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Watched by Big Brother Google, Joe McKay watches right back

Joe McKay at Pari Nadimi Gallery Until Nov. 20, 254 Niagara St., Toronto;

All debates about essentialism aside, it's safe to say that Joe McKay makes guy art - art that Red Green himself would be proud to own, but probably not understand.

McKay's rough-and-ready, wobbling and clanging sculptures are a cross between Duchamp's ready-made, rust-bucket humour and the yard-sale chic of a homemade, creaky birdfeeder. In a word, they are charming - easy to love because they are both clever and flawed (albeit intentionally flawed: McKay is no folk artist).

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McKay's newest collection of odds and ends, on display at Pari Nadimi Gallery, features clacking, ringing cellphones with lids flipped open by drum pedals, and vintage telegraph machines, a large "progress bar" - the kind you see on your computer while you are waiting for a download to finish - comprising a printed scroll turned by wooden spools and clock machinery, and a spinning, four-sided wooden timepiece that measures time with lackadaisical phrases such as "About an hour" and "About a minute."

McKay's gizmos are obviously influenced by the steam-punk aesthetic - a popular science-fiction trope that imagines an alternative universe wherein contemporary computer science and Victorian mechanization developed simultaneously; wherein, for instance, Edward VII might text message a doxy with a portable teletype fuelled by coal.

With his melding of pre- and post-analog contraptions, microchips with hammer-and-nail gear boxes, McKay creates a magical, and very funny, slapstick dynamic that exposes the wonder and folly of both sets of technologies. And this is where the "guy" part comes in. McKay's work reminds me of the many contraptions made by my older brother in his model cars vs. firecrackers phase, of a particularly boyish habit of making things just to see how they will or, spectacularly, won't work. Of course, lots of girls play these games, too, and "guy" here can be read as gender neutral. All junkyard dogs will find something to love in McKay's sculptures.

Alongside McKay's whirling dervishes are two suites of more cerebral, photo-based works. The first, an eerie set of UFO photos, depicts hovering, metallic forms lurking above highways and expressways, bold as brass (or, in this case, aluminum) and unafraid of discovery. I'll let you figure out how McKay captured these space invaders.

The second set of photo-works make gentle fun of Google's Big Brother-ish "street-view" program, the mega-corporation's unnerving desire to photograph every inch of the world. McKay turns the tables by finding, in Google's own street-view images, reflections in windows of the surveillance vans employed by the company. He then re-assembles the vans using the various reflections - turning the ghostly, unidentified watchers into identifiable, tangible subjects.

In this series, the watchers get a taste of their own medicine. Take that, Google!

Alain Paiement and Yam Lau at Leo Kamen Gallery Until Nov. 13, 80 Spadina Ave., Suite 406, Toronto;

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Alain Paiement's gigantic new works at Leo Kamen Gallery require a bit of pre-visit exposition. With a title like Unlikely Axonometric, what does Paiement expect?

The term axonometric refers to a diagramming process used by architects and designers. Essentially (and I am being wildly reductive here), an axonometric image is a false or manipulated image that allows the viewer to see all aspects of an object at one time. Parts of the object that are distant are drawn in the same scale as parts that are near. The result is a distorted image, one with a forced and unnatural perspective.

With this practice as his guiding principle, Paiement photographs interiors of buildings as if he were hanging from the ceiling (which he may well have done). We look down on the objects and people in the rooms, but we can also see faces, not just the tops of heads, and the sides of furnishings and other décor, not just the tabletops or peaks of lampshades - the interiors have all been tilted slightly upward, lifted off their floors by just a few degrees in order to reveal more detail. And to better disorient.

The enormous size of Paiement's works (the largest is approximately three metres by 5.5 metres) further enhances the sense of displacement - and yet, an odd familiarity - generated by his interiors. His roofless world is a recognizable place, but one that grows increasingly less knowable the more you absorb, or rather are engulfed by, the work.

My favourite of Paiement's reconstructed spaces is a discreetly manipulated photograph of a middle-aged couple's over-decorated home. From Paiement's spider-eye perspective, we see one set of rooms slathered in dusty rose-dripped, fake Victoriana, all glass-globe lamps and dried flowers. Next to these rooms are a set of "man caves," cluttered with taxidermy, cheesy bar fixtures and rec-room game boards. One imagines the couple marked off their individual territories years ago, with an iron (more likely chintz) curtain, and then let their markedly different (but equally ugly) tastes run amok.

By happy accident, a complementary work by video artist Yam Lau is on display beside Paiement's monster puzzles. Using computer-generated imagery, Lau unveils a floating world of screens, unattached walls and wandering architectural forms. As street noise and the sound (and eventual sight) of rain begin to build, the drifting pieces coalesce to reveal a small, dark room where a woman sulkily smokes and dreams.

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While Paiement explodes his subjects, Lau peels his like an onion. But both present the domestic interior (that space so relentlessly examined in today's plethora of home-renovation entertainments) as a place where order and disorder, the mundane and the slightly surreal, co-exist in equal measure.


Face It Head On: Self-Portrait Redefined Until Nov. 13, Workman Arts Building, 651 Dufferin St., Lower Hall, Toronto

In partnership with the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival, this group show highlights artists who recreate themselves in as many ways as there are to be human.

Pearl Van Geest and Tina Newlove Until Nov. 27, XEXE Gallery, 624 Richmond St. W., Toronto

If these two very different painters have anything in common, it's their unapologetic love of texture - their smart attention to the way paint caresses, kicks and kisses canvas.

Jenni Posti: Stay at Home Until Nov. 14, Gallery 1313, 1313 Queen St. W., Toronto

Posti's conflation of quilting patterns and paintings of hospitalized mothers with their newborns is both unsettling and comforting - much, I imagine, like giving birth itself.

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