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Kelly Richardson

at Birch Libralato Gallery

Price on request. Until Sept. 9.

129 Tecumseth St.,

416-365- 3003.

Stars fall in the Bible -- in Revelations, Chapter 9, for example ("The fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from the sky which had fallen to the earth . . .") and they fall in popular songs ( Stars Fell on Alabama, Catch A Falling Star, etc.), but they don't fall much into contemporary art.

Which is why Kelly Richardson's video projection, Exiles of the Shattered Star, now at Toronto's Birch Libralato Gallery, is so memorable. What makes it even more memorable is the degree to which the artist -- a Canadian living and working in Newcastle, England -- has carefully managed to keep this highly poetic work from becoming overly poetic.

It would have been easy enough. The high-definition video consists of a sustained view of a pastoral vista in England's Lake District (you can scarcely utter the phrase without thinking of Wordsworth and Coleridge walking there, talking and scribbling poetry). Both the land and the lake cradled in it are soft and dim with early-morning light (the 14-minute video was shot between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m.). The hills all around are dark and velvety, except for certain moments when the rising sun breaks through the clouds and briefly ignites the landscape.

But here's the hair-raising part: Drifting down through the brightening sky are what look like flaming nuggets of something or other -- the "exiles" of the work's title. These flaming, torch-like bundles fall steadily into the scene -- but not hectically, the way gravity would impel them to fall. Rather (and this makes the scene even creepier), they come settling softly to earth, splashing down into the lake, more visitation than threat.

Richardson says she harvested the flaming star-bits from a readily accessible supplier of video sequences. She also layered them four deep onto her lake-scape, electronically randomizing their progress, and, in so doing, playing with factors such as speed, blur and saturation so that the almost graceful descent of these lyrical fireballs never looks mechanical.

It's a hypnotic work. Flaming star-bits falling to earth ought to look catastrophic, apocalyptic, in a sci-fi sort of way. But not Richardson's. Here, everything is silence (the sounds of birds is louder than the sound of the burning things) and softness. Are these star-exiles angels? Or some loosing of benediction upon the earth? Or is this the way the world ends? Not with a bang, but a whisper?

Alpha Beta Data at Akau Inc.

$500 to $3,500. Until Sept. 2.

1186 Queen St. W., 416-504-5999.

Alpha Beta Data is a big exhibition masquerading as a little one.

Although it fits into a tiny gallery space, its ambitions and implications are large: It's about writing, about the construction of writing (letters, alphabets, graphic utterance) and about the ways in which the meanings generated by writing are invariably distorted, modified, and, more often than not, defeated by the very medium to which they are inextricably entrusted.

The show is full of fine, challenging things, some of which are taxingly complex. Carol Laing's The Claudian Letters, for example, is an investigation of three glyphs devised by the Emperor Claudius "to represent missing sounds," dropped from the alphabet after his death and, as Laing points out in her gallery statement, "typologically unavailable in all computer font systems since they are not included in Unicode -- the industry standard designed to represent text and symbols from all world writing systems." Laing, however, has brought them back.

Yam Lau's exquisite In the River, North of the Future is a glass bottle made in commemoration of Romanian poet Paul Celan, who, as Lau points out, characterized his poems as "a message in the bottle," and who drowned himself in the Seine in 1970.

Celan's last poem, Rebleute Graben, is etched on the bottle in reverse, so that, according to Lau, "the etched text is projected within the water of the bottle." I couldn't actually make it out at all, but it's still a nice idea.

It's not possible with a group show to mention everything that's deserving -- and especially with this one. Suffice it to say, there are excellent pieces here by Stephen Andrews, Lorna Mills, Cheryl Sourkes (who, I assume, curated the show), Robert Bean, Michelle Gay and Colin Gay. Michael Miranda's The Three Critiques of Immanuel Kant, while exceedingly handsome (large golden volumes of Kant's writings eviscerated into dumb conceptual tropes: "all the letters used in the three texts, arranged in alphabetical order," etc.) seemed profoundly and disrespectfully pointless, while Vid Ingelevics's wall-mounted text piece, Common Birds of Southern Ontario, is simply a holdover from a previous show -- a moment of curatorial inertia.

Michael Taglieri at Le Gallery

$700 to $1,600. Until Sept. 3.

1183 Dundas St. W., 416-532-8467.

In the four large-scale photo-works that make up artist Michael Taglieri's exhibition Wearing a Raincoat In Case It Begins to Rain -- his third exhibition at Le Gallery -- the Toronto- based artist has gone out into the lambent northern Ontario countryside and subverted its pastoral conventions by injecting into each of his big, handsome vistas an irritant: a figure dressed, rain or shine, in a yellow raincoat.

This small but unavoidable presence in the otherwise unpopulated landscape works simultaneously both to de-naturalize nature and, in turn, to diminish the meaning of the tiny cavortings of the raincoated subject, most of its activities being either silly or banal, and inevitably reduced in stature by the largeness of the world all around. In Taglieri's Forming a Bridge, for example, the raincoated character bends over backwards to form the kind of body-bridge kids like to make. Why?

Presumably because Taglieri asked him to. Yes, but why? As an act of strategic de-romanticism, maybe.

It certainly seems to work that way with the artist's T for Thomson, where, at the shoreline of Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, Taglieri's raincoat-clad collaborator jumps into the air, his hands held straight out from his sides: a living "T" -- for Tom Thomson. I don't know quite how I feel about this comic but still rude little work. I guess it's a useful corrective to ornate Tom Thomson worship, an oedipal revolt against the quintessential Canadian art-father. It's sort of distastefully cheeky, though. I mean, this is the lake where the poor sod drowned.

But Taglieri is nothing if not

irreverent. His gallery statement describes his yellow-coated figures as "disjunctive presences that allow for a repositioning of the conceptual framing of their landscape backgrounds."

And they do allow for that. What puzzles me is why the landscape's conceptual framing needs to be "repositioned" anyhow. Because it's there, I suppose.