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.