Shows on at Mercer Union, YYZ, and Paul Petro

17 January 2005

I bitch about art a lot; here I am, a player in the scene, and most of the time I hate art. So I'm entirely sympathetic when dealing with people who only go to openings for cheap drinks and a good time. The fairest thing to say about this is that there's something about Toronto which doesn't encourage good art. That's sort of the word on the street, you know, what artists here say amongst themselves: art here sucks. But that's obviously a question of not seeing the forest for the trees, or 'the grass is always greener on the other side', an allusion Kineko Ivic was getting at when he named his gallery Greener Pastures, which I haven't been to in a while.

But I have been to Mercer Union, just down the street - went to their opening last Thursday night. Regarding Toronto's art - I'll let you go to the galleries and decide for yourself. It's a generalization, but whenever out of town artists show it can make one question why we don't see more stuff of this quality in the studios of Toronto.

Mercer's current show is such an example. It reminds me of why I like art, you know, when it really works. When it pops stuff into your mind that wouldn't have showed up otherwise. In my case, it brought back childhood memories I'd forgotten about. Growing up in French, rural Nova Scotia, carpentry was a hobby for so many of us. I always enjoyed fooling around with hammer and nails in my Dad's workshop, although I have little to show for it. In an area where so many expected to build their own homes, it's a hobby that had very practical purposes. But as kids, it resembled art in that we did it for fun. I remember digging a trench with my friend as we worked on a 'underground fort'. Later, in highschool, some classmates built a cabin off a logging road which was dubbed the 'Schoon Lagoon' and became the cabin party for our weekends throughout 1993.

If you'd been to Mercer before, at first you might think they'd renovated for the new year. And, you'd think that the roof was leaking - and given Thursday night's nasty weather, it certainly seemed that was the case. But, nein, das ist die show. An environment, a series of rooms, entered by a hidden door, has been constructed in Mercer's space. The usual Back Gallery is unchanged, and it contains only Marianne Corless' Fur Queen II but once you've seen the picture, there doesn't seem to be much point seeing the thing in person, except for that whole Benjamin aura/object fetish thing. The BGL experience, on the other hand, cannot be reproduced.

Thin drywall rooms, pierced by a car, which also serves as steps so that one can see why the roof is leaking. There is a wood stove, and a buggy light that goes on and off. Evidence of the construction and destruction everywhere - dust and drywall chips, the doorways torn out through hammer rather than saw. The decoration consists of the plaster patching pattern of any renovation. Given my youthful experiences with shoddy construction and what seemed like the constant renovations my parents engaged in while I was growing up, this environment has a charm for me. BGL's show is familiar and cozy, and if the opening's crowd had been larger, I might have felt like I'd gone home for a cabin party among my high school friends.

A Quebec City based collective, they take their name from the last names of the members: Jasmine Bilodeau, Sebastien Giguere, and Nicolas Laverdiere. The only BGL-relevant website I could find at the moment is this one, which shows them working on a pool made out of recycled wood, a slide of which they showed during their presentation.

Mercer has done modified environments before. Two years ago they installed a malfunctioning revolving door, which earned my all time favorite review, when RM Vaughan wrote in Lola, "Worst show ever". I didn't really agree, I didn't mind the show that much. If someone is obsessed with building an off-centre revolving door, why not? And who else will let them but an artist run centre? So, if these three boys from Quebec want to drive a car through a wall, why not?

Maybe it's the filtering process, but it seems to me that Quebec artists rock. It's crazy how our Canadianess is divided into two cultures who communicate with each other as if by messages in bottles - in this case, stuff in rooms. There's a whole other aesthetic and relationship to materials coming out of Quebec, one that makes things delightful rather than the anti-formalist disgustipations or boring conceptual works rooted in concerns 20-30 years out of date. Such work seems to have infected Toronto's local scene like a bad cold one can't shake.

And maybe that's just my way of saying I should get out more and meet new artists in Toronto, because that's been my experience of the scene. If you know of anyone making work like Elizabeth Belliveau, now showing at YYZ, please let me know, or at least chastise me for my forgetfulness, because none come to mind at the moment. As this show has already been written about here, I want to weigh in to encourage you to check it out. Last week I'd been hearing about a glowing review in The Star, and it's deserved. Belliveau takes used purses or other things left to second hand shops and charity and has turned them through vision and scissors into little animals, or whatever other creature she sees possible. The results are charming and delightful, and give me a new way to consider a baseball, a hot water bottle, or a pair of gloves. In the other gallery, Karim Zouak has a show that I'm told is supposed to be about animated paintings, the effect of which is betrayed by the clacking of the projectors, so it doesn't really work. But, I haven't spent that much time with the work, so I can't rave or diss it. Whereas with Belliveau's, one can rave with the sense of 'how could you not like this?', with Zouak's work, it is much more along the lines of, 'see it, think about it, decide for yourself'.

There is though, nothing to think about at Paul Petro's gallery, and that's because the gallery has magazines on display as if they were so many drawings, drawn over 20 years through the CMYK process of various print shops downtown somewhere. Boxes boxes oh my ... and what do with them? Why not have a show, offer back issues for sale? The PR for this show says, "know your history" highlighting how C has had a good run of publishing on, by, or about the players of the Canadian and international art industry. Inasmuch as the art community is a community is reflected in the pages of C Magazine. So, if you're looking for some reading material, and are interested in 20 years of graphic design and magazine formats, check out Petro's before the magazines come down January 29th.

Greener Pastures: 1188 Queen St W, Th-Sat 12-6 (416-535-7100)
Mercer Union: 37 Lisgar St, T-Sat 11-5 (416-536-1519)
YYZ: Suit 140, 401 Richmond St W, T-Sat 11-6 (416-598-4546)
Paul Petro: 980 Queen St W, Wed-Sat 11-5 (416-979-7874)


  1. January 2005: Published on
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