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Cliff Eyland

at Leo Kamen Gallery

$350 each. Until March 21,

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80 Spadina Ave., Suite 406, 416-504-9515

Cliff Eyland is hopelessly, helplessly in love with books and has been for as long as he can remember. He is also in love, equally, with libraries.

Before he graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1982, he had already brought together his triple passion for art, books and libraries in one consummate, synthesizing project: He cut up a copy of H. H. Arnason's History of Modern Art - the quintessential art history textbook - into 3 by 5 inch rectangles, and quietly inserted them, here and there, into the school's library catalogue. This neatly replaced the mere listing of books about art with mini-samples of the real thing, thus erasing, in some measure, the distance - an artificial distance, as Eyland sees it - between library and art gallery.

This cunningly, sweetly disruptive act at NSCAD 25 years ago set Eyland on his future course as an artist. Ever since, all of his paintings have been file card size: 3 by 5 inches.

For his current exhibition at Toronto's Leo Kamen Gallery, which is titled, with admirable precision, Bookshelf File Cards, the veteran Winnipeg-based artist has once again conflated a number of his interests and obsessions, continuing with his tiny, trademark file card size paintings, but making them, this time out, not little paintings to be insinuated into libraries, but rather little paintings of libraries - or, more particularly, of groaning shelves of books. Though some of these works are hand-painted, or at least offer hand-painted passages, most of them are minuscule ink-jet prints, born in Eyland's computer and glued to 3 by 5 inch rectangles of MDF. They show vertical, book-like shapes in hot, saturated colours, many with blocky one-word titles: Rimbaud, Keats, Dickinson. One of Eyland's "shelves" holds a big wide book labelled Mirvish, a note of the artist's distress at the closing of that venerable institution, David Mirvish Books. Other "books" bear sweetly parodic, made-up titles: There are wistful self-help books, for example with titles like Wondering and Time Passing.

What books are they? Whose are they? Probably Eyland's. "I want all the books in the world!" he exclaimed as we walked through the exhibition recently. "What about digitalized books, e-books?" I ask him, thinking about Google's scanning of the world's books into their prodigious e-coffers. "I want all the e-books too!" he exclaims again.

It was perhaps Eyland's acknowledging that the world of books is changing rapidly and radically ("we are going through a bookopocalypse!" he ventures, pleased with the newly minted word), that led him to a strange little work called The Large Bookshelf Illustrator Drawing on Paper (reproduced here). It's called an Illustrator Drawing because Eyland used a computer program of that name to make it.

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The work came about from his having lived in New York for six months in 2001, leaving again not long before 9/11. In the picture, the lower two shelves and their loads of books are normally proportioned. But the books on the upper shelf have been stretched, by computer, into something resembling the bristling skyline of Manhattan. The white Twin Towers are there too, over at the left - not as tall, oddly, as other buildings, but as white as ghosts.

How did books get to be buildings? "Because," says Eyland, "I think of buildings as giant books." Worlds within worlds, I guess.

Micah Lexier and Roula Partheniou at QueenSpecific

Until March 25,

Next to 787 Queen St. W., Toronto; for more information, contact info@queenspecific.com

QueenSpecific is a window case next to Dufflet Pastries on Queen Street West in Toronto. Although it is one of the smallest art galleries anywhere, it is an unfailingly diverting site, thanks to the curatorial brio of artist Joy Walker - who continually fills the miniature space with exhibitions larger than their dimensions.

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Right now at QueenSpecific there is a charming little conundrum of an exhibition called Works, Works 1, Twice.

It is a collaboration between book-loving artist Micah Lexier and book-making artist Roula Partheniou (Partheniou makes uncannily convincing surrogate books, so realistic you'd swear, until you inspect them closely, they were the real deal). The installation appears to be simplicity itself: There are four books in the case - two blue ones ( Works by American conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner) at the left and two red ones ( Works by Stalin) at the right. The Weiner and Stalin books at the front appear to be real. The ones at the back, "copies" or echoes of the other two, appear to be fake (as only Partheniou can make fakes!). What are the relations - and there are many - between all four? You'll be standing on the sidewalk a long time, pondering it all. And it'll be worth it.

Barbara Balfour

at Art Metropole

Balfour's Ex Libris multiple is $15. Until March 7, 788 King St. W., Toronto; second floor. 416-703-4400

Still more books, this time in the form of an elegantly contrived photo-based installation (extrapolated from a handsome, accordion-style booklet/multiple) by the consistently ingenious Barbara Balfour - who teaches print media and art theory at York University.

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The title of the work, both multiple and installation - is Ex Libris, a term that references not only a passion for books but also a passion for owning them. The exhibition is presented as seven large digital prints, each showing a shelf of books. Balfour says she was initially bemused by the way interior decorators "reassemble clients' libraries into 'mountain' and 'valley' configurations." Balfour has done that too, but her shelves of books come rich with secrets, with whisperings - within the selection and ordering of the books - about more than the meaning of the books themselves and the meaning of their being juxtaposed to one another. In Balfour's hands, the books band together to form a loose but powerfully felt narrative - about nothing less than the entire rise and fall of human life. One shelf, the Yellow Shelf, features books about the trajectory of life: Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, for example, and The Magic Mountain. Subsequent shelves move onward, subtly but insistently ( Tristram Shandy), settling into rumination (Lydia Davis's Varieties of Disturbance), wisdom and, gradually, acceptance (Zadie Smith's The Autograph Man, E. M. Cioran's A Short History of Decay and so on). Art Metropole says the work ends on a positive note, with a mention of an afterlife. But it's a really small postscript to all that has gone before.

mail@garymichaeldault.com

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