a doubt and will surely earn them well-deserved recognition on the international art stage.  Personally, I couldn't pick two better artists to represent contemporary art from Newfoundland and Labrador and I wish them every success.  I was impressed from the very first time I saw Will Gill's sculpture at the Bonnie Leyton Gallery in St. John's.  Even back then, he was clearly the real deal and I was not surprised to see his varied work later on at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery or the pages of Canadian Art.  As for Peter Wilkins, I believe, he represents an important trend in photography and visual art in general.  I really wish I could experience first hand what the two of them will cook up for the Biennale. I think of their work and sensibility as being quite different so my intellectual curiosity is aroused.  

In order to gain acceptance or an invitation to exhibit at the Biennale, artists are required to make a proposal to the Biennale's curators.  As reported in ARTslant - Canada's Official Representation at 2013 Venice Biennale:

"Gill and Wilkins are developing a collaborative installation of new work, titled "About Turn" to be presented within a prominent gallery on Venice's historic Grand Canal.  The project is being developed and realized by the Terra Nova Art Foundation (TNAF), a registered not-for-profit organization dedicated to sharing Newfoundland and Labrador's visual culture on the international stage.  Composed of academics, arts patrons, and representatives from various East Coast businesses, TNAF released a statement Wednesday, saying it's "thrilled to have its vision endorsed by Venice Biennale curators in its initial venture; the first in an ongoing multi-year plan to present other Newfoundland and Labrador artists at future international venues."
 A series of shots from Will Gill's performance art at Cape Spear where he launched fiery globes and documented the process.

So, it appears this is a first step and TNAF will be around for the long term.  While I am very happy to support Will Gill and Peter Wilkins as individual artists I think that the TNAF gains credibility by stating that this is part of a long-term effort and an extended vision.  I am hoping that will make it harder for you to say no.  So, go on and become part of art history, buy a ticket.  See you at Christina Parker Gallery on March 23rd the party starts at 6:30 p.m.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Kissing a Good Idea Goodbye

I fell in love with Janice Wright Cheney's coy-wolves in New Brunswick.

I find myself often saying that good ideas are a dime a dozen.  As such, we surely all find ourselves in the position of sifting through good ideas and trying to decide which ones to implement or put into action and which to kiss goodbye.  It isn't always easy.  Sometimes, the decision is made for us.

Some time ago, I wrote an article for the Surface Design Journal about Canadian identity and how it was reflected through our textile art.  It featured Kai Chan, Barb Hunt, and Sharon Kallis.  Kai teased me, "oh you're good Gloria, now you should propose a show to The Rooms and get me to Newfoundland".  Of course, I fell for the bait and proposed an exhibit that was to be a cautionary ecological tale, just in time for 2015 and Craft Year.  It would dovetail with an international textile conference planned for Gros Morne and I thought it was nearly irresistible.  It also included the talents of Doug Guildford and Janice Wright Cheney.  In my mind's eye it would be a fairy tale setting – think Little Red Riding Hood– a complete environment created through textile art.  I could see Doug doing nets and sea creatures, Kai creating the waves and moon, Janice's bears and coy-wolves could live in this forest and Barb's latest directions that hint at landscape would fit perfectly.  I have always believed that the highly charged world of objects that characterize fairy tales is synonymous with how craftspeople and artists regard materials and objects.  They are alive and have special powers.  (They do don't they?)
 Janice Wright Cheney's bears are life-sized.  The fragility implied by the flower is powerful and the red brings to my mind the meaning of the Veteran's poppy.

Sheila Perry, Director of the Provincial Art Gallery, asked for a one-page proposal to bring forward to an exhibitions committee meeting and I talked about the idea with Denis Longchamps who is the Manager of Exhibitions and Publications.  I offered to carry out the show as a guest curator or to have Denis take the idea and run with it without me.  The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery has added two curatorial positions since I last worked there on contract back in 2008 and I realized that they would need to rationalize those additional positions before hiring on contract.  I waited…and waited.  The longer I waited the more my hopes dimmed.  Eventually, I broke down and asked Denis point blank and the news was not good. 

Competition is always fierce at venues like The Rooms.  We have only one provincial art gallery and as the newest facility it has the best toys to play with.  Unfortunately, it is also part of the provincial government and in this day funding cuts and shrinking budgets is also part of regular business. (A 4 million dollar deficit over 3 years was the last figure I recall in the newscasts but that is for all budgets not just cultural industries). Curatorial staff and others in the province are nervously waiting for news about their "permanent" positions and contracts for other positions have not been renewed and are overdue.  No one really knows what to expect.  Granted, if the axe falls hard that may be good news for freelance professionals like myself but I wish no ill on anyone.  Onwards and upwards.  
Ever since I saw these sea-like net creatures in Toronto, and visited Doug Guildford's studio I have wanted to bring them to Newfoundland.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Glenn Adamson maintains high priest position of craft but changes focus for the future

Few of us in the practice of contemporary craft theory would argue with the assertion that Glenn Adamson has been the reigning high priest…with a string of influential books, a solid presence as an international lecturer, a position at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and last but not least being at the editorial helm (along with Tanya Harrod and Ned Cooke) of the Journal of Modern Craft.  The U.K. has always been at the forefront of craft scholarship, I recall that when I was working on the history of knitting in Newfoundland I was interested in charting the path of the trigger mitten and had no trouble finding "knitting" historians, and even a group of scholars that specialized in medieval knits, while I was in the U.K.  Anyhow, let it suffice to say, that when American Glenn Adamson turned up at the V&A I wasn't surprised.

Adamson first made his mark in the publishing craft world with his book Thinking Through Craft.  While it is essentially a reworking of his Phd thesis, and may not be entirely representative of his current thinking the book stood out for me for the energy and rigour that it brought to the subject of craft.  His second book, The Craft Reader, is a weighty tome that is essentially a textbook for anyone teaching the growing but still new subject of craft theory.  It is a combination of old and newer writings on the topic by a variety of scholars, including some Canadians.

Naturally, there was considerable interest in the Adamson title that was released in February 2013, The Invention of Craft.  But rumour had it that Adamson was not going to tour in support of it and that he might be stepping away from the altar of craft.  Curiosity got the better of me and I finally decided to e-mail Glenn Adamson and ask if it were true.  His generous and prompt response was that,

"Yes it’s true, more or less – in that I am concentrating on new projects (mainly a show on the concept of the future in design, which will be at the V&A in 2016). Still doing some craft related things like the journal, and supervising students.. But felt it was time to move on at least for now.
Thanks for the nice words and hope you like the new book!

This is what Sandra Alfoldy, Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, had to say about The Invention of Craft
 “Once again, Glenn Adamson has proven adept at pinpointing the hot-button issues in modern craft. The Invention of Craft takes historical ideas about craft that have been canonized in craft scholarship and turns them on their head. His controversial assertions and excellent examples will have scholars and makers buzzing for years.”

If you are interested in learning more about the book here's the link:   http://