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r.m. vaughan

Kelly Andres at Whippersnapper Gallery

Until June 9, 594B Dundas St. W., Toronto; whippersnapper.ca

Kelly Andres's installation at micro-gallery Whippersnapper is one part science experiment, one part waterfall, one part hothouse and all parts nutty. If you like gizmos, especially contraptions that bubble, drip, burp and splash, you'll love this work – it's like a very quick, rather messy visit to the Ontario Science Centre.

The setup is simple-looking but mechanically complex. Andres has built a spare, unremarkable tower of white wood shelving, just over six feet tall. Each shelf/tier houses an aquarium tank. Each tank (five in total except for the one at the bottom that acts as a catch basin), contains water dyed a different, crayon colour – blue, red, green, yellow, and, as far as I could tell, muck colour (there was a problem with the water flow the day I saw the installation).

From these tanks an elaborate system of tubes flows, sending the water around in a circle wherein it is filtered through clay and then re-dyed. On its way around, some of the water drips out of the tubes onto a cluster of house plants and flowers, contained within soil trays. As the dyed water builds up in the plants' root systems, or so the plan goes, the flowers and foliage will change colour. This was already evident in some white carnations, the petals of which were beginning to turn blue around the edges.

The contraption is also backed on one side by a white plaster architectural form, also tiered, that resembles the kind of artificial terrain one might find in a Marineland penguin keep – a fake ice ridge or grotto, a sculpted and highly artificial space. Despite the flourishing plants, Andres's work is very much about nature's opposite: contrivance.

Ideally, by the time the installation is finished its run at Whippersnapper, the device will have radically altered both the flora and the casings around the flora, as the "grotto" is also being given the slow-dye water-torture treatment (which makes a lovely, trilling sound, like bath drops hitting the surface of a tub, or the interior of a wet cavern).

But, while Andres's water fountain carries a ponderous and aspirational title ( Automata for Colour II – a title that seems more appropriate for something severe and Dan Flavin-ish), I'm convinced the installation is ultimately about failure; or, to be more precise, about elaborate exertions made in pursuit of relatively pointless goals, about exploring systems and processes for the sake of the exploration, not any achievable result. Which explains all the dripping, sopping water; that plink-plink sound, lovely and soothing as it may be, is also very much the sound of resignation, of damp reality.

Art about failure is all the rage these days, especially as demonstrated via the construction of systems, of problems and intentionally inadequate solutions. Recent works I have seen include an artist's doomed attempt to make a pair of denim jeans from scratch, including an attempt to harvest cotton, plus a month-long, very labour intensive performance that attempted to feed every artist in the city one free meal a week. What is it about knowingly failing that is lately so appealing to artists?

It would be easy to write off this new interest in the flawed and the faulty as some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder-like reaction to the Great Recession – as a kind of shrugging off of the worldwide collapse of the money system via smaller, personal (and thus more manageable, far easier to psychologically process) acts that both parallel and mock the global situation. If you can't beat them, etc.

However, looking at Andres's experiment, I sense that while the artist very likely knows that her work will not succeed in creating a new, more vibrant rainbow garden – even if the various parts and widgets survive a month of relentless churning and pumping, which looks doubtful from here – the failure is of less importance than the actions taken toward the failure.

By upping the procedure ante with a very active, very alive work, Andres draws our attention away from the immediate psychological recognition that something has gone wrong and attempts instead to draw us into the details, to literally to watch the gears in motion. The viewer will spend much more time attempting to follow the flow of the water, its transition from colour to colour, than pondering the improbability of the chromatic transmogrification of common houseplants.

And that engagement, that bringing of the viewer into the mechanics of the artist's fruitless endeavour, causes the viewer to reflect on our need to constantly replace one system with another, no matter how foolhardy. While watching and processing, while tracing the trails of the bubbling, coloured water, we become part of a temporary information exchange (albeit a rather goofy one, but that's part of the failure game too), as well as active participants instead of passive witnesses. It's a heartening sort of abjectivity that Andres offers; proving that art about failing does not in itself need to be failed art.

Perhaps, in these parched times, this sort of muddled positioning, wherein failure is certain but it's sure fun to watch, is the best we can hope for.

IN OTHER VENUES

Itamar Jobani at Julie M. Gallery

Until July 1, 15 Mill St., Toronto; juliem.com

Jobani's character-driven busts, sculptures and mixed-media constructions populate the gallery like a crowd seen through a busted funhouse mirror. Good old-fashioned humanism – it still works.

Wayne Moore at Fran Hill Gallery

Until June 10, 285 Rushton Rd., Toronto; franhill.ca

A mini-survey of Moore's kinetic yet cerebral drawings, paintings and sculptures – works that acknowledge and celebrate the human body's watery unknowns.

Sadko Hadzihasanovic at Paul Petro Contemporary

Until June 9, 980 Queen St. W., Toronto; paulpetro.com

Since 1995, the always delightful Hadzihasanovic has been attacking old bits of wallpaper with paint, collage, and his signature scratchy realist interior dramas. The best of the lot await you, glue and all.