Sunday, February 24, 2013

On Curating

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately-- the value of sustainable (exhibition) spaces in the age of pop-up shops, internet art, migratory art galleries and condo booms.  Thanks, Hans.

"(Exhibitions) are a way to resist the pressures towards an ever more uniform experience of time and space, by keeping the visitor in the art moment a little longer.

If that is to happen, it’s important to shape exhibitions as long-duration projects and to consider issues of sustainability and legacy. Fly-in, fly-out curating nearly always produces superficial results; it’s a practice that goes hand in hand with the fashion for applying the word “curating” to everything that involves simply making a choice – radio playlists, hotel decor, even the food stalls in New York’s High Line Park. Making art is not the matter of a moment, and nor is making an exhibition; curating follows art."

-- Hans Ulrich Obrist, co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, London

Esther Bubley

I'm writing about the work of American photographer Esther Bubley in the 1940s right now--she was known for depicting working class female subjects.  While working for the IWO in the 1940s, she travelled up and down the east coast by Greyhound on assignments because she didn't drive.  Many of her better known images were taken of passengers, drivers and workers on the bus.  These images were collected in the IWO photo series, Bus Story.

"In these respects, Esther Bubley's photographic apprenticeship was very different from that of other women who had worked for the FSA in the 1930s. Bubley's small town, lower-middle-class background pales in comparison with Dorothea Lange's intrepid documentary adventures across the country. Bubley also did not have the advantage of Marion Post Wolcott's bohemian education in Greenwich Village and Vienna. Furthermore, unlike her female predecessors, Bubley's pre-FSA photographic experience was in commercial and fashion photography rather than in socially concerned documentation, like Lange, or with photojournalism, like Post Wolcott. Bubley did not even have a driver's licence. Her photographic projects for the FSA were therefore confined to the Washington, DC area and the outskirts of Virginia. When she travelled, it was not for thousands of miles through the Southern states solo with an axe in her trunk; nor was it across the Midwest and California consumed by a vision to reconstruct a social and economic history of agricutural production in the United States. Instead, Esther Bubley travelled from Washington, DC to Memphis on an overcrowded Greyhound bus. Her view of America in the 1940s was not of an unobscured road heading west seen from the roof of her car, but looking awkwardly through the bus driver's windscreen as the bus moved along, trying not to get in the driver's way.  Consequently, Bubley's vision was a little lopsided, her view not quite squarely framed."

- Jacqueline Ellis.  (1996).  "Revolutionary Spaces: Photographs of Working-Class Women by Esther Bubley, 1940-43"

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Patti Smith and Beat Nation

Patti Smith, from her exhibition Camera Solo 

Last week was a luxurious one in that I managed to find the time to take in two art shows in two days.  I went to the preview of Patti Smith's photography exhibition, Camera Solo, at the AGO.  The next day, I braved the snow and embarked on a rather hellish walk to Harbourfront to check out Beat Nation at the Power Plant.  Boy, was it ever nice to spend a few hours outside of my own head (which is constantly consumed by thesis work), looking at the work of other artists.

The Patti Smith show was an interesting one for a few reasons.  The exhibition was gorgeously installed-- a clean and uniform installation of small photographs with nice touches like ephemera placed sparingly on weathered wood tables, persian rugs, church pews facing a video projection, and a huge Italian fishing net in the middle of the main gallery. Despite the exhibition's pitch-perfect style, a telling moment for me was when I took in a photograph taken by Robert Mapplethorpe of Patti-- not the iconic one of her on the cover of Horses, but another one of her looking long-limbed and awkwardly other words, it was pure Patti.  After drinking in this photograph for several minutes, it became obvious just how artless Smith's photographs were in comparison.  The exhibition reminded me of my ambivalence towards Patti Smith's work, whose artistic career has been (in my humble opinion) rather uneven.  The thing is, you'd never guess it from all the attention she has been showered with.

Jordan Bennett, Turning Tables (2012)

Continuing the theme of intersections of art and music, Beat Nation: Hip Hop as Indigenous Culture at the Power Plant was worth the walk.  I especially loved Jordan Bennett's Turning Tables (pictured above), which plays Bennett's voice learning his native tongue, Mi'kmaq.  Also really stirring were two of the exhibition's video works-- 10 by Dana Claxton and Nicholas Galanin's Tsu Heidei Shugaxtutaan Part 1 and 2.  Recommended!

Friday, February 08, 2013

A Cheesecake Story

LECTURE: This month’s edition of Trampoline Hall, the long-running amateur lecture series (“amateur” in the sense that the chosen subjects must be things the lecturers are not professionals in) is curated by Becky Johnson and hosted (as always) by Misha Glouberman. It features artist and author Serena McCarroll on “Invisible Problems,” writer and comic Joel Buxton on “What Makes a Hit,” and conceptual artist Tara Bursey on “Cheesecake.” Very limited at-the-door tickets go on sale at 6:30 p.m. tonight. The Garrison (1197 Dundas Street West), 8 p.m., $5.

Yep, I lectured on the process of making and distributing four cheesecakes over a weekend to a packed house at this week's Trampoline Hall.  The fourth cake (not pictured here) was given to audience members at the show.  Also not pictured is Jim, the foreman of a building site on Givens Street who was the recipient of the blueberry cheesecake. This project was inspired by a short piece of non-fiction I wrote about making cheesecake for my family as a child.

The wheels are turning for future edible food art projects like this one!