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Nathalie Quagliotto

Nathalie Quagliotto is a young woman in a big hurry. At age 24, with the ink still drying on her MFA diploma from the University of Waterloo (awarded last May), Quagliotto has already shown her work in important group shows, has a few more shows coming up in the fall (Harbourfront Centre, Cambridge Galleries) and is currently responsible for a really invigorating solo exhibition called Public Circles at Toronto's DeLeon White Gallery.

At the heart of Public Circles lies a massive work called Maturity Spin (shown here), a work which, as an arrangement of modified playground merry-go-rounds, takes the idea of public circles literally (or at least geometrically) as well as metaphorically. "I'm kind of dealing with illegality," Quagliotto tells me, carefully sipping her green tea at a café next to her exhibition. "I'm playing with issues of safety and risk."

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She points out, for example, that normally you would never find two playground merry-go-rounds so close together (t in public playgrounds they are always separated by carefully legislated distances), whereas hers grind right up to one another like gears in a machine. "The discs aren't perfectly round," she notes, "so sometimes they rub and turn each other and sometimes they don't." I can see a kid getting his leg pinched right where they come together.

Which brings up Quagliotto's use of yellow. Everything in the exhibition is yellow. She is wearing yellow shoes, too. "Yellow is my colour," she explains with a disarming smile. Why yellow? "It's Safety Yellow," she explains. "It's a very public colour. You see it on street signs and at construction sites."

I thought orange was the colour of public warning. Quagliotto - a woman who seems to take an almost palpable pleasure in fine distinctions - explains that orange means "site in transition," whereas yellow, by contrast, announces that you should "proceed with caution and alertness. It says 'you can go here, but consider your limitations.'"

The same might be said of her lollipops. Continuing her dalliance with the circumstances of childhood play and pleasure, Quagliotto has reformulated hundreds of bright yellow lollipops by slightly melting pairs of them and carefully fusing the two candy discs together so that they become one yellow blob of candy with two sticks jutting out in opposite directions.

Repackaged in cellophane, the array of lollipops is displayed all along one side of the gallery, on handsomely made glass-and steel-shelves. They look pretty, but they're sort of dangerous. Which of course is the point. How does a kid suck a lollipop like this? No matter what, there's always this threatening stick to negotiate. Quagliotto smirks. Some kids, she explains, lick the candy at the middle, sideways. Lateral thinkers. "Children like them quite a bit," she tells me. "If they're under 12 years of age, they don't even see the caution issue. When they're older than that, they become critical and respond to the risk of it, the edginess."

The two-handled lollipops are $5 each.

School of Art at MKG127

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  • Until Sept. 5, 127 Ossington Ave., 647-435-7682.

Most summer group shows are desperate or slack and lack charm in equal measure. This one, School of Art, is refreshingly different, mostly because it is laced with history and tinctured with nostalgia - especially for gallery director Michael Klein.

It was Klein's happy idea to being together work by five artists, all of whom were his teachers at the University of Manitoba's School of Art between 1978 and 1982 (Klein is a successful photographer as well as a gallery owner). There are beautiful small paintings on silk by painter-printmaker Robert Achtemichuk (now executive director at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ont.), and two terrific, big paintings by veteran artist Sheila Butler, who, despite being a brilliant (and inexplicably undervalued) painter, taught Klein a course in Inuit art. There is an epic work by Jeff Funnell, who has furnished a funny, touching and exhaustingly complete autobiography in cartoon format, and portrait photographs by David McMillan ("His passion for the medium," Klein notes, "was infectious"). And there are truly remarkable and enjoyable video works by Rita McKeough, who won a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts this year. There's McKeough taking a potted pine tree for a walk, for example, or hacking herself a niche in the drywall of an art gallery and nestling into it. "Rita's printmaking classes were like no other," writes Klein, "full of laughter and punk rock."

Barr Gillmore

Artist/designer Barr Gilmore was the studio assistant from 1991-95 to the legendary Toronto-based art trio General Idea (Jorge Zontal, Felix Partz, A.A. Bronson). Gilmore's vertical, window-filling array of "fluorescent fixtures with colour sleeves," now glowing brightly at this always intense little window gallery on Queen Street West (next to Dufflet Pastries), is both a self portrait and a tribute to his three mentors (of whom, sadly, only one, A.A. Bronson is still with us). The work indexes General Idea's famous Test Pattern for its Colour Bar Lounge from the much-mythologized 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion, and at the same time it reawakens memories of classic minimalist light-works from artists such as the late, great Dan Flavin.

Interestingly, Gilmore was himself curator of the window space gallery (then called Solo Exhibition) from 2000-2005, when he lived just upstairs. The vitrine-like exhibition space is now curated by artist Joy Walker.

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