Jason De Haan at Clint Roenisch Gallery Until April 21, 944 Queen St. W., Toronto; clintroenisch.com
In his 1917 roman à clef-cum-grimoire Moonchild, British occultist (and giddy reprobate) Aleister Crowley described the magical nature of the moon as limitlessly multifaceted, as "all light and purity … [and]the link to [the]animal soul … [and]a thing altogether of Hell, barren, hideous and malicious."
Jason De Haan's Year Zero, a vividly imaginative multimedia exhibition at Clint Roenisch Gallery, exploits all of these lunar associations (and adds a few more); positioning our closest astral neighbour as an aspirational site, a projection screen for lofty dreams and as a remote, possibly malevolent, forever mysterious wasteland.
Let's start with the scary stuff.
De Haan's sculptures, three vertical works employing precious stone and/or metal, each act as a kind of beacon of dark-side connotations. In the tallest of the three, a tear-shaped, football-sized hunk of alabaster rests on top of a spindly brass pole that is held (sort of) in place by a square of dark granite. When you walk by the sculpture, the gallery's uneven floor causes the brass pole to gently, but threateningly, vibrate. Open-toed footwear is not advised.
The gallerist was quick to tell me that this menacing movement is not intentional, but rather just part of the fun of running a gallery in an old building – but I rather like the fact that the already dangerous-looking juxtaposition of skull-smashing rock and skip-rope-thin pole is given another level of malice by good old gravity and not-so-good old flooring.
Furthermore, if you scan the alabaster bludgeon's surface carefully, you will find that De Haan has subtly carved an eye in between the rock's bumps and crags – an eye that looks outward, through the gallery's front window and beyond. Creepy.
In a smaller sculpture, De Haan upturns a pointy bit of desiccated driftwood, sharp twigs still attached, hangs the inverted mini-tree from the ceiling and, at the cut where the branch was originally severed from its source, embeds a dull gold ring. A tiny moon.
The ring's presence inside the wood reminds one of pagan burial practices, wherein body parts were inserted into tree trunks. This insertion is also, of course, an enacting, a materializing, of a key Transcendental trope – that in all of nature one can see all the rest of nature. The tree in the moon, the moon in the tree.
But my favourite sculpture is the least visually arresting of the lot.
On top of a tall granite plinth, an ugly, rust- and coal-coloured sphere, about the size of a tennis ball, rests, without bracing or stops (and, yes, when you walk past, it too wobbles).
If you ask the gallerist, he will let you hold the ball. That is, if you appear strong enough. This tiny, simple sculpture, a common ball, weighs about as much as a too-full grocery bag. It ought to, as it contains nothing less than all the money in the world (figuratively speaking).
De Haan, it transpires, spent months collecting coins from every active currency on earth and then had the hoard melted and pressed into this single, dense orb. De Haan's stunt aside, the clear metaphor here, an entwining of the cyclical cycles of the moon to the less exact but no less repetitive cycles of economic boom/bust (wax/wane?), lends a morbid energy to this destroyed then reformed object.
Touching it, or just looking at its scarred, gnarled textures, one feels one is too close to its gravitational pull, near a black hole, observing a dead, shrunken star (readings that work nicely as descriptions of capitalism's life-sucking powers as well). This is a cursed, reverse crystal ball.
Now for the sunnier (or, sun-reflecting, to be more precise) side of the moon.
In a series of small collages, highlighted by generous applications of gold leaf and silver trimmings, De Haan presents the moon as we know it from fables and bedtime books – a lyrical entity that prompts midnight kisses, cottony dreams, fairy circles and the occasional burst of Dionysian ecstasy. It's the moon as a heavenly bauble.
But in two colossal, two-metre-by-two-metre moon-shaped collages, the showstoppers of this exhibition, De Haan gives us the moon as we saw it a generation ago, during a more optimistic time – as a space ripe for new civilizations, the launch pad to the stars.
The collages, entitled New Jerusalem and New Jerusalem, Cloud Shrouded, face each other from opposite walls. New Jerusalem is made of cut-outs culled from more than 1,000 science-fiction paperback covers – a collection of highly detailed fantasy pictorials that feature monsters, spaceships, giant eyes, planets, fantastical cities, alien terrains and alien faces.
This is a maddeningly cacophonous work, in all the right ways. Each piece of the collage is so highly detailed you cannot take in the whole work in one viewing.
Facing this barrage, New Jerusalem, Cloud Shrouded calmingly employs all the distant skylines from the same book covers – otherworldly vistas dappled with weird, alien storm clouds that clump and stream in pink, turquoise and purple horizons. Each piece of the collage is roughly cut, resembling bumpy clouds, in contrast with the precisely cut-to-form shapes embedded in New Jerusalem.
While the individual images in these monster collages are metonyms for the broad imaginations of the books' authors, when remixed by De Haan, the images multiply that same imaginative impulse tenfold (at least). The collages are massive meaning-generation machines.
You will be forgiven if you sit under the huge frames and howl.
IN OTHER VENUES
Michael Dumontier at MKG127 Until April 14, 127 Ossington Ave., Toronto
If you're going to be an arch-minimalist, you might as well have fun with it. Dumontier's exhibition is packed with typical egghead games and finish-fetish slickness, but it resonates with a sweetly nerdy love for clever sight gags.
Elle Flanders & Tamira Sawatzky at O'Born Contemporary Until April 21, 131 Ossington Ave., Toronto
In their new show Road Shots, Flanders & Sawatzky (a.k.a. Public Studio) take photographs and stills from their Road Movie project (a journey through contested spaces in Israel/Palestine) and laser-cut the images with elaborate patterns copied from Islamic architectural screens. Photography turned into sculpture turned into textile turned into deft political commentary on the seen and the unseen.
Beloved Toronto novelist and artist book maker Derek McCormack has cancer. Cancer costs money to beat. Over two dozen artists, including Shary Boyle, Kim Dorland, Micah Lexier and Margaux Williamson, have donated works for an online sale to help raise funds. Buy high and buy often.