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An image from Andrea Cooper's video Anna

The world was supposed to end twice this year, and is scheduled to come to a crashing halt again in 2012, according to the Mayan calendar hysterics (and Euroskeptics).

Perilous times – and yet, I don't see a lot of millennial or end-times anxiety in contemporary art (as I certainly did in the late 1990s). Artists are either too smart to buy into such perennial prophecies, or too self-absorbed. Likely both.

Thus, I predict 2012 will offer the visual-arts enthusiast experiences counter to the furies raging in the outside world – not pure escapism, but a different kind of questioning of norms and reality, one more considered, long-viewed and far more attractive.

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Or, I could be wholly wrong, and artists will start smashing televisions, shredding plush toys and making blood paintings, again. Thank you, but no.

For the following upcoming exhibitions, I can at least promise that any or all of the above actions are highly unlikely. Not impossible, mind you….

Lauren Hall at University of Waterloo Art Gallery

Jan. 12-March 3, 263 Phillip St., Waterloo, Ont.;

Hall's industrial scrap sculptures defeat any connotations that off-the-tongue description may inspire – they are not rusty and oily, but shimmering, icy and flecked with flinty metallic striations. For her latest installation, Hall is set to create a work that responds to the specifics of the UWAG space (itself not exactly a slick-stained garage). Hall's work is sometimes read as "cold," and, like most institutional spaces, the UWAG, while cheery, can be a bit, well, university-ish. But Hall's ability to find the loveliness, indeed the sequin-bright glamour, in humble building materials could wake up the snoozing tenure-trackers.

Daniel Hutchinson at Angell Gallery

Feb. 23-March 24, 12 Ossington Ave., Toronto;

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Hutchinson's penchant for dramatic multimedia works that explore the role of stages – humble shelf spaces to rotundas to platforms and theatres – and his crisp mixing of slate and fieldstone colours with occasional bouts of hot neon typically translates into a kind of oxymoronically serene spectacle. His new works promise to further these investigations, perhaps with a bit more colour (okay, that is me asking for a bit more colour). In 2011, Hutchinson was a semi-finalist for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition, and they don't just hand those out to anybody.

Come Up to My Room at the Gladstone Hotel

Jan. 27-29, 1214 Queen St. W., Toronto;

This annual showcase of new design – projects and prototypes that make hot stew of the design world's holiest bovines – is always an eye-popping assembly. From the clever, to the silly to the deeply flawed (CUTMR encourages transgressive experiments, which can be tricky, or ouchy, with, say, chairs), CUTMR brings the strange. I'm particularly looking forward to Wendy W. Fok's polygonal, high-gloss room augmenters, and a new objet d'art/chandelier from Seoul-based trickster Hyungshin Hwang.

Kristin Bjornerud at the Art Gallery of Hamilton

Jan. 14-May 21, 123 King St. W., Hamilton;

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Inspired by her recent residency on the Swedish island of Gotland, Bjornerud applies her considerable watercolourist skills to the fabled island's cluttered history – resulting in works that are charmingly whimsical at first glance, but grow increasingly spirited (in all senses of the word), and at times menacing, upon further inspection. Bjornerud's practice owes obvious nods to the works of fellow neo-Surrealists Daniel Barrow and Marcel Dzama, but her particular genius lies in giving both a feminist reading to archetypical myths (and the creatures that inhabit them), and creating an unapologetic intimacy between viewer and object. Her self-actualized female characters may arrive at a state of knowing via magical means, such as knitting an ocean (!), but they are ultimately metonyms for shared feminine struggles (and victories), occult or mundane.

Susanna Heller at Olga Korper Gallery

Feb. 1-29, 17 Morrow Ave., Toronto;

Despite my top-of-page prediction that art in 2012 will be unlikely to embrace the panic model approach taken by every other discipline (politics, economics, social policy, sportswear), you might nevertheless get your anxious, twitchy fix from this new suite by Heller – a painter of epic frailties, architectural wrinkles, and the wonky substructures beneath the false calm. Heller upturns seductive surfaces in search of cobwebs, roots, trickling springs and burping pools. Her works are febrile concoctions, peeks into the petri dish. She shows us what could happen if buildings bled.

Andrea Cooper at Red Head Gallery

Feb. 1- 25, Suite 115, 401 Richmond St. W., Toronto;

Andrea Cooper's upcoming new video and photo installation will be, sadly, very timely. Based on a performance wherein Cooper played the main character, ANNA is a short, a-linear experimental horror film featuring – what is the cute social-work phrase? – a "street-involved" woman. Both victim and predator, societal lost cause and defiant outsider, Anna/ANNA promises to defy easy categorization. As do all people; which is, I suspect, Cooper's point. While official investigations and public commissions try to soothe Canada's missing/exploited women shame with abstract legalities, Cooper creates a unique narrative, one woman's story, within the sea of statistics and suppositions. This work ought to be put on permanent loop in every police station in the country.

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