The cheekiest manifestation of this summer's Toronto-wide, multigalleried Water Project is surely Art Metropole's witty, wicked and naughty little exhibition Passing Water.
While other galleries in the city have been dutifully mounting seascapes and boat pictures and other more obvious incarnations of aestheticized liquidity, curator Dave Dyment and his irrepressible fellow art workers at Art Metropole, have come up with what Dyment calls "an exhibition of new piss work," with contributions by artists from Canada, the United States and Britain, artists who, as Dyment puts it in the show's charming little catalogue, "illustrate that whether recreational or practical, urine can be sublime."
Well, maybe "sublime" is pushing it a tad. On the other hand, the work called Golden Streams by Toronto musician Joel Gibb (whose debut album with his band, Joel Gibb and the Hidden Cameras, is called The Smell of Our Own and features two gentle hymns to pissing), possesses a near sublimity. The work is a brief video, made to accompany one of the group's songs, and shows an increasingly dense crisscrossing of golden trajectories of urine, arcing through an innocent blue sky and looking rather like the vapour trails of rockets or jet aircraft.
Nearby, hanging from the gallery ceiling, there is a yellow-painted foam mobile of the same configurations of pee.
Toronto artist Karen Azoulay's work, Tinkle Tinkle, eschews sublimity, settling in the end for a certain inescapable charm. Highlighting what Dyment calls "the connection between precipitation and pissing," Azoulay has affixed to the gallery wall hundreds of tiny yellow, teardrop-shaped, vinyl appliqués, which sluice down from the ceiling in a golden shower. Should you feel the need to recreate this dazzling effect at home, by the way, a mere 12 bucks will secure you Azoulay's Tinkle Tinkle: Authentic Installation Home Application Kit, with enough little vinyl teardrops inside to wet down the most recalcitrant wall.
Other inventive (and eccentric) pisswerk: English artist Mathew Sawyer recording himself urinating each day for 10 days and then writing a song timed to last precisely as long as each daily voiding; American artist Alexander Schweder's elegant and inventive Fountain Pair, photographs of a male and a female urinal (the actual objects, which clearly reference Marcel Duchamp's infamous found and soberly exhibited urinal of 1917, actually do exist, but are, alas, not in the show); and Schewder's exceedingly handsome bookwork, Peeple, which documents another urinal project wherein images of 50 archetypal people (of both sexes, from all the professions, etc.) are installed in urinals and, their images being made of heat-sensitive material, are gradually disrobed when anyone pees on them and reclothed with every cooling flush.
Among the most ambitious works in the show, if not necessarily the most beautiful to gaze upon, are American artist Adam Frelin's rather tatty hydraulic interventions. In one of them, The Rainbow Recirculator, installed in Art Metropole's washroom, a multicoloured hose snakes out of the toilet tank, falls to the floor, encircles the toilet proper and empties itself back into the tank. You doubtless feel, if you happen to be sitting there, that you are, well, at one with the whole idea of the circulation of fluids.
Frelin's most labour-intensive interventions -- evidence of which exist in the show as photographs -- are the various examples of his Water Re-Routing Initiative. It consists in the artist's rearrangement, in a number of public lavatories, of the route the water takes. By the time Frelin has slung up his ad hoc troughs of duct tape, water that might normally be going from tap to basin, now travels, say, down these new sluiceways from tap to toilet. Or "Yellow sink to blue toilet." Or "Red sink to urinal." What's the point? Hey, it was one thing for Faust to divert rivers, but most of us can't manage that kind of Faustian power anymore. And so, like the rest of us, Frelin settles for making his mark however he can.
$12-$750. Until Sept. 21, 788 King St. W., email@example.com
at the Burston Gallery
Okay, what's cuter -- and more grotesque -- than a sock puppet? Not much, right? The production and proliferation of Cute, on the other hand, is not perhaps the most promising direction for an artist. It was with something like a heavy heart, therefore, that I finally assayed these surprising sock puppet paintings by Toronto artist Kirsten Johnson (the exhibition is called Touchy Feely, after all).
The idea for the show came, Johnson recounts in a gallery statement, from her convalescence in the fall of 2000, after being knocked off her bike by a car. It occurred to Johnson that it would be "cheering" if she could only "convince my friends to come over and entertain me with a sock puppet show" (how many painkillers was this woman being given?). This never happened, unfortunately, so Johnson made the puppets herself.
She made two of them anyhow. And given that, as she points out, "her work has always been portrait-based," she set about painting the portraits of her two companionable sock puppets -- one has big buttons for eyes while the other sees with two huge wooden beads.
This is not very interesting yet. But what Johnson did then is to press the puppets into service as the exemplars of a whole absorbing range of emotional states. Placed against black or green backgrounds reminiscent of school blackboards, these exquisitely painted little woolly characters (who possess a certain Bert and Ernie vaudevillianism) act out -- either together or separately -- such states of being as "paranoid," "demure," "intense," "co-dependent," "lascivious," "self-absorbed" and what seems like hundreds (the show is very large) of other moods that flesh is heir to.
Just so you don't have to guess which emotion or state is being acted out by the puppets, the artist has carefully printed it beside her puppets, in pink chalk. I'm not at all clear about why Johnson uses chalk and blackboard-grounds against which to position her little passion plays. But they sure are charming. And really very skillfully painted.
$500-$750. Until Aug. 31, 1092 Queen St. W., 416-516-1232.