Kunstkammer/Wunderkammer at Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre
- Until August 28, 9 Ossington Ave., Toronto, www.interaccess.org
A wiseacre friend of mine once remarked that the best thing about Interaccess Electronic Media Arts Centre is that "if you hate the art, you can just unplug it."
It's true that all the art at Interaccess is to some extent motorized, and thus one dead fuse away from becoming useless. But I doubt my pal would be looking for the wall sockets during Kunstkammer/Wunderkammer (K/W), Interaccess's 10th annual survey of works by emerging electronic and new-media artists. The show is so much fun, he might even offer to pay the hydro bill.
Curated by Rosie Spooner, K/W is a magician's cabinet of whizzing, whirling, gurgling and sparkling art - installations, sound works, digital/analogue combos, and, well, gizmos - each putting the limitless possibilities of new media to clever, but never obnoxiously overstated, use. You will not have a headache after visiting K/W, as one too often does after experiencing gear-obsessed new-media exhibitions, but you might have a pleasing bout of reality-questioning vertigo.
I enjoyed everything in K/W, but two works struck me as absolutely sublime, both in execution and in their use of new media to enhance and complement traditional practices. Given my occultist tendencies, it's not surprising both of my favourites play with new-age tropes, conflating the mystic with the mechanical.
Philippe Blanchard's Cave Rave is a smart two-part work, the first being a roughly painted mural of cute cavemen dancing in a circle around a fire, as if enacting an early-adaptor version of Club Med. It's a pleasingly silly image: part Johnny Hart B.C. cartoon, part Grade 6 science project. Overlapping this first image is a projection of an Apple screen saver - one of those endlessly repeating and remixing ones that resemble hallucinogenic art from the 1960s, complete with lurid, unstable colours and hot, solarized flashes of neon pink, yellow, and green.
Where are we, Cave Rave asks: inside a deleted scene from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey or perhaps at a contemporary Radical Fairies gathering? By colliding goofy pop-culture representations of early humans with sixties psychedelic animation (animation manufactured by 2010 technology), Blanchard creates a timeless space, or, rather, a space that exists in multiple times simultaneously (which, according to current physics, is exactly how time works anyway).
As joyful as it is thoughtful, Cave Rave is the kind of art Stephen Hawking would make if he had wasted his youth watching television instead of reading Newton's Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy.
Jo SiMalaya Alcampo's installation, Singing Plants Reconstruct Memory, also questions the validity of traditional readings and reconstructions of time, but in a much quieter, and far spookier, fashion.
Comprised of three potted plants augmented with pressure-sensitive electronics, the work will come alive only if you break the first cardinal rule of gallery going and touch the art. When the plants are caressed or pinched, an electronic pulse moves from your body, through the plant, and into a grid.
Depending on the plant, the grid subsequently sets off a soundtrack (featuring traditional Filipino instruments and chanting voices) or a projection of reworked archival film footage from Alcampo's family history.
Alcampo's singing plants are the most user-friendly works of art I've experienced in a long time; she might want to consider marketing them for home sale. Who wouldn't want a plant that tells you it is glad to see you? Although the brochure for K/W describes Singing Plants Reconstruct Memory as a work exploring "the relationship between trauma and memory" - and I am certain the work, drawing as it does on Alcampo's life, contains layers of solemnity we cannot fathom - you can't get past the fact that communicating with a houseplant is a geek treat extraordinaire.
"You should have been here when we watered them," Spooner told me. "The plants went crazy; all the sounds and the film played over and over again."
I can't responsibly advise you to sneak a bottle of water into Interaccess … but I could hardly blame you.
Allison Freeman at Angell Gallery
- Until Aug. 21, 12 Ossington Ave., Toronto, angellgallery.com
Allison Freeman paints paper-trail ephemera the way some people paint sailboats or horses: with abundant, gooey love. Her new exhibition at Angell Gallery, Memorandum, takes humble interoffice envelopes, message pads, and accounting forms - all the pro-forma paper we see every day and never regard as visually interesting - and turns these beneath-consideration items into pretty, cubicle-and-water-cooler versions of floral still lifes.
Employing rough swabs of oil and fat brush-end scratches, Freeman makes surfaces that are as fresh and moist as newly iced cakes. This glossy look is an obvious counter to the mundane subject matter, and also to the rough scribbles, signatures, crossed-out addresses and rubber stamps that scar such documents (which Freeman recreates with the same liquid touch).
Some viewers may find this elevation of the banal a bit too high-concept, and wonder, reasonably enough, if a beat-up order form is a valid subject for an expensive oil painting. But take time with these works, and you'll realize that what Freeman wants to elevate is not the worn paper object but the human imprint - our accidental calligraphies and therefore accidental, unconscious art-making.
Svava Thordis Juliusson at Stantec Window Gallery
- Until Sept. 15, 401 Wellington St. W., Toronto, www.svavathordis.blogspot.com
There's a giant, matted nest dangling inside a glass alcove at the corner of Spadina Avenue and Wellington Street West. But don't call an exterminator; it's only art.
Svava Thordis Juliusson's Hrisla ( hrisla is Icelandic for twig) hovers over the street like a limbless wicker man - a body-sized mass of knotted, browning branches and dessicated shoots, all held together with white plastic pull ties (the kind sometimes used as temporary handcuffs).
Creepy and crumbling, this fragile Body Snatchers pod is best viewed at night, as are most dead things, and has undoubtedly caused a few drunken Club District kids to stop cold in their mirthful paths.
My only suggestion is that Stantec, the company whose office sponsors the display window, invest in some lettering identifying the artist and her deliciously gothic topiary.