In the main gallery till January 20 is Robert Derbouka’s show EX-centric. He will be talking about his work on January 17 at 7:30pm at the gallery, and I strongly encourage you to go. Also showing is Ione Thorkelsson’s show entitled Narratives. Often a gallery can take on the look of a museum and then some. Thorkelsson’s work would be more appropriate in a museum if the fossilized creatures in the gallery were real. The unsettling glass castings resonate with otherworldliness akin to a discovery of an alien species or as dramatic evidence that new age fantasies were not fantasy after all: that this is proof of the existence of near human creatures who could fly in times before recorded history, before the fall of some Eden-like state. Myth, metaphor, pseudoscience, and craft intermingle to make for a wonderful exhibit where the mind races to make sense of the translucent hybrid skeletal structures that are poetic inferences to imaginative allegories of humans in some superior state or as decaying remnants of some failed species. Years ago, with encouragement from Glenn Allison (the TBAG’s curator) when he worked at the Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, Ione began working with cast glass. Ione ran her own glassblowing studio for twenty years. She has had a few major solo shows over the years. Robert Derbouka’s takes naïve art to the extreme. Eccentric, esoteric, ridiculous and dazzling, the dedication or addiction to sculpt and paint works of such depth of meaning and brilliant humour can only come from a passionate soul who loves life and all of our human foibles. The works never seem to complete a single thought; rather, they catapult ideas back and forth across the room creating a playground-like environment where the work screams as from one eccentric expressive genius. Bruce Hyer (local MP) pulled me away from another function to praise the work and point out his favourite pieces. He restated one of my first thoughts when I saw the work through the galleries glass doors; that Derbouka’s work needed to be somewhere other than a gallery. The sculpted works had the appearance of being warehoused before their shipment to take prominent and permanent residence in local institutions. The totem pole celebrating music is an inspiring work for anyone to see, and could easily become a favourite work of art for the city if purchased for the Community Auditorium. I couldn’t decide on a favourite piece to write about as I found that describing one piece wouldn’t work as an example of the whole. There is so much intelligent exploratory and imaginative strength that the works prohibit me from finding an underlying theme. There are dozens of themes working here, and the more you look the more you will find. In Derbouka’s case, this is a wonderful thing.
Wednesday, 21 November 2012
Sunday, 18 November 2012
In July near disaster struck when the basement of the Eaton’s Centre flooded due to a break in a water main. An area of fifty thousand square feet was damaged, including the three gallery spaces and the office of the Definitely Superior Gallery, Thunder Bay’s alternative gallery on Park Ave., just up from the casino. Floors and walls were in need of repair. Shows were closed early, others disrupted. Amongst the debris of wrecked storage material, a computer was destroyed and a painting. Special heating equipment was brought in from Toronto and the heat reached over a hundred degrees in the basement. The working tenants above complained of having to work in a sweltering heat. And the mess took valuable time away from the gallery’s mission to serve local artists and the community. They were having a banner year until it ground to a halt.
Now back up and running, David K. and Renee T., are stoked for their current show (opening tonight with musical performances and refreshments at 9pm), and getting back to their regularly scheduled program of solid Fall activity. (Start making your Halloween costumes for The Hunger!) Details for events can be found on their new and clean website: www.definitelysuperior .com.
One day a full description of Renee T. and David K. and their commitment to the art scene will have to be better described. Their enthusiasm makes for a terrible interview. They talk over each other, complete each other’s sentences, qualify statements with addictions and withdrawals, and explode into tangents about the art, the gallery, and the future. However, their organizational abilities are extraordinary, and tonight is just the beginning of what will surely be a banner year, minus any floods.
They are celebrating their grand reopening with the Biindigaate Film Festival Exhibition, and launching Random Acts of Poetry. The film festival opens the same night at the Paramount Theatre. As always the diversity of the art show is striking with a solid show of paintings, some sculpture, uniquely painted guitars, and a series of video profiles on nine artists produced by Thunderstone Pictures.
The big and bold statement by Christian Chapman, “Don’t Believe in False Idols” takes centre stage, created in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. It’s a humourous version of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper. Instead of prophets we have Native Chiefs and other leaders. Usually his work is collectable, but this is gallery art requiring lots of wall space. His smaller work, “Don’t Let Your Kids Grow Up To Be Cowboys” also shows a sense of humour with a critical slant.
Candance Twance’s works are getting bigger and bolder as well. She is a multi-talented artist who also put out a music CD this year as well. She has an amazing voice! And her painting is progressing to the point where she will be collectable along with the other worthy artists in the show. Two of her featured works are Red Bird and Visitor Here. Which you will be pleased to be.
The Dress: A show of work by Barbara Sprague
September 14 to October 28 at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery
Despite the solemn appearance of Barbara Sprague’s work at a distance, your eyes will get some exercise sliding around the sinuous web of cloth, bone and branches when you are pulled in to explore her personal museum. Memories, drawings from photos, and other references are set in an odd world that has a literal edge marked with tiny “holes.”
The holes mark boundaries for an ambitious use of the drawings that are semi-functional, unexpected, and inspiring. Each drawing is destined to become a piece of a dress so the images are cut short making for odd and distracting shapes. The drawings beg to be explored, which can be done either in the drawings themselves, or where they have been transferred – the dress. Sprague’s feature work is the dress imprinted with the images of the drawings, connected at the “holes.” The skeleton, whose parts appear in the drawings, are sections of a whole connected when the pieces join forces to make for a very bizarre and intriguing ensemble.
Sprague’s modernist attempt to comment on “the word ‘bride’ and its meaning as a form of tying lace-making…” isn’t fully revealed or dealt with. It’s up to the viewer to think on it. However, it is a starting point from which Sprague most obviously leaps into a stream-of-consciousness method of drawing and exploration of the museum of her mind. It might look like a self-absorbed personal trip for Sprague, but anyone viewing the work should be forgiven if they see beyond the world of Sprague and into a netherworld, a world that looks remarkably like one you might find in a picture book by Maurice Sendak.
Much of modern art makes an effort to “comment on” something. Pick a subject – memory, loss, fear, primal emotions, shape, violence – the list is endless, but often the treatment is cold and unnerving where the subject could be better dealt with in an essay rather than in a gallery. And sadly, the “comment on” principal stems from artists’ need to be taken more seriously because thinking about art is apparently more important than the pleasure of appreciating good drawing, beauty, and the sentimental, qualities these days that seem to signify a an absence of serious thought.
So the curator at the Thunder Bay Art Gallery, Nadia Kurd, has organized a wonderful, brave and successful display of works that reveal how visual art succeeds and fails at presenting the sentimental.
Barbara Sprague’s show presents the most successful and individual use of sentiment. There is a dark side, intimated by the use of the skeleton and a metal plate screwed into her forehead in a self-portrait, but this combined with the beauty, technique, and imagination that is cleverly hooked to her theme win the day. It is an uplifting show whereas “Immigrant,” a show of Rosemary Sloot’s work, submerges well-crafted paintings under the weight of “modernism,” with superimposed handwritten scrawls, and black and white images mixed with colour images. The feeling is too much of a physical museum, and not enough of a personal one.
Compare this show to the mixed use of sentiment in the group show “The Way I Remember It . . .” where Allen Sapp’s clearly sentimental work, nearly devoid of modernist “marks” are refreshingly clear despite some trouble with technique. There’s a sense of freedom that comes with being honest and direct about where our memories and history once lived.
It’s rude to stare. It’s rude to laugh at someone. But staring at art is a good thing. The average length of time a person spends looking at a work of art in a gallery or museum is three seconds. Artists and curators dream of the day when people begin to stare at art, with or without learned appreciation. Staring is validation.
Laughing however, is a bit different. Artists and curators may not appreciate you belly laughing at a work of art, but for you the viewer, finding homour in the art can be valuable. It’s a great method to learn about an object that seems incomprehensible in terms of its meaning and value. And laughing at art is another way to understand something of the art world.
You may feel guilt about laughing at art, but don’t. When you laugh at art, you are employing some of the same techniques contemporary artists use to create their work.
With our current crop of contemporary works dotting Marina Park, especially “2 Beacons,” many residents are reserving judgment, possibly to avoid looking like the dullard, the person who doesn’t ‘get it’ – who thinks art is a lot of unnecessary expensive froufrou. There are a lot of dullards out there who don’t understand the value of culture and are happy with sitting in front of a TV.
Sadly, these naysayers are sometimes correct. Some art today can be done by artists, who from a traditional perspective, can’t draw, can’t paint and having nothing to say. Some artists sound like gurus, mediums, or alchemists when they speak, and often the words used to explain or defend their work reek of ideology and subjective relativism to the point where the words become more powerful than the work itself. This is why it’s important to laugh at art. Humour has a discerning ability. Think of political cartoons.
Humour is generally Surprise Incongruence – a sideways look at the world presented in a fashion so unusual that it makes you laugh. Irina Dunn: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Humour also uses Inversion. By turning something upside down, we see it in a new light. Oscar Wilde: “Work is the curse of the drinking man.” The best comedians/satirists will use both.
A good example of both techniques is “Naturally Inflated” in the Children’s Garden. Instead of balloons of air, the sculpted rocks are in the shape of animal balloons. What look and feel like long-lasting stone or marble, which resonate with the appeal of traditional native carvings, are also mimicking the short-lived, lightweight, and tacky balloons made by your local clown. One local artist, when she saw the balloons, called them a disgraceful use of beautiful material. But the kids and some adults, who see them, immediately smile and climb aboard. Aside from the idiot vandals, lots of people are taken by the work.
Another example of inversion, but also employing the technique of “stripping,” amongst others, is the 2 Beacons, probably the most controversial piece of work in the Marina Park. Instead of beauty, we get a couple of ugly bent girders. Instead of “construction” we get the leftover look of “destruction.” From one angle they look rather majestic, from another, they look like the last bit of a demolished building.
Ugliness in itself is not a bad thing, as one of its two sculptors, Eduardo Aquino, pointed out when defending the work in front of city council before the sculpture was placed. He correctly pointed out that the Eiffel Tower was despised at first, but the public came to love the tower. What Aquino didn’t mention was that Gustave Eiffel was forbidden to build a second tower. What makes the Eiffel Tower so famous and loved is that it was the first great monumental use of steel in this manner. And there’s only one of them.
We’ve got two bent sticks, and other unpolished steel works in town. Local resident, Gary Baxter joked that a giant rubber sling could be attached to “2 Beacons” to turn it into a giant slingshot. His girlfriend, Heather Robinson laughed and added, “To wake up the sleeping giant.” Morgan Austin suggested a clothesline could be strung from one to the other to make it useful.
Lacking beauty is not so much a problem if there’s a function involved. The Eiffel Tower has a number of basic functions, and in it’s own way, has an iconic beauty. Sadly, “2 Beacons” seems to be lacking. But one way to find out, is not to reserve your judgment, but to make fun of the art, if you can, and see what sticks. What you start off hating, you may build an affinity for, or even a love for something that seems so plain. After all, lots of tourists who first arrive in Thunder Bay, don’t see a Sleeping Giant until someone points it out to them or they read about it. Most often the tourist will smile and nod. But sometimes a tourist will say, “I don’t see it.”
Friday, 16 November 2012
Toni Hafkenscheid Dec. 22, 2007/ Lana McGregor, Sarah Furlotte, Matt Wyatt, Ryan Slivchak, Kathleen Baleja Sat. Nov. 10, 2007 at DEFSUP
Toni Hafkenscheid: Definitely Superior Art Gallery Sat. Dec. 22, 2007
Toni Hafkenscheid’s photographic work in Gallery 1 evokes an unusual sense of awe and a degree of levity from its inspiring humour. Increasing the size of something traditionally creates a sense of awe, such as a pyramid, a grandiose sculpture of a political leader, or a celebrities face on a large movie screen. It also increases its persuasive effect and authority. Toni Hafkenscheid creates a sense of awe but in reverse with a photographic technique that has a narrow focal width excessively blurring foreground and background. This strips away authority from the subjects he photographs by making his subjects appear small. One gets the sense of looking at excessively detailed models or toys. Halfkenscheid is originally from Amsterdam, and is now teaching at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto. He’s been playing with this influential photographic aesthetic theme since 1991. His approach is one that has been copied by other photographers, and recently by filmmakers as well. His photos immediately reminded me of when I was living in Montreal. Three years ago a friend from Brazil who is a model train fan, thinking of joining the Montreal Chapter’s Association, took me to 891 St. Paul St. where the public rarely has access. There, a small warehouse contains one of North America’s largest model train panoramas. It has everything, including miniature sunbathers. The diorama was amazing and the kid in me jumped for joy. However, where a model train set doesn’t inspire much reflection about our own humanity, except to be amazed at the love and dedication grown adults have for reproducing the world in miniature, Hafkenscheid’s reproductions are of real life, but miniaturized. And Hafkenschield, very aware of the toy comparison, cleverly photographs subjects, trains included, which add to the bizarre effect. It’s the effect of having to deal with an obvious duality, for although I know that the photos are not of models, my mind is persuaded not to believe it, so big questions come to mind: are our lives so small, and whose big and possibly condescending eye are we staring through anyway? The photos are huge, but your eyes become, for lack of a better description, God’s eyes. This creates a sense of awe, by making YOU bigger, not the subjects. Typical of good comedy is a startling revelation of unexpected incongruity – not my phrase. And great comedians often point out what we are conditioned to overlook, what should be obvious ironies in our behavior. Hafkenscheid’s photography does the same so there’s great humour in his work. It’s a lot of fun looking through a Hafkenscheid lens.
The Urban Photography Show in Gallery 2 is part of Defsup’s worthy mission of lifting up rocks to see who’s hiding in our neck of the woods. Many artists are shy semi-reclusive types with loads of talent who need a little encouragement. Defsup’s many juried shows not only introduce the public to new talent but introduce these humble types to each other, which may also inspire collaborations. Jayal Chung, Steven Eschkin, and Brandon Balon take up two walls with projected images. It’s a multi-media slide show avoiding the printing and framing process. Although lacking crispiness, brightness, and the clarity of a good photograph, this presentation of interesting and thoughtful images seems more natural these days. With the slideshow preview option on my computer I’ve rarely had the need to print photos. And soon we may all be projecting our favourite photos on walls from our computers with some new device. However, as contrast but in theme with the projected images, are the many other traditional photography works in this gallery. Jay Arpin’s untitled photograph of a door is brilliantly coloured. The digital manipulation (I’m assuming) is as cleverly handled as any brush, and the handiwork is near invisible. I make the assumption because of the excessive beauty and colour of the door. As unnatural as it is, it is a beautiful step towards turning the commonplace into the fantastic without getting silly with the Photoshop – something easy to do, and which I’m guilty of myself. It would be great to see a film where this kind of attention and use of colour was employed as successfully. Interesting because of its reportage, and as part of the function of this show to make observations of our urban environment, is Ryan Slivchak’s “The Warhol of Fame,” which depicts a mural on the underside of a bridge crossing the McIntyre river, which has its own political statements and encourages one to seek out rare instances of creative efforts, much more interesting than typical graffiti. Unfortunately, photographers, despite their artistic acuity, have a lot to learn about properly presenting their works in a gallery setting. Frame them! Nicely! A good presentation can really enhance not just the individually submitted work, but the look of an entire show. Invest! Your art is worth it. In Gallery 3 are Christian Chapman’s large paintings. In the wake of Norval Morrisseau’s passing, Chapman is definitely an emerging artist worth note. His paintings have multiple weaknesses and strengths, but personal statements, as evocative as Arthur Schilling, enhance the overall punch of these contemporary aesthetically conscious pieces. Chapman is a slick updated brother of Gauguin, mixing landscape, design, and figures. Although not for everyone the mixed media blend of screen-printing, oils, acrylics, and limited collage have been used to create big fresh colourful paintings that are memorable and inspiring for other painters. There are no obvious social statements as Chapman relies on making inferences and making subjective and mysterious a world where people are stripped bare in a natural world spoiled by technology. There is an optimism of a coming rebirth of nature. People appear as ghostlike memories, but often are fleshy and solid. Chapman’s talents could take him in any direction – towards more patterned and misty ghostlike works or towards harsh and heavy more colourful versions of Richard Attila Lukacs works – filled with disturbingly realistic figures in dramatic settings. In the future Chapman’s work will definitely appear on bigger gallery walls. If I was a collector, I would snatch up as many of these early works as possible.
Lana McGregor, Sarah Furlotte, Matt Wyatt, Ryan Slivchak, Kathleen Baleja Sat. Nov. 10, 2007 at DEFSUP
Your eyes are not enough. So I discovered when Kathleen Baleja pointed out that what I discounted as plain old paper mache was actually wasp nest mache, of a sort. Live bees and dead snake skin were also incorporated on a body-cast piece Kathleen titled “Women: First Time After Fifty.” Like most of the works in the 19th annual juried show at the Definitely Superior Gallery, located on the gambler’s side of the Eaton’s centre, there is a story, all loosely or directly based on the broad theme of Change. And like a buffet of art the result is that there is something for everybody. Many of the artists took up the task and changed style, trying something new. Whether it’s good, or whether you like it is up for debate, but overall this kind of show is always praiseworthy, if only in that the show becomes a menu of some of what Thunder Bay and the region has to offer in artistic talent. From comic book to box art, from the mundane still life to the more abstruse modern, the theme could easily have been Variety. Ryan Slivchak made the central piece domineering the main gallery. It is called “Faith Based Initiatives.” It is an oversized cross neatly decorated with red shotgun shells. A shopping cart holds up the cross. The mix of holy, unholy, and downright commercial is a very clever triple-slap of metaphor, sure to inspire discussion. Computer generated images are projected on to a painted canvas in Matt Wyatt’s “Five Day Planner.” A typical TV weatherman has a ridiculously phony smile considering that the projected weather for the week includes the end of the world with a temperature of 2012 degrees. The weatherman appears as if nothing is wrong, but the day planner suggests that the most important activity that day is to, “Make love to your wife,” because it might be the best and last fun thing you can do. Matt’s other painting in the show, a crowd scene titled “Balinese New Year” reminds me of the great work of the British artist, P.J. Crook. Sarah Furlotte’s “Elephant Stomps and Waves” is a paper-based mixed media work with a great title. The drawing is superb and the work’s mix of materials conjures several possible interpretations simultaneously, so your eyes and mind are kept moving. The mysterious landscape feel is something I’ve always loved in surrealist works as they can employ the best of both modernist and classical approaches.In the adjoining two galleries the mix of modern and traditional can be seen in the works of Lana McGregor. She is a young collage artist born and working in Thunder Bay. In what I think is her best work, “Still Life on a Kitchen counter” the collage pieces of painted canvas work beautifully. The semi abstract incompleteness and sketch-like quality gives dynamism to an otherwise common still life subject of a teapot, glass of water, book, and grapes on a table. The colour combination is great and the composition is wonderful. Many of the other works don’t appear to have as much thought put into them, or are not based on any observation of nature or thoughtful imagination, but as tossed off technical experiments; the grey being too grey for rocks and look like cut out construction paper pieces. This doesn’t help when the subject matter is not challenging.
Thursday, 15 November 2012
Argus: Lakehead University Student Newspaper, 2007
Article and Photos by Duncan Weller
Article and Photos by Duncan Weller
A few art students from LU, along with local artists, were in retro pajama costume. The shiny kimono crew glistened. Ram had on his judo outfit. A very tall forester with a PhD was fully pajamasized, as were a few engineering students. Overall it was the women who really got into the party. They ruled the bordello, piling themselves and sprawling on to the floor as a result of losing their balance in games of twister. Despite the seeming mayhem, not one person was visibly intoxicated which lead me to believe that when the people and the party are fun, alcohol loses its commanding role as a necessary lubricator. And with three and a half rooms to choose from, a partygoer could stroll from one to the next finding a variety of entertainments. Rap stars and DJs kept a pulse going in the small back room. A good trick for anyone opening a club is to have at least one area where people can talk, where the music isn’t so loud you get hoarse from yelling, get a guy’s name wrong, and suggest something you weren’t intending. A key aspect of this party - communication was possible.
LU Radio and the Definitely Superior Art Gallery put on a great event with enough events continuously in motion to keep you on your feet and awake till whenever it ended. (I left early at 2am) There were groove drummers, six DJs to offer samples of electric music, ranting and poetic rap artists, all in an atmosphere both jazzy and comfortable enough to make you think you were in a friend’s basement. Two rooms offered projected images to view. Pillows, couches and bathtubs kept people comfortable and there was enough room for more than fifty people to gyrate and shake.
Of important note is how valuable this kind of venue is to the Thunder Bay community. The multifunctional use of a gallery I’ve seen attempted in Toronto and Vancouver where you would think hundreds of people would turn up. They generally fail miserably partly because of the snob factor associated with galleries and lack of inventiveness, which is surprising for artists. The gang at Defsup and LU Radio not only succeeded but have been asked by people in the community to continue hosting these kinds of events. And so they shall.
Wednesday, 14 November 2012
Definitely Superior Art Gallery Chronicle Journal, Oct. 25, 2007 Article and Photos by Duncan Weller
An unparalleled slamming of events into one night is happening at Jack’s and Kilroy’s this Saturday. When asked, David Karasiewicz and Renee Terpstra, the organizers, butted horns attempting to determine what age group might most appreciate the unbelievable collection of 33 acts. Ages 17 to 50 is hardly a demographer’s category. This epic fundraiser for the underground alternative art scene through the Definitely Superior Art Gallery is for the dedicated and the curious, of any age. There is no target market. Anyone who likes anything experimental and original (no cover bands allowed!) is destined to have a memorable experience. I am unable to match the hyperbole of the advertising. But having attended such endogenous events – one in Victoria, B.C. in which artists branded one another and the disgusting and sweet smell of burning human flesh was in the air, I can only express my firm belief that this unique event should not be missed.
The hip-hop-under-the-radar-underground is the uncut blood diamond of the Thunder Bay retro art scene that sustains a youth culture in this city. The musical movers and shakers of the region will sift into the Hunger Cabaret, blow out a few diamonds, and then slide out again like some kind of magnetic cosmic creation. With seventeen live bands with names like Forever Dead, Faceless Hulk, Cosmic Granola, Adverse Vital Signs, and Makeshift Astronaut, you can begin to understand the difficulty of discerning genres. What is “horrobilly” or “sludge rock” or “grind metal” or “garage grime space rock”? Do you know? Do they know? Hip-hop itself is a stretch or inclusion of ten different musical styles that has only recently gained widespread popularity. The mixing perplexes music critics. Some love it. Others like Martha Boyles, author of Hole in our Sole, call it all “perverse modernism.” However, “out of grub street came Charles Dickens” is a phrase that suggests the possibility is very likely that you will be the first to see the next class act to make it big, to make it industrially huge. I have my eye on Jean-Paul-De Roover. I think he’ll be as good as, as influential as, Robert Fripp - never heard of King Crimson? Then you’re younger than I am. But if you have, you may want to go if only to make comparative notes, and rekindle the feeling of truly seeing something fresh.
Music isn’t all that’s offered. True to contemporary counter-culture the Hunger Cabaret will offer performance art. If you’re not sure what that is, think of a mix between WWE wrestling and a scene in a bodice ripping romance novel. What do you get? Why… Baroque Ladies Wrestling, of course. Performance art has essentially the same postmodern approach as contemporary music; everything is a wondrous and sometimes perplexing mix of styles. Think of a live act like belly dancing, and then think how it can be morphed with some other live act. You may end up with a VooDoo Doll Dance Performance, something the talented Helen Leaf Black will perform. Or you may get Dark Angel Messengers who give out cookies and treats. (It’s a Halloween event – by-the-way).
Top all this off with big screen projections, raffles, free candy, big costume prizes, and the lowest admission charge you could possibly ask for - for so many events in six hours (eight bucks for two venues!) and you get an EVENT. Last year boasted 650 people - this year, probably more. The list of sponsors is quite impressive and no doubt a large part of last years success. Doors open at 8pm. Get a costume. Go early. Go wild.