Posts tagged: Belkin Gallery
Image credit: All rights reserved by Belkin Art Gallery
It’s a good idea to have the grad show at the beginning of a semester. Let the next batch compare and contrast the range of what they will become. So, what does the next batch have to compare and contrast and become?
I didn’t expect to find this show funny. Not ha-ha funny, but far more humorous than Emily Carr’s grad show. Now that’s funny. I banged my head inside of Kevin Day’s all containers are dark inside; whatever engine, whatever medium. A lot of the titles remind me of Fiona Apple albums. Some of those albums have been described as precocious.
Day’s sheets of hand-written source code was good labour though. Double traced. I can only imagine that it works. I want to believe its open flimsy frame was completely on purpose, that this coded makeshift space able to fit many bodies is the alleviation to the single-headed black box. Or maybe I just hit my head harder than I thought.
A few works make me wish for more information. That’s a fine work of walnut, but the pedestal is the worst. Yan Luo’s pieces are all too cryptic and I’m not at all sure what happened with Nelly Cesar. I do two laps around and ask the attendant where the other piece by Cesar is placed. He says go around the building to the other side and then looks back down again when I point and say, that way?
Nathan McNinch designed the catalog, which is filled with essays that I wish I wanted to read. the folds become cracks … is his paper-based durational work that would have benefited from different lighting. I must say, I prefer the drawings.
Ali Ahadi seems to have come along way from something, or so it is suggested, but to highlight the materiality is to have circled all the way back to the beginning. I feel that with Lux Petrova’s Folio Effects. Zizek got bedazzled. Swarovski crystals bring glamour. Or maybe she is going for street cred. What is the material value of critical theory in the end? It’s all a bit silly, isn’t it? But I have to appreciate the commitment as those finger nails are for real.
Image credit: Installation view from Survey ‘69, exhibition at The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in May-June 1969. Michael Morris, New York Letter, c. 1968, gelatin silver print, mirror, Plexiglas. The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Purchase, Saidye and Samuel Bronfman Collection of Canadian Art. Photo: The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Henry Koro.
Things I was thinking about as I walked through Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry:
- This is more cohesive than Traffic: Conceptual Art in Canada 1965 - 1980
- Where are all the women?
- Michael Morris was the king of the castle.
- The Belkin has to be one of the nicest university galleries in Canada.
- I still don’t like concrete poetry.
Concrete Poetry has been canonized in English Departments across the land and certainly I have read my fair share of bpNichols, bill bissett, The Four Horsemen amongst a foundation of George Bowering and Daphne Marlatt. The connections between West Coast experimental writing and the formation of concrete poetry, sound poetry, and the Kootenay School are not the subject matter of Letters: Michael Morris and concrete poetry, but the history of Canadian poetry itself looms large as this exhibition is explicitly about connections and history.
The hinge of the exhibition is all on Morris, which traces concrete poetry within a visual art trajectory, namely, of Vancouver’s glory years through the 60s and 70s. If you see Letters purely as an exhibition of Morris as a figure, the exhibition is quite superb in detailing the history and confluences of that time in Canadian Conceptualism. Traffic is likely the only other exhibition that comes close to grasping the simultaneous influences of Conceptualism sweeping across the country (The West coast judges will have their say when it comes this way later this spring).
Letters “begins” from Morris’s collaborative book, The Problem of Nothing (1967), which began as a response to Between Poetry and Painting, the seminal exhibition at London ICA in 1965. Morris’ subsequent projects including his Letter Paintings series would open him up to connections including mail-out ingenue and Fluxus member Ray Johnson along with exposure and accolades from major art centres where concrete and sound poetry were burgeoning.
This goes back to the medium of concrete and sound poetry, which was reflective of a very specific era in my mind. To be clear, concrete and sound poetry were never that big. It was at best a subculture and still lives on today, but like most subcultures past their prime, it is akin to literally watching that old man who may be a professor emeritus or may be homeless awkwardly contorting sounds out of his body. It is not sad, but it is not fun, either. It is a gesture of history when language and the body were sites of collective experimentation. Experimentation still continues, but all sources point to a fragmentary existence. I am, however, interested in where this history of experimentation currently exists in Vancouver’s milieu besides in this respectful retrospective at a university institution.
I was just re-reading Scott Watson’s essay “The Past of Our Practice: A Note on the 1960s” from Naming a Practice: Curatorial Strategies for the Future. Watson, who co-curated this exhibition with Michael Turner, intertwines the emergent and experimental art scene of Vancouver in the 60s to the changing social and political course of public art museums. Recalled in particular was the Vancouver Art Gallery’s growth under Tony Emery’s seven year tenure when the “avant-garde” of local experimentation co-existed alongside and in the institutional. As the gallery patrons and funding models shifted, so did curatorial decisions, and now the gallery is more concerned with finding a new home that doesn’t have to share a public entry way with nearby protestors. The era under Emery, much like the heydays of concrete and sound poetry, feel like a long time ago, but in remembering by writing, remembering by curating, certain stories and histories continue to live on.
Letters: Michael Morris and Concrete Poetry runs Jan 18 - April 8, 2012 at The Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery