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Dean Drever at Toronto Sculpture Garden

There were only two Kodiak bears in Dean Drever's exhibition in August, 2008, at Toronto's MKG127. As a matter of fact, there was really only one huge, fully realized bear, carved from Styrofoam and coated with a searing, flocked-yellow finish. There was almost a second bear: Only its head and one of its front paws were visible, both of these parts affixed to the wall, so that this prodigious creature appeared to be gradually emerging into the gallery space. The exhibition was titled Bear Minimum.

Since then, the bears have become more numerous. For his most recent installation, Dean Drever's Bear Hunt, now at the Toronto Sculpture Garden, there are four Kodiaks. "The bears are doing the hunting," Drever tells me. "They've come to the city, and now they're departing."

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Their departure is made convincing by the fact that, as in Bear Minimum, most of the animals are partial. One is whole, but the three others have been cut and positioned so that, as phantom bears, they seem to be lumbering right through the Sculpture Garden's eastern brick wall and slowly, ponderously vanishing before our eyes.

Drever's bears are made of Forton MG, a liquid polymer. They're all born from the same "mother mould" and then "customized" into unique sculptures, using what Drever calls "grinders, routers and all kinds of toolage." I tell him I've never heard the word toolage before. "I just made it up!" he replies.

But he didn't make up the Kodiak itself - although there is much about the creature that seems mythological. Assumed to be the world's largest carnivore (even though it appears to live mostly on grasses and berries), the Kodiak - as Haida scholar Margaret Bear notes in her catalogue essay for the exhibition - is exclusive to the islands of Alaska's Kodiak Archipelago. The beasts, she notes, were isolated from the mainland when, at the end of the last Ice Age - about 12,000 years ago - sea levels rose and trapped them.

Drever is a member of the Haida Nation, and the Kodiak is one of his totemic animals. "I do follow the code quite closely," Drever says. "I mean, I can't say, 'I think I'll carve an eagle today, or a deer or an elk.' They aren't my totems."

How do animals get to be one's totems?

"They've been assigned," he tells me.

"When?" I ask.

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"About 10,000 years ago," he says.

In Bear Hunt, all four bears are painted with an eyeball-searing, fluorescent orange paint. Why? "Well," Drever explains, "it's the colour hunters wear in the wild, to keep from shooting each other."

Or, in the case of Drever's Kodiaks, to keep from mauling each other as they prowl the wilds of Toronto. These are pretty sophisticated bears.

"I've been wanting to make Kodiaks for years," says Drever. "But all that is now coming to a close." Right now, he's heading into the making of an 18-metre Haida seafaring canoe for the Venice Biennale in 2111 - and, in addition, "a pole." Which is to say, a totem pole.

One wonders if there'll be a Kodiak on it somewhere - just for old time's sake.

Alexander Irving at QueenSpecific

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There is no mythological being more appropriate to this holiday period (if you pass over Kris Kringle) than Janus, the Roman god of doorways, comings and goings, new beginnings - from whom we have lifted the name January. Nothing says "Out with the old, in with the new" as efficiently as a portal, a threshold, a doorway.

To that end, Toronto-based artist Alexander Irving has doffed his hat to this ancient, two-way god, and constructed, in the compact little QueenSpecific window, a circular text piece called Janus - for Anne Carson .

The words, formed into a circle of wintry, light-blue neon, read "EVERY EXIT IS AN ENTRANCE," a rather Hesiod-like sentiment, but one that apparently derives, in this case, from poet and classicist Carson's having somewhere (annoyingly, Irving neglects to tell us where) quoted from Tom Stoppard's play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead to the effect that "Every exit is an entrance somewhere else." Irving has simply dropped the last two words. He may just as well have dropped the Carson reference, too, for all the good it does.

But it's a cheerful, heartening piece and does serve, as QueenSpecific's website essay puts it, to "illuminate and herald the coming year."

Biliana Velkova at Convenience Gallery

As a bah-humbug corrective to the geniality and optimism of Irving's QueenSpecific work, you probably can't do better than Velkova's lethally deadpan storefront exhibition, Holiday (Fill Your Home with the Spirit of the Season).

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The exhibition, according to the artist's statement, "investigates the subliminal messages within advertising, the economic value of the holiday season, and the impossibility of achieving the lifestyle portrayed in various marketing campaigns."

Given the ambitions of her project, Velkova's installation is simplicity itself: The admonition to "Fill Your Home with the Spirit of the Season" floats across the window space in an elegantly restrained, dark-red, cursive typography, while hovering all around it - in type so light you can scarcely see them - are hundreds of up-market brand names: Mexx, Issey Miyake, Samsonite, Chanel, Guerlain, Liz Claiborne, Alfred Sung and others. These chic logos, suspended in the holiday air like luxury angels, seem to nourish the eye with the comforts that apparently come with purchasing, and whisper their allure into our needful ears as we listen to materialistic songs of our late-capitalist holiday dreams.

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