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Liss Platt at MKG127

Until Feb. 4, 127 Ossington Ave., Toronto;

One of my 2012 resolutions is to be more patient. I even have a role model: post-conceptual (more on that later) artist Liss Platt. When not collaborating in the media-fusing collective Shake-n-Make, Platt creates dizzying, large-scale works based on Spirograph patterns, plus slow-mo, deep look/deeper study Super 8 films. Forget patient; Platt is a zen monk staring at a mountain and waiting for it to blink first.

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Platt's work is grounded in, and fuelled by, elaborate literary and mathematical systems, precisely calculated schemes for readings of reality (that's the "conceptual" part), but is ultimately more interested in material results than theories (that's the "post" part). Thus, her work appeals to the theoretically minded as well as the visual pleasure seeker (not that the two are always mutually exclusive).

To wit, Platt's latest exhibition, Constant, at MKG127: a visual diary of a summer spent observing, then re-observing, recording then re-recording, a single object suspended in place while the world around it shifts, both radically and subtly. The object turned subject is a humble one – a swimming raft anchored in a cove, little more than a banged-together flat bed of wood resting on the water. What could be more mundanely Canadian?

Or, conversely, profoundly Canadian? Under Platt's observation, everything beside, above, and beneath the raft is in constant flux, from the clouds to the tides, creating an abundance of shifting visual information. Looking at her dozens of neatly parcelled, time-lapse photographic captures of the raft – framed together in blocks of images – one witnesses shifts in the backdrop, so to speak, from flat water and clear skies to churning water and fat bellied skies, and everything in between.

The raft, apart from the different grades of sunlight reflected on its surface, remains unchanged, like the proverbial stoic mountain. And the colours Platt finds in the water and the sky – from eggplant purple to orchid pink to linen white to jade green – are unabashedly lovely, meant to both engage and engulf the senses.

The long view enacted here naturally requires a parallel investment from the viewer (though not exactly so – you can't live in MKG127 for a few weeks, much as you might want to). Take your time with these images, move slowly between the burbling waves and bumbling, chunky-to-razor-thin, colour-changing clouds. Your efforts will be well rewarded.

Martha Eleen & Mary Catherine Newcomb at Loop Gallery

Until Jan. 29, 1273 Dundas St. W., Toronto;

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Member-run Loop Gallery's new show, a pairing of separate sets of works by painter Martha Eleen and sculptor Mary Catherine Newcomb, may, at first, appear dissonant.

Eleen's diary-like suite of oils on wood, depicting the day-to-day life of her differently-abled son Gabe, and Newcomb's collection of modified natural objects, including a massive sculpture of a rabbit made of live grass and moss, are, well, an odd couple.

But I like odd. I like finding commonalities even more.

In Eleen's work, the tender, maternal impulse is rendered via a painting technique that is anything but tender. Eleen scratches, scrapes, scribbles over and builds up her surfaces like a squirrel building a winter hideout – it's impossible to find a square inch of flatness on any given panel, a painterly moment not infused with tingling action-reaction movement and, by extension, anxiety and tension.

I don't pretend to know Eleen's mind, nor read her emotional intent in these works (though we have known each other for years), but anyone can see that this loving portrait of her son's estranged yet internally engaged life is not all sunshine and beatific smiles. These works carry a blunt admission that, yes, living with a "disabled" person is tough (re. the quotation marks: the paintings, full of interior narratives, challenge the able/disable label by their very existence – Gabe is nothing if not engaged in his own pursuits and by the assistance offered him by various helpers). Living with a differently-abled person is also, according to these works, highly rewarding – one learns to see the subtexts, as manifested by all that relentless texture.

As you make your way down the gallery toward Newcomb's works, continue to consider Eleen's tactile push-pull between admiration and resignation, and the metaphors it enlivens, and note how Newcomb's sculptures superficially read as whimsical but soon resonate with darker, even sinister, messages. Again, there are underlying tensions.

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Newcomb's central pieces, a prayer rug and a motorcycle sized (but otherwise true to nature) rabbit, are both made with seed infested sod and sprout long, bouncy blades of grass. So far, so cheerful.

Lush and green – except, in the case of the prayer rug, where Newcomb has laid a cut-out over the sod surface, thus creating brown spot patterns, a grassy death mask, or, in the case of the rabbit, where signs of Newcomb's decision to stop watering the sod have left the rabbit form pocked with husks and rot – the sculptures speak simultaneously of growth, life and fulfilment and, upon inspection, vitality's counterpoints, deprivation, failure, and spoilage.

Subliminal trap setters, Newcomb and Eleen make a good team.


Max Dean at Nicholas Metivier Gallery

Until Jan. 28, 451 King St. W., Toronto

Dean's lively, absurdist photographs play like frozen performance pieces, investigations into the silliness of materialism and the potential silliness of investigating materialism. Dean is a the Buster Keaton of self-portraiture.

Secret Gardens at Lillian H. Smith Library

Until March 3, 239 College St., Toronto

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, the library presents a tidy (it is a library, after all) selection of Burnett-inspired book plates and hidden garden illustrations. Relive your childhood, for free.

Anastasia Taylor-Lind at Pikto Gallery

Until Feb. 29, 55 Mill St., Building 59, Toronto

Lind's photographs of families funded by the Nagorno-Karabakh procreation reward program (devised to rebuild the population after the war of the early 1990s) depict a nation stunned by conflict and desperate for romance. Heterosexuality has never looked more abject.

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