Monday, January 23, 2006


Saturday, January 21, 2006

Daryl Vocat and Catherine Ross at Eastern Edge

Practical Associations / Fingering and Footing

The new show down at Eastern Edge gallery is really worth checking out, not only for the fact that it's the only place in St. John's where you can see contemporary art from somewhere outside of Newfoundland without having to pay a cover charge at the door, but for the high quality of work that is generally presented and supported there. Daryl Vocat's bright, bombastic prints totally knocked me out. Funny, smart and intelligent, Vocat combines a kind of gay-boy Pop Art visual sensibility with a very tenuous optimism about the future, a distrust of power structures both Marxist and capitalist, the examination of various masculine tropes, and the struggle against alienation. Sweet.

Catherine Ross, from New York, presents her video Fingering and Footing, a hilarious collection of found gestural performances recorded from the television game show, The Price Is Right. The hand and foot gestures of contestants, Barker's Beauties, and even ol' Bob himself have been slowed down to reveal the unconscious movements of people's bodies as an expression of their anxieties, excitement, joy, and so on, but also to juxtapose these seemingly more authentic movements with the practiced gestures of Bob Barker and his Beauties.

Several of these segments are presented on a split screen, so that the viewer can easily compare the movements of the contestants with those of their hosts, and what emerged for me at least, was how you could almost make anything seem suggestive or sinister or funny with the right amount of manipulation to the speed of the footage. What became more interesting as I watched (and perhaps is indicative of my somewhat pessimistic and morbid world view), was how the manipulation of the footage by the artist (not to mention how the art viewer is manipulated by the juxtaposition of images) was similar to the way in which the audience of The Price Is Right is manipulated by the glitz and glamour of what is, I think, America's longest running game show. So, is art the ultimate game show? Is the transcendental moment sought by the art viewer equivalent to the game show contestant's hope for hitting $1.00 on the Big Wheel? Is Ross suggesting that the Modernist project, with its quest for social and spiritual revolution, is at most, our societal equivalent to a new Corvette? Hmmm.

Joe Cooper in the Rogue Gallery

When Joe Cooper first talked about his art practice with me, he self-effacingly described his work as dirty cartoons and doodles of guys with big honkin' cocks, overflowing toilets, skulls, really morbid and angsty sketches done on scraps of paper.

And that's just what it is. And it's good.

Joe Cooper is the guy you knew in high school who was a little weird. A little creepy. He was smart. He was also a smart-ass. He smoked a lot of dope. He loved Iron Maiden. His locker was covered in drawings of "Eddie", Iron Maidens' chain dragging, limping, zombie mascot who appeared, for reasons unknown at least to you, on almost every album cover the band ever produced. Sometimes he'd sit next to you on the bus and embarrass the fuck out of you with his constant head-banging, the other passengers kind of glaring at you both and shaking their heads.

This type of work, the work of the high school reject, the stoner, the underdog, the outsider, has been gathering a lot of attention both in Canada and elsewhere. I'm thinking of course of the Art Lodge, and the innumerable imitators who've appeared since Dzama and Co. took off, but more appropriately of Guy Overfelt, the Canadian multi-disciplinary artist whose most infamous performance is an in-gallery funnel beer-drinking contest followed by pukefest and Iron Maiden cover band. (If you ever get the chance to partake... do so. It's great work). Also, Eric Michaud, a Canadian now in NY, whose work consists of abstract charcoal scribbles done while listening to Metal, like how the Abstract-Expressionists painted while listening to Jazz for inspiration.

In a photo of Cooper at the Rogue Gallery, the artist sits smugly on the ground somewhere in his bare feet. It's a placid Spring or Summer day, there's green foliage in the background. It's just such a lovely little snapshot like anyone might have of themselves, or a friend or family member on some trip to the beach. Off to the side, almost out of frame, is the thing that has Joe smiling so sarcastically: a giant cock-and-balls protrudes from the muddy ground, the testicles formed from wet earth, a tree trunk forming the huge phallus. Now that's landscape I can dig.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

The Colour/Form of Bad Art

I know, I know. It may really seem mean of me to be picking on the ol' RCA gallery all the time, particularly in this season of love, hope and shopping, but upon witnessing RCA's latest Member's exhibition, I can't really help myself.

How a place like Newfoundland, a place whose history has been fraught with poverty, alcoholism, Catholicism, violence and tragedy, a place usually viewed by the mainland with derision, if not contempt, can continually produce visual art that addresses none of these things, that seems, for the most part, to consciously turn a blind eye to the beautiful heartbreak of what it means to be an artist in Newfoundland, is beyond me.

Colour/Form consists of a slew of 2D work with a couple of sculptures, and what struck me most about the selection of work was just how un-imaginatively the artists tackled the theme of the show. Flowers, flowers, and more flowers. A few landscapes. A portrait of local starlet Adrianna Maggs. A truly bizarre sculpture which included brightly coloured geometric shapes hanging in netting above other brightly coloured geometric shapes. One really nice abstract oil painting by Danny Woodrow, conspicuously tucked near the back of the gallery where the door to the office is.

It did look, however, like quite a few pieces were sold, judging from the number of red dots by the title cards, which means, I suppose, the crew at RCA Visual (not to mention those artists who sold work) will consider this latest offering by the membership a grand success. Right on, b'ys.

Maude Barlow
Last month, my partner and I went to hear Maude Barlow give a talk related to her new book. And while I realize her visit is perhaps old news by now, there was one thing that I noticed at the talk that has sort of been playing on my mind since. That is, how there was no presence (none that I saw, anyway) from the local arts community. As far as we could tell, we were the only artists in attendance. I wonder to what, if any degree, artists in St. John's are politically aware? Do they even consider it when they're in their studios? It might explain quite a few things about the work that's being made.