Arts, Reviews

DYSCORPIA: The Body in Trouble

DYSCORPIA, the multi-artist, multi-disciplinary art exhibit was originally scheduled run until mid-May, has been extended to the end of June, and has been added to The Works Art and Design Festival.

This is great news, as I’ve had time to see only half of this sprawling show, with pieces in almost all of the display space in Enterprise Square Galleries. (These interconnected galleries comprise a space large enough to temporarily house the Art Gallery of Alberta when it was waiting for its new (current) building to be completed.)

DYSCORPIA’s subtitle is “Future Intersections of the Body and Technology”. I saw the show before I read the didactic (aka the printed program). I felt that the work fulfills the curators’ stated goals: “DYSCORPIA is an exhibition gathering artists and thinkers in visual art, design, contemporary dance, medical humanities, virtual reality, sound creation, computer science, and creative writing in order to question what it means not to know the limits of our bodies in the face of new technologies.”

All of the work in the exhibit was designed to ask questions, mull over possibilities, and allow people to feel either good or uneasy, or something in between, about technologized bodies.

Here are a few of the highlights of the East Galleries from the visit I made on May 25, 2019:

Work: Deep Connection / Body Invader
Artists: Marilene Oliver and Gary James Joynes

Volunteer with a facsimile of DYSCORPIA head curator Marilène Oliver.

This work is behind a partial wall. You hear it before you see it. A full-bodied score by Gary James Joynes alerts you to the fact that something interesting is going on back there. I have to admit, when I turned the corner, the life-sized 3D-printed figures standing there scared the bejeezus out of me! I was not expecting to see a crowd of “people” in that space. The room is actually made of two complementary pieces of work. The first component is physical: the “crowd” that startled me was a group of 3D laser-cut coroplast figures. The second component is a virtual reality experience. When I visited, a volunteer, was there to help with the VR equipment. Once he fit me with the goggles at one end of the exhibit, he explained that it should seem like I was standing in the middle of a prone body. I was able to use a joystick to hold the person’s “hand” and see her heart beating. It was neat, but also a little creepy! At the other end of the display, the VR experience made it seem like you were standing much too closely to some very tall people (based on the people who modelled for the coroplast figures). My discomfort with these virtual reality entities just brought home how “real” they were.

ETA (June 28, 2019) This complicated work was the result of a collaboration between many individuals across disciplines. Here are the full credits:

Work: Solastalgia
Artists: Brad Necyk and Dan Harvey

Side-by-side video work by Brad Necyk and Dan Harvey about one’s placement in the world.

There are videos everywhere in this large room. It’s projected directly onto the gallery walls, displayed on wall monitors mounted on the wall, or on monitors leaning on walls awaiting to be mounted, or laying flat on the floor, like those virtual displays that you can walk on (but you can’t walk on these monitors). Ironically, The the sound design, which reminded me of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s musical score for the movie Arrival, amplified the feeling that the images were alien. However, instead of being from outer space, these images are on earth, an altered Earth, a hyper-real Earth, a possible future Earth.

Work: Barrier
Artist: Xi Jin

Part of an installation by Xi Jin, guest-starring my shadow.

This piece is made up of a collection of text fragments, cast in bas relief in plastic, some of which also have an image embedded in them. To read the text, you had to stand at certain angles. You couldn’t help but cast a shadow, which meant becoming part of the artwork. A barrier breached! I thought about how membranes that can be as little cell-width thin can be both very strong, yet very fragile, and how changes in the state of a membrane can have drastic consequences on our physicality.

Work: Anticipated Alliterations (Body Talk)
Artists: Kasie Campbell and Gary James Joynes

Soft sculpture set to hard music by Kasie Campbell and Gary James Joynes.

This was fun to experience! Kasie Campbell’s soft sculpture look almost like faces or bodily organs. They’re connected with cords and wire, but the day I went, the volume and force of Gary James Joynes’s soundscape had shaken the connections loose. It was like an audio-visual version of Claes Oldenburg’s slowly disintegrating soft sculptures of hamburgers and other consumables. Campbell and Joynes’s piece challenges the idea that art should be permanent and unchanging, and serves as a memento mori of our own mortal bodies. No matter how much we augment them, they will break down. It’s part of our design.

Work: There’s Something Inside Me / My Medicine / PRN
Artist: Blair Brennan

Long view of Blair Brennan’s printed and painted pieces on paper.

I’ve known Blair Brennan for many moons. He recently had major surgery to mitigate a serious condition. His physical abilities are now very different than he had even just a few years ago. His medical journey is documented through the pieces that make up “his” wall in DYSCORPIA. If you “read” the display from left to right, you might start thinking about the aesthetics of medical imagery. There are more transformative pieces, art that is not a facsimile of the medical record, but that clearly references, and then there are pieces that reference the reference. If you start in the middle of the display, you might feel surrounded by iterations and impressions of how the medical view of one person’s body changes how he thinks about his physical self, and about your own reactions. On a less personal scale, you might think about how technology helps us live, and how we live with technology.

Work: Eve 2050
Artist: Van Grimde Corps

Still from Isabelle van Grimde’s film Eve 2050.

Also included in DYSCORPIA is the film that inspired it: Eve 2050, by the Montreal troupe Van Grimde Corps. Isabelle van Grimde is the dancer and choreographer who conceived of the piece, which incorporates sculpture by Marilène Oliver, the head curator of DYSCORPIA. The film is a beautiful exploration of possible future evolutions. At DYSCORPIA, it plays as one continuous movie which takes you through four chapters: Origin, Transform, Hybrid, and Sapien. It’s also available on the internet as a webseries, but I appreciated the opportunity to see it as a singular piece of work, in a theatre setting in the gallery.

I had a quick run through the work in the West Galleries. There was some very neat stuff there, including some interactive displays. I’m adding them to my to-do list for The Works.

DYSCORPIA is open to the public at Enterprise Square Thursdays to Sundays from 12 noon to 5 pm until June 30, 2019. Admission is free.

Arts, City, Reviews

DIS: Thumbs That Type and Swipe

Some of the images by Drew Zeiba &  Chris James for the DIS Collective series, Onboarding: Thumbs that Type and Swipe (2018), at Plug-In ICA, Winnipeg. Photo by Suzette Chan.

This past summer, I visited Winnipeg for the first time in years. I lived there for a winter in the 1980s. I had never experienced a colder winter in my life—and I’m from Edmonton! However, the people were warm and the cultural scene was a hotbed (see: Guy Maddin, the Crash Test Dummies, Carol Shields). So I’ve always had a place in my heart for the city.

Thirty years later, the city seemed to be as creative as ever (I arrived during their Fringe theatre festival), and I saw some great art, including a fascinating exhibit at the Plug-In Institute for Contemporary Art in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The show featured the work of the DIS collective, which pushes the envelope of “edutainment”. I had an opportunity to write about the show for the Fall 2018 issue of Luma, a quarterly online publication about independent film and media art.

Here’s a link to my review of Thumbs That Type and Swipe. Be sure to check out the embedded videos!






Biomythography: Keith Harder and Julian Forrest

Biomythography-Exhibit-Julian-Forrest-Keith-Harder-FAB-Gallery-from-Oct-2-to-27-1-768x497 A couple of weeks ago, I attend the opening reception for Biomythology, a visual art show at the FAB Gallery at the University of Alberta. FAB openings are great, by the way. They’re free, there’s food, and the artists are often in attendance because the gallery most often shows work from current students and faculty members.

The featured artists in Biomythography are Keith Harder and Julian Forrest, both Fine Arts professors at the University of Alberta’s Augustana campus. Both presented fascinating work.

Keith Harder: ILL Winds and Anamnesis

FAB Gallery describes Harder’s work thusly: “In Keith Harder’s interconnected series, ILL Winds and Anamnesis, he examines the breakdown of materials and paints metaphorical images that speak to trauma and resilience.” Harder’s work is on the first floor of the gallery, which means that it occupies five or six (depending on how you’re counting) exhibition bays. There isn’t really a proscribed order to the show, but as I walked through the spaces, I felt the show had a strong narrative, as if each bay were a page of a comic, and each painting a panel.

Admittedly, I started with the corner immediately after the hors d’oeurves table. In my defense, this was also the corner where you could watch a video of how Harder salvaged old World War II planes and turned them into art. I actually went back to FAB Gallery yesterday to watch the video in full, and with the headphones. The video is actually a seven-minute short film called Gravitas, by Harder in collaboration with director Christopher Markowsky. Gravitas is the name of a work of land art that Harder has made. He landscaped the outline of 12 planes, some filled with surviving parts, arranging them in a circle like a clock. In the video, Harder talks about how these pieces act as memento mori, of the type found in vanitas paintings that contained reminders of mortality. The work obviously could not be moved, so it is represented on the walls of FAB by an aerial photo.

Harder’s studies and paintings inspired by these plane carcases appear to have formed the basis of a group of paintings and large-scale sketches in the adjacent bay and smaller, photorealistic  paintings near the gallery entrance. The central bay of the gallery is triangular; each of its three walls is adorned with a massive painting of a storm, the type through which one could easily imagine the warcraft flying. In the corner of this triangular bay is a video showing how Harder painted one of them, ILL Winds: West (2016). What looks from a distance to be a “simple” monochromatic painting is actually the result of several layers of paints, washes, and finely detailed painting technique. If you view the other work in the exhibit as Harder using art breaking down material visually, then this was a display of how Harder used painting material to build up a visual.

Julian Forrest: False Dilemma

Upstairs at FAB Gallery was a show of paintings by Julian Forrest, collectively called False Dilemma. Here’s FAB’s short description of the show: “Julian Forrest’s series, False Dilemma, examines instances of personal and historical migration and conquest, and ponders the loss of masculine archetypes.”

At the opening, a mutual friend introduced me to Forrest, who was gracious enough to chat with me about his work for a few minutes. I thought I had recognized some of the figures in his paintings. Forrest said he has used historical photos in the past, but decided to hire actors for this series. He said he had a narrative in mind, but let the actors play. The actors’ energy and personas really come across in the paintings, especially in Torshlusspank (or, The Death of Kurtz), which featured Edmonton actors Chris Bullough, Troy O’Donnell, and Michael Peng at its centre. Several of these paintings could have been set during the heyday of vaudeville, when Edmonton experienced an economic boom and blossomed into a cosmopolitan.

This suggested past contrasted with the mood of a diptych, Fugue State #1 and Fugue State #2, which shows mirror images of a man sitting in the wreckage of what might have been his home (perhaps the victim of a tornado), being approached by an older man in a bear suit, as if life could be any more surreal for the distraught man. It’s a complicated moment, both private and public, worthy of Shakespeare.

Compare and Contrast

I really appreciate thoughtful pairings of artists and work in shows like this, which present a yin and yang of a subject.

Harder depicted the past with monumental, dark hues, emphasizing things, such as weather and warcraft. Forrest painted people with sketch-like gestures, almost as if he had torn pages out of (a fairly giant) plein air watercolour sketchbook. With these paintings, Harder immortalizes pieces of public history; Forrest brings moments of private history to life.

Both series were beautiful, grand, and thought-provoking. Biomythography is at FAB Gallery at the University of Alberta campus until October 27, 2018.

FAB Gallery:

Keith Harder:

Julian Forrest: