Yael Brotman and Tara Cooper at Loop Gallery Both until March 25, 1273 Dundas St. W., Toronto;
Now in its 12th year of business, member-run Loop Gallery is facing a cutting-to-the-core dilemma – one that, perversely, many other galleries would probably kill to be burdened with.
Loop's talent pool is overflowing.
Here's how Loop works: Artists apply to join, and, once accepted, pay monthly fees (and do monthly volunteer work), in exchange for one show every 18 months. The exhibition space is shared with one other member. The problem is, in any given month, there's enough quality work on hand by either individual artist to fulfill any viewer's needs.
You could walk into the gallery and see only the solo show in the north half and be satisfied, or bee-line it to the back and be happy with the solo show in the south wing.
But that's not how most of us look at art, in closet-organizer mode (nor would it be healthy if we did). We look at two sets of works displayed in the same space and want to make connections.
Even the artists admit that the interrelatedness of the shows is unpredictable: from perfectly in sync to tenuous to distractingly dysfunctional.
Since I don't actually have to pay the material costs of the following heartfelt advice, here's a bossy idea: Loop members, invest in a folding or moveable wall to divide the north/south galleries. There is no defeating the linear narratives viewers create, nor the literal connect-the-dots readings that side-by-side works inspire. And shower curtains are cheap.…
Now that that's off my chest, I am forced to contradict myself.
Yael Brotman's exhibition Shipping and Receiving (north gallery) and Tara Cooper's exhibition Weather Wise (south gallery), are two independent shows that focus on two very different subjects and employing two markedly different sets of materials; and yet, curtains be hanged (bad pun intended), the exhibitions work spectacularly well together.
Brotman's show is a sweet homage to the childhood travels she enjoyed with her family. Anchored by a series of beautifully constructed, alarmingly fragile (as is memory itself) paper models of the trailers and shacks her family inhabited, the show carries an inherently wistful quality (most things made with skin-thin Japanese paper do).
Her exhibition also includes a series of mixed-media works on paper that resemble travel scrapbooks reduced to their bare visual essentials (tire tracks, flowers, trails) and, most intriguing, a collection of foam-core cases – the actual packing purpose-built to carry the very breakable sculptures – reworked into sculptures themselves, tiny abstract maquettes dappled with hot candy-coloured tape and shiny gold leaf.
Cooper's assemblage consists of a short, rough-hewn tower, a collection of found objects made into or incorporated into sculptures, and a series of multilayered, very engaging, silk-screen prints – all focusing on the Canadian cultural obsession with weather minding.
The tower looks like a cross between a kid's tree fort and a deep-woods observation station – that is, if artists took up park rangering. Inside the tower, old meteorological tools and texts await the amateur storm hound. Meanwhile, Cooper's prints are all reflections on /recastings of weather-based metaphors that enliven common speech ("clear as a bell," "chasing rainbows," etc).
The day I saw the exhibition, I was decidedly "under the weather," like half the town, and lo and behold, Cooper had created a cluster of prints bearing the phrase, as well as a simple but lovely small-screen video, again bearing the phrase, of a Toronto Islands ferry patiently slinking through thick wet fog. I was the ferry, I was the fog.
With two such strong shows, we return, then, back to the Loop dilemma.
These exhibitions are not meant to be read together. But everything conspires to unite them.
Travel and weather are co-dependent preoccupations, as anyone who has spent a rainy day trapped in a camper trailer with an older sibling who hogs all the toys can attest (you know who you are). Plus, Brotman and Cooper share a cheery palette, a tendency to accent their detailed, exacting figurative depictions with crayon-box colours, as if recreating the fleeting brightness of childhood memories (Brotman) or sudden, blinding cloud breaks (Cooper).
But what truly unites both sets of works is the whiff of nostalgia. In Brotman's case, nostalgia for a more innocent era of travel, for a time before the monetizing of national parks, for the pre-GPS world of leisurely exploration and free-range child rearing. In Cooper's work, nostalgia for a once-thriving meteorological cottage industry (which involved everyone from Girl Scouts to fishermen to unpaid but diligent rural record takers), for a civic, people-driven engagement with the ebb and flow of shared climates – a vocation that is now wholly mechanized.
When side-by-side shows like these work so well together, it ought not to be an accident. Loop needs to either make inventive pairing a priority, or to create distinct spaces, or a combination of both.
With this much artistic capital in its member bank, Loop can afford to offer all kinds of customer, and artist-customized, services.
IN OTHER VENUES
Dariusz Krzeminski at Peak Gallery Until March 10, 23 Morrow Ave., Toronto;
Last chance to see Dariusz Krzeminski's enormous, fists flying, chair breaking, full-on roughhouse paintings. Good, clean manly fun!
Jenn E Norton at Trinity Square Video Until April 7, No. 376, 401 Richmond St. W., Toronto;
In Jenn E Norton's latest fantastical animations, "the hills are alive" takes on a whole new meaning. Forget mountaineering nuns, how about mushroom condos?
Su Sheedy at Muse Gallery Until March 28, 1230 Yonge St., Toronto;
Su Sheedy isn't kidding around with her show title – I Am Marsh. Her burbling, teeming encaustic recreations of pond life look like they were painted while the artist was submerged at frog-eye level. Hip waders optional.