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Foreign Legionnaires

at Edward Day Gallery

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$25-$8,000. Until Sept. 6. 952 Queen St. W., Suite 200. 416-921-6540.

Foreign Legionnaires, an ambitious, amusing and disturbing exhibition curated by Kelly McCray, co-director of Toronto's Edward Day Gallery, bears the subtitle Art Collectives at Work. It showcases - or at least samples - the work of five collectives: the long-lived, always-capitalized art duo FASTWÜRMS; the six-member Instant Coffee group; the three-woman Shake-n-Make; Team Macho, a "guild" of five artists who share studio and living space; and a three-woman collective with the resonant name of Toronto Terrarea Club.

Foreign Legionnaires, McCray contends, "associates nomadic camaraderie and discipline of distant military forces to the creative activities of contemporary art collectives," and the collective, like a military unit, demonstrates "strength in collaborative numbers yields creative results."

I can see where it might. But it must be difficult for artists, who are traditionally seen as loose-cannon types, to submerge themselves into the aggregate sensibility of a collective.

According to Olia Mishchenko, Toronto Terrarea Club (which also includes Janis Demkiw and Emily Hogg) came about as a result of the members' similar tastes in objects (often kitschy and absurdist). They would discover, for example, that two of the three of them owned Scotiabank piggybanks. (The name of the collective seems to be derived from the fact they all shared an enthusiasm for terrariums.)

"Our interests lie in objects that embody a certain preciousness," Demkiw says, "in objects that have aesthetic properties but which are mass-produced, in objects that are gifted, thrifted or found." Many of these objects are shiny, glittery, faceted and mirrored (and thus reflective, and capable of extending the space of the artists' agglomerated installations). Look at their encyclopedic installation aerarreT long enough, and you'll begin to think of the women of Terrarea as magpies bringing all this sparkle home to the nest. None of the installation componenets are expensive, by the way. "We did once entertain the idea of buying a motorized disco ball for an installation," Demkiw says, "but the $25 was just too daunting."

Disco ball or no disco ball, aerarreT is an enormously, almost overwhelmingly engaging work - a pseudo museological construct with mirrors, vases, tiny terrariums, gift boxes, miniature busts, spheres, sprigs of dried herbs, figurines, mineral samples and lighted lamps, and compelling in its disposition in space (with its symmetrical avenues and axes of reflection that create visual rhymes and puns. The longer you look at and explore aerarreT, the longer you will want to look at it.

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Most of Foreign Legionnaires consists of wall-mounted works. Terrarea, which calls ers its floor-hugging arearreT to be "a form of real estate," has priced the work at $300 per square foot.

Ximena Berecochea

at INDEXG

$900 each. Until Aug. 30. 50 Gladstone Ave. 416-535-6957.

Ximena Berecochea's sweet, sinister mini-exhibition Little Red Riding Hood retells the chilling, classic fairy tale in a narrative progress through 25 small wall-mounted boxes, each a diptych offering a colour photograph and a shard of accompanying text. Berecochea, who is currently working on her Ph.D in Mexican literature at the University of Toronto and who has studied photography in Mexico City, has been careful here to avoid any obvious illustrating of this horrific, instructive tale of murder and mayhem. Rather, she deliberately provides photo-images which wickedly and sensuously annotate, decorate and amplify the text's meaning by steering the viewer into wider, deeper and perhaps more dangerous interpretations.

Berecochea's hysterical demonstration (her text is in Spanish) of the wolf's big teeth - "the better to eat you with!" - is accompanied, for example, by a lush photo of billowing, redder-than-red cloth which could be Red Riding Hood's hood and cape, or just carnal engorgement per se. And what kind of fairy-tale illustrator would offer an innocuous photograph of a pair of scissors as a response to the woodsman cutting the wolf open in order to release Red and her Grandma from its innards ("it was so dark inside the wolf's body!")?

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Air-Conditioned Jungle

at Diaz Contemporary

$20-$10,000. Until Aug. 29. 100 Niagara St. 416-361-2972.

Inventively organized by Toronto-based writer Gregory Elgstrand (curator of Toronto's 2009 Nuit Blanche), this group exhibition, which turns the art gallery into a " mise en scène for the dawdler, the urbane rubbernecker and the gallery-going vagrant to play out urban fantasies within the climate-controlled environment of a contemporary art gallery," brings together some really hot work.

A self-styled travesty of sorts, featuring "smartly manufactured rubbish," the exhibition offers pieces that constitute the stuff of the street and of the world at large, brought into gallery captivity. There's commercial aluminum decoration by Carlo Cesta, optically pushy posters (Brendan Fernandes, Tony Romano), Atom Deguire's altered and now rewardless gumball machines, Kerri Reid's insanely labour intensive, hand-drawn copies of a discarded gum wrapper, Orest Tataryn's funny if hysterical neon construction summer of rain and roses, and, maybe most insanely enjoyable of all, Andrew Reyes' PlahPlahPlah, a wan tower of grubby castoff laptops, bound together with lengths of ridiculously cheerful ribbon - all of it, ribbons and laptops, harvested from a recent excursion to India.

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