Monthly Archives: July 2010

Samina Mansuri

Rarely have I met an artist as expressive and articulate as Samina Mansuri. In fact, I sincerely hope that anyone interested in her work gets the chance that I did  to look into her piercing black eyes as she recounts her conceptual passions. In her work, After Images: Cedibidaee Reconstruction, which is currently on display in the MOCCA: Empire of Dreams exhibition, the sprawling urban diorama could be easily misinterpreted as “fun” or “cute.” In order to see the work, the viewer must first step up onto a raised platform to take a look at the uniformly silver-coated miniature buildings. This Lilliputian municipality evokes a sci-fi futurism which is amplified by random over-head film

projections that keep the miniature metropolis in a ceaseless state of shift between nearly complete darkness and a searching, masked, light. It’s impossible to escape the dark brood of trauma hovering over this adorable little city. This is the future as depicted in Blade-runner or Brazil. It may be silver, but this is not a sterling utopia.

When a chance stroke of light allows a good look at the landscape, one begins to notice elements that obviously do not belong. A Super 8 camera sits where one imagines a building to be and a reel of film is in place of a bridge. In this way, the work seems playful. Arguably however, the only game is the one that Mansuri, in her desire to inspire varied understandings of her work rather than preaching the familiarly didactic sermon of over politicized art, is playing with us. At once she has convinced the viewer that they are looking at a landscape, while purposefully and simultaneously creating strong reasons for them to doubt that very notion.

Mansuri, a Pakistani born, internationally trained, Toronto based artist, keeps herself in a constant state of questioning the world around her by maintaining a perpetual state of culture shock caused by living between Toronto and Pakistan. The distance between her two homes allows her perception of each place to be a complex blend of her lived experiences combined with the portrayals of east vs. west she sees in the media.

The role of the media in her perception was highlighted for her shortly after her move to Toronto in May 2001, when the 911 attacks destroyed the Twin Towers in NYC. Having completed her BFA at Pratt Institute in New York and her MFA at Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh, the attacks resonated with that part of Mansuri that had spent so many creative years there. In the years following, her previously uncelebrated hometown of Karachi, Pakistan came into worldview as a politically terror-traumatized danger zone.

Her intimate knowledge of these locales gave her the objectivity to comprehend a process of a sort of ethnographic rewriting, or maybe more accurately described as a process of cultural erasing, that was taking place in war torn vistas such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. As the public’s appetite for images of suffering and destruction are satisfied with an endless supply of graphic decimation imagery, it is Mansuri’s philosophy that a media-generated memory- tertiary memory as she refers to it- of these places is formed in the imaginations of the global public.

Through the focused gaze of the hungry lens of world-news, the acknowledgements of the extant civilizations in these unfortunate areas of CNN-celebrity essentially vanish as they are paved with all-pervasive ideas of demolition.  To the people living in these areas however, as any Toronto resident during 2003’s SARS scandal can attest to, life continues with a surprising degree of normalcy. After Images: Cedibidaee Reconstruction is the last work from a 3 year long series of miniature constructions mimicking the kinds of tortured worlds we imagine from glimpses of photos that might appear in a Google search for Islamabad. In previous works, although the set was constructed, it was only revealed to the onlooker in the form of photos.

In both the photos and this current installation, it is the accidental intrusion of her errant bits of unusable technology that offer us the truth about these locations Mansuri has invited us to look upon. That is that they, like the entire countries we imagine enveloped in thick blankets of on-going explosions, are constructions, existing only in the minds willing to believe the media’s prolific imagination.

Samina Mansuri’s installation After Images: Cedibidaee Reconstruction is showing at MOCCA: Empire of Dreams, until August 15.

Take a look at other my other articles profiling artists from this show: David Trautrimas, Alex McLeod and Dorian FitzGerald.

The Pleasure is Back

After graduating from the University of Guelph Fine Arts program in 2007 with a focus in printmaking, Adam Medley grew tired of trying to pull a perfect print-series so he gave up and decided to try something a bit easier. His current plan is to follow in Richard Branson’s footsteps and become a media tycoon. His first step has been to create his own personal brand, “The Pleasure is Back.”

Growing up in Oshawa, Medley began playing with media interpretations as a diversion from the boredom he faced in his high-school art class. A less than inspiring watercolour landscape assignment triggered Medley to pillage the classroom’s abundant resource of antiquated home-making magazines with a derisive adolescent disinterest that eventually gestated into a past time comfortably cusping the realm of obsession often evident in creative practice. To date, Medley has created a catalogue of hundreds of these implausible endorsements resulting from a feverish eight years of cutting and pasting.

He refuses to dismantle his collection of “artifacts” (as he refers to his glossy packing tape covered propaganda), so he has begun to hawk reproductions of the retro-alternate innuendoes. His cleverness is available for purchase as posters, mugs, t-shirts and other purposefully unnecessary consumer collectibles. Medley’s decision to reincarnate these previously cadaverous marketing attempts as a line of products in their own right is the ironic decision that arguably elevates the work to fine-art.

It’s almost more fun to imagine this quiet and unassuming young man as a media-baron who doesn’t really care if his work is considered as art at all. As he stared innocently at me with his blue eyes and his inculpably freckled cheeks and articulated an intelligent critique of the futility of consumer culture and advertising, I hoped that he was secretly thinking… “BUY MY STUFF!”

Adam Medley is currently showing at Art Metropole. You can view, and of course purchase, his work at www. thepleasureisback.com

Alex McLeod

I was looking forward to meeting Alex McLeod in his studio to witness an inglorious mess of creative detritus from his fiberglass and epoxy constructions.  It does mention that all of the work is digitally rendered on his website, but his scrupulous attention to detail makes that seem like a dubious claim. To my disappointment, we arranged to meet at Timothy’s Coffee near the Eaton Centre. Bound for yet another international show, this time in San Jose, California, McLeod was on his way to make the transitional rite of passage of purchasing rolling luggage after our visit. To date, the young artist has shown numerous times in the United States as well as in Spain and Brazil.

After graduating from OCAD’s Painting and Drawing program in 2007, McLeod struggled for a while to bring his conceptual musings into being before deciding to learn how render them digitally. Only a few years later, as he relaxes downtown sipping on an icey pink frappe, 5 computers back at his studio are diligently realizing his candy-coated visions of dystopia. His renderings are often immaculate. The dripping amorphous globs that secretly wish they were actually coated with high gloss resin are strung precariously over rickety wooden models of empty houses and dead trees. Apparently, I’m not the first person to question the digital construction of these landscapes as McLeod has been asked to participate in an exhibition of dioramas in New York next year.

Beyond the inviting palette, there is a sense of forboding in many of his landscapes. McLeod’s work as a commercial artist may explain the finely calculated graphic accessibility of the work. The artist’s own admiration of  Japanese art icon Takashi Murakami, who so gracefully straddles the worlds of commercial art and contemporary practice, shows in abundant creative parallels. Closer to home, his work could also be compared to that of the Canadian artist duo T&T, (Tyler Brett and Tony Romano) whose “heterotopic” future landscape is also currently on display at the Empire of Dreams show. Their panoramic digital c-print False Creek is one of many recently applauded digital works further validating computer generated fine-art.

McLeod expresses interest in lifecycles and the inevitable repurposing of matter. That said, every landscape remains completely unpopulated in an effort remove references of time-period or cultural specificities. Staring back at me past wispy long hair that twists into the occasional dreadlock, a T-shirt with a fluorescent pink slogan about the planet and glossy gold hi-tops, Alex McLeod is a posterboy for youth and obviously misses the irony when he proclaims that “time is unimportant in his work.” Most likely the omission of inhabitants also preserves the successfully hyper-realistic illusion of these fictional landscapes. It’s too bad though really. It’s fun to imagine what kinds of wonderfully happy little people the infectiously positive McLeod would invite into his worlds. Instead, the invitation is to the viewer only, who is left to wonder if anyone is coming back to check on any of those unattended fires.

Alex McLeod is currently exhibiting at MOCCA: Empire of Dreams and will be showing at Angell Gallery this fall. McLeod is represented by Angell Gallery in Toronto.

Take a look at my articles on these other Empire of Dreams artists David Trautrimas and Dorian FitzGerald in Canadian Art Magazine.

Bungalow Colony

“The notion of home is a metaphor.”

-Siya Chen- joint curator of Bungalow Colony.

A trek to the East-end of Toronto this Saturday afternoon proved a worthwhile venture. Gendai Gallery, located at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre is hosting Bungalow Colony, an exhibition by the artist collective “A Collection of Foreign Objects”.  The artists present diverse interpretations of the exhibition’s theme “home”.

Some highlights of the show include Seema Narula’s installation of empty tupperware containers lit by hanging bare light-bulbs. The light emanating from within the translucent mass of the empty geometries that make up “Leftovers will bring you happiness” immediately call to mind our innate emotional connection to food, but the mass of emptiness seems to be accentuating the stark loneliness of contemporary life.

In “I’m going and coming back,” Reiko Shimizu has constructed ordinary Japanese phrases out of tiny hexagonal pieces of plywood.  The miniature blocks create a topographic pattern reminiscent of the repetition and conformity of our endlessly repeated everyday actions and phrases.

Tom Ngo’s drawings display his typically whimsical and absurd architectural fantasies. These playful sketches are satirically contrasted by the crude pencil lines fashioned by his fanciful mechanical installation, “Keepsake.”  Within a small plywood “house” lives a fantastic drawing contraption capable of roughly scribbling the ubiquitous home symbol (sans smoking chimney). Possibly a comment about the obvious lack of creative freedom in the world of mass-produced subdivisions.

A Collection of Foreign Objects is made up of Seema Narula, Reiko Shimizu, Steve Newberry, and Aleksandra Rdest. Guest artists in this show are Tom Ngo (LE Gallery) and Myung-Sum Kim. Bungalow Colony runs until August 22, 2010.

798 Art District, Beijing

On the outskirts of Beijing, away from the throngs of hungry tourists mobbing the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, Beijing’s thriving art community  has established a permanent residence in what is now called the 798 Art District. Even here, on the other side of the globe, it seems that the story of artistic gentrification is the same. The district’s continuing rapid growth is evident from construction underway in all of the outer edges. Open areas within the neighbourhood are littered with large scale permanent sculptures, and young fashion and photography students linger in the dusty alleys striking poses amid industrial backdrops.

In the middle of the 20th century, the Dashanzi factory complex was built in the spirit of communist brotherhood between the Chinese and the East Germans. The area that now sprawls  in the spirit of gentrification was once proclaimed to be an international model of social realist urban planning with housing, work and recreation all in comfortable walking distance from each other.

In 1995 Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts moved into this neighbourhood in search of a cheap location with an abundance of space just outside of the city. Since their decision to make it a  permanent studio location in 2000, this area has fulfilled the fairytale of artistic urban renewal.The Bauhaus style buildings are currently occupied by over 170 art galleries and studios, shops, and cafes and are now home to the Beijing Biennale.

Because of the mass selection in this highly commercial area, it’s easy to be discouraged upon first entering. However, the tiresome process of wading through the seemingly endless array of shops hawking Maoist kitch and abundant  commercial galleries displaying technically proficient art that differs only slightly from the aforementioned souvenirs eventually pays divendends.  The handful of world-class galleries not only make-up for their commercial counterparts, but create in the visitor a level of inspiration that makes one happy to wander about in traquil elation of visual pleasure.  

I was awakened from my state of  disillusionment when I first wandered into Pace Gallery, the Beijing counterpart to the trio of Pace Galleries New York City. The gallery is currently housing an exhibition by Chinese artist Zhang Huan featuring large scale paintings using ash as the primary medium, as well as a series of fantastically disturbing  Bhudda masks made from cow-hides.

At the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) , one of the first independant not-for-profit art centers in China, the large factory style space is reserved for cutting edge rotating exhibitions of Chinese and international artists. The current exhibition juxtaposes the work of young Chinese artists with artists from New York. Here, we are no longer being pushed into the tired conversation of nostalgic post-communist kitsch, but are presented with conceptual musings that draw  parallels to two cultures that just happen to be existing with the same burgeoning global framework.

If the need for a bit of red tinged revelry does strike however, head over to gallery 798. Curation here is a bit more haphazard, but the architecture makes up for it. Antique factory machinery  and fading Maoist slogans on the walls are illuminated with haze muted sunlight filtering in through the windows on the sides of the half domed ceilings.

For the artist or art lover, this location easily warrants a full day, and definitely warrants a visit while in Beijing. Hopefully, the presence of galleries and art Centers such as Pace, Xin Dong Cheng Space for Contemporary Art , Beijing Commune, 798 Photo Gallery and the UCCA prevent this district from becoming just another global tourist trap.