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Chris Millar, "Batcopter (detail)," 2003-04, acrylic on canvas, 63" x 47".
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"Thirty degree portside list - The Elephant's Graveyard, 2005, 1965 Safari Land Yacht, Airstream"
Janice Rahn and Michael Campbell, "Thirty degree portside list - The Elephant's Graveyard, 2005, 1965 Safari Land Yacht, Airstream," digital audio and video installation.
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Simon Black, "untitled," 2004-05, stainless steel sculpture.
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"Fun Island II: Dealer's Choice"
Rébecca Bourgault, "Fun Island II: Dealer's Choice," 2005, mixed media installation.
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"Stampede Midway (detail)"
Dianne Bos, "Stampede Midway (detail)," 2004, chromogenic print.
ART 05: The Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art
By Douglas MacLean
Art 05 is a bold and confident title for the fifth Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art — it heightens my sense of anticipation as I walk through the doors during its spring run at the Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre. To me, the biennial is a chance to see what curatorial minds are thinking and what artists are envisioning, and to check on the health of contemporary art practice in the province.
Before I discuss the exhibition, however, allow me this observation: the biennial has been supported and nurtured by a devoted curator since its inception. Catherine Crowston from the Edmonton Art Gallery is a seemingly tireless worker who has spent much energy guiding the biennial through all of its growth pains. This year Catherine has as her partner in curation Anthony Kiendl of the Walter Phillips Gallery.
First sight through the doors is a very large yellow billboard proclaiming Art 05 and a single sculpture, stainless steel, 12 feet high. It sits in the middle of the hall, large and shiny. The surface gives the impression of a soft, buttoned sofa. Walking into the centre of the work, one feels the sensation of entering a padded room. The work, by Simon Black, is nicely crafted but in the end, possibly because of the position, it leaves me wanting either more or none at all.
Entering the large main gallery, an intriguing, highly detailed work by Rébecca Bourgault promises excitement. The installation spins slowly on a large table surface. Endless smaller sculptural forms, a line of miniature monochromatic cars and all sorts of curious elements intrigue the viewer and question the obsessive nature of artists’ ideas. This piece sets the tone for the curious world the two curators have created beyond.
To the right are wonderful colour photos by photographer/instructor Diane Bos. Her images of the Calgary Stampede are unlike any you have seen; they have a ghostly, hallucinogenic quality. Unfortunately, I immediately find they are absorbed by all the goings-on around the room; somehow they disappear in the larger context. I feel a more intimate space is required.
Next is a large stage installation where apparently, if you’re up to it, you can perform. Needless to say it’s not in use and likely requires the application of a beer lubricant. The stage, constructed in raw building materials by Mark Clintberg, does have an enticing mattress and pillow room underneath. I miss the point and carry on.
At this point you’re in the main gallery space. A wonderful small installation (the key word of the show is “installation”) is Utopian Station by Tom Andriuk. A small-gauge circle train, with clouds, sun and moon appearing by projection, give me a feeling of peace and comfort; the quiet movements of everything working in order is gratifying.
On to the galleries — small rooms filled with the installations of works by familiar names in Alberta’s contemporary art world: David Hoffos, represented by a film-construction installation from 1998 that makes you feel you really do want to meet the artist; Tanya Rusnak’s small detailed curious drawings, recalling the energy of art nouveau but confused by objects and words; Clay Ellis, representing what’s left of painting in Edmonton with formed extruded plastic materials hung on a stainless rack. These are the works that stood out for me.
Beyond the main gallery you begin a long walk outdoors and into other Banff Centre buildings to discover more of the art and artists in the exhibition, numbering 24 in total. Highlights include the only true paintings on exhibit, by Chris Millar: fantastic materials, curious subject and deft handling of layout make these a standout. Liz Ingram’s quiet upside-down garden of colour represents another wonderful world of creation; the ongoing use of odd and common elements is her forte. Mireille Perron’s exploits of gender-specific ideas, science, rabbit forms and experiments actually are full of humour, which is sometimes easier to grasp than the intellectual idea. Nick Wade of Lethbridge has the most traditional work in the whole exhibition: a free-standing contemporary sculpture that gives a feeling of Bauhaus design. This work is a maquette for a proposed large work to be installed in Winnipeg. On one hand it seems tight and hard to view in the location, but on the other hand the complementary colour and form of the building surrounding the sculpture makes the piece feel at home. A short walk brings me to the Airstream trailer parked at the back of the buildings. This ambitious work by Michael Campbell and Janice Rahn is symbolic for me of the “idea” generation of new art: quirky, seemingly pointless, but intriguing nevertheless. The trip into the trailer takes you far away: Apollo mission sound track, a ship frozen in the Arctic ice, moving camera perceptions — it all works, funnily enough, and leaves me with a positive impression.
Understanding art and installation is both trying and enjoyable, but never being sure of the exact meaning can make one wonder exactly “where is art going” — the theme song of Art 05. The biennial certainly leaves me with questions: where are the new painters? (they are out there); where are the photo-based artists? (they are out there); is installation art worn out?; is projection art merely complex TV?; is politically based sound experimentation effective? A lot of questions — and that I believe is the best and most positive result of exploring the exhibition.
Final thought: what will it all look like in Edmonton, installed at the Edmonton Art Gallery from May 21 to September 4? If you missed the walk in Banff, do yourself a favour and see it in Edmonton.
Douglas MacLean of Canadian Art Gallery is an art advisor and private dealer.