What we’re reading: To Make Various Sorts of Black

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A kind of existence after my own heartLorna Goodison’s poem On Becoming a Tiger (1991), tells the story of a woman, who upon having her tiger’s eye ring stolen takes the advice of writer Rainer Maria Rilke: “If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.”

Goodison writes:

The tiger was actually always asleep
inside her, she had seen it
stretched out, drowsing and inert

when she lay upon her side and stared
for seven consecutive days into a tall mirror
that she had turned on its side.

There is sometimes an assumption that poetry is too esoteric to be useful. This is not the case in Goodison’s poems, which although lyrical, often impart practical knowledge to the reader. The poem To Make Various Sorts of Black (2013) is an example of this simultaneous beauty and utility. In writing the poem, Goodison was inspired by The Craftsman’s Handbook (1443), a technical guide for renaissance artists by Florentine painter Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, which describes various types of blacks and how they are made. As it happens, Goodison’s own take on these colours proved an inspiring starting point for The Toronto Ink Company, who developed a series of black pigments based on the techniques described in Goodison’s poem.

Goodison, currently the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, will be giving a talk at Oakville Galleries on Wednesday, June 27th in parallel with the exhibition An Assembly of Shapes. The exhibition features works in (and related to) contemporary painting; Goodison, whose work is known for its rich visual descriptions, initially came to poetry as a painter.

Later in the summer, Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Company will also be making a trip to the Galleries, to deliver a workshop on street-harvested pigments, similar to those he made based on Goodison’s poem.

Image: geetha thurairajah, A Kind of Existence After My Own Heart, 2016, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Projet Pangée, Montréal.

What we’re reading

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Allison KatzIn Allison Katz’s current exhibition Diary w/o Dates, references to seasons, calendars, clocks, and diary-writing abound. Rather than an exacting chronology, Katz’s works—and their installation—explore how time feels.

In the lead-up to the exhibition, staff in the curatorial office read Marc Wittmann’s book Felt Time, published by MIT Press. In the book, Wittmann takes up recent scientific discoveries that shed light on our understanding of subjective time, exploring how our bodies create a basis for feeling the passage of time, how our perception of time impacts our decisions, and why time seems to speed up as we age.

As Wittmann writes: “We are time.” Our perception of time, its duration and its passing has a profound impact on our experience. My grandmother, for example, celebrated her birthday on the wrong day of the year for her entire life due to a mistranslation from the Jewish calendar when she immigrated to Canada as an infant. A few years ago, my dad proudly announced he had calculated the “true” date, but it was too late, she told him: she already had a birthday.

Installation view of Allison Katz, Season 1, 2018, sand, silica. From Diary w/o Dates, Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens, 21 January – 18 March 2018. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

For the last guest

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Every day during the run of our summer exhibition Propped, the last visitor to Gairloch Gardens is presented with a gift on their way out: flowers. For the last guest (2014/2017), a work by Mark Clintberg and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, sees an arrangement of flowers placed in a vase at the entrance of the gallery, wrapped in paper designed by the artists. At the end of each day, the last visitor to the gallery is given the arrangement to take home with them.

_TH_8099

Flowers have been involved in rituals for centuries. There is evidence of flowers buried with the dead dating back 60,000 years, and during the Victorian era an entire language was popularized around them. This sense of ritual, hospitality and gesture is familiar terrain for both Clintberg and Ramsay, who have long explored these ideas in their respective practices. In an interview from the Banff Centre in 2016, Mark writes: “Hospitality exists as a device to make social relations run smoothly. But often there’s social friction. I have a copy of Emily Post’s guide to etiquette and I’ve referred to it frequently as a document on social relations. […] But an ideal host should never fear friction, and would therefore probably avoid such aspirations. I think the ideal host never appears to be trying too hard.”

Of course, try as we might, we at the Galleries are imperfect hosts ourselves—we’ve gifted the flowers too early, as another visitor sneaks in the door, and gifted them too late, chasing visitors down in the garden as they leave. Sometimes, though, we manage to get it right: recently our animateur Audrey Yip gave the flowers to a young visitor, whose parents were touched, noting that it also happened to be the day of her graduation from school.

The daily gesture implicit in this work brings to mind philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s writing on repetition:

“The force and the grace of repetition, the novelty it brings us, is the return as the possibility of what was. Repetition restores the possibility of what was, renders it possible anew; it’s almost a paradox. To repeat something is to make it possible anew.”

Installation view of Mark Clintberg and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, For the last guest, 2014/2017, silkscreened print on glassine, flowers, vase. From Propped, Oakville Galleries, 25 June – 2 September 2017. Courtesy of Mark Clintberg (courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, Toronto) and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Listening to Les Levine’s Wire Tap

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_TH_7965

“Listening is not a natural process inherent to our perception of the world but rather constructed by the conditions of the spaces and times that engulf us.”
Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Les Levine’s work Wire Tap (1970) is currently on view at Oakville Galleries in the exhibition Les Levine: Transmedia. The work is presented in a dedicated room, where twelve speakers encircle the space’s three walls. The speakers play a loop of twelve hours of telephone conversations recorded by Levine from his personal phone conversations about the production of artwork over a yearlong period. The work was originally presented at New York’s Fischbach Gallery in 1970, and was acquired shortly thereafter by the National Gallery of Canada in 1971.

Levine’s description of the work, excerpted in the exhibition label, from a press release for the work sheds light on the artist’s approach: “Wire Tap deals with the non- physical aspects of art activities. It exposes publicly the mental process or software involved with art production. [...] The telephone has destroyed any notions of privacy society has had. Wire Tap is like spying on yourself to find out how information effects the operation of your brain.”

When Wire Tap was originally installed it used recorded cassette tapes. Cassette tapes first emerged in the 1960s but rose to prominence culturally during the 1970s and 1980s. Curator Barbara London has noted that because their relatively low cost, audiocassettes brought new possibilities for presenting and sharing sound and rap art. Despite that accessibility in recording and sharing as well as portability that the cassette offered, it was gradually crowded out by CDs and more recently digital technologies. There has of course been a localized reemergence of cassettes in certain genres, but for the most part it has been steadily on the decline. In 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary even attempted to remove the word “cassette player” from its 12th edition Concise version.

This situation presents an interesting scenario for artists and museums, of whether to continue presenting a work in a format that is becoming obsolete for continuity, or whether to make the shift to a technology that can be more readily conserved for the future. For a fascinating account of the research that can be required for making this type of change, Conservator Ben Fino-Radin’s gave an in-depth account of MoMA’s restoration of Teiji Furuhashi’s Lovers (1994). In the case of Wire Tap, it still uses the work’s original speakers, and the National Gallery of Canada’s team transferred the original work to digital media players, but it hasn’t lost the ambient sounds of the original recording.

In Fino-Radin’s piece, he writes about a relationship that is common to galleries and museums:

“Two of MoMA’s most important mandates are related to its collection: exhibition and preservation. It may then come as a surprise to some that these two aspects of the Museum’s mission are often in opposition to one another, and must be kept in a careful balance. Physical objects are all, to varying degrees, subject to change. […]Time-based media artworks also face this fundamental balancing act of exhibition and presentation. For example, the longer a video projector runs, the shorter its life will be. Every second a cathode ray tube television displays an image, its screen dims just so slightly, eventually rendering it dead forever.”

As technology evolves ever more rapidly, contemporary artists and conservators both find themselves tackling challenging questions of exhibition and preservation within the span of an artwork’s life, questions that will need to be addressed for time-based works in the years to come.

There will be an opportunity to listen to Les Levine in conversation with curator Sarah Robayo Sheridan on Thursday, March 9, presented in partnership with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.

Image: Installation view of Wire Tap, 1970. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

What we’re reading: To Make Various Sorts of Black

Posted on by .

A kind of existence after my own heartLorna Goodison’s poem On Becoming a Tiger (1991), tells the story of a woman, who upon having her tiger’s eye ring stolen takes the advice of writer Rainer Maria Rilke: “If drinking is bitter, change yourself to wine.”

Goodison writes:

The tiger was actually always asleep
inside her, she had seen it
stretched out, drowsing and inert

when she lay upon her side and stared
for seven consecutive days into a tall mirror
that she had turned on its side.

There is sometimes an assumption that poetry is too esoteric to be useful. This is not the case in Goodison’s poems, which although lyrical, often impart practical knowledge to the reader. The poem To Make Various Sorts of Black (2013) is an example of this simultaneous beauty and utility. In writing the poem, Goodison was inspired by The Craftsman’s Handbook (1443), a technical guide for renaissance artists by Florentine painter Cennino d’Andrea Cennini, which describes various types of blacks and how they are made. As it happens, Goodison’s own take on these colours proved an inspiring starting point for The Toronto Ink Company, who developed a series of black pigments based on the techniques described in Goodison’s poem.

Goodison, currently the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, will be giving a talk at Oakville Galleries on Wednesday, June 27th in parallel with the exhibition An Assembly of Shapes. The exhibition features works in (and related to) contemporary painting; Goodison, whose work is known for its rich visual descriptions, initially came to poetry as a painter.

Later in the summer, Jason Logan of the Toronto Ink Company will also be making a trip to the Galleries, to deliver a workshop on street-harvested pigments, similar to those he made based on Goodison’s poem.

Image: geetha thurairajah, A Kind of Existence After My Own Heart, 2016, acrylic on canvas. Courtesy of the artist and Projet Pangée, Montréal.

What we’re reading

Posted on by .

Allison KatzIn Allison Katz’s current exhibition Diary w/o Dates, references to seasons, calendars, clocks, and diary-writing abound. Rather than an exacting chronology, Katz’s works—and their installation—explore how time feels.

In the lead-up to the exhibition, staff in the curatorial office read Marc Wittmann’s book Felt Time, published by MIT Press. In the book, Wittmann takes up recent scientific discoveries that shed light on our understanding of subjective time, exploring how our bodies create a basis for feeling the passage of time, how our perception of time impacts our decisions, and why time seems to speed up as we age.

As Wittmann writes: “We are time.” Our perception of time, its duration and its passing has a profound impact on our experience. My grandmother, for example, celebrated her birthday on the wrong day of the year for her entire life due to a mistranslation from the Jewish calendar when she immigrated to Canada as an infant. A few years ago, my dad proudly announced he had calculated the “true” date, but it was too late, she told him: she already had a birthday.

Installation view of Allison Katz, Season 1, 2018, sand, silica. From Diary w/o Dates, Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens, 21 January – 18 March 2018. Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

For the last guest

Posted on by .

Every day during the run of our summer exhibition Propped, the last visitor to Gairloch Gardens is presented with a gift on their way out: flowers. For the last guest (2014/2017), a work by Mark Clintberg and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, sees an arrangement of flowers placed in a vase at the entrance of the gallery, wrapped in paper designed by the artists. At the end of each day, the last visitor to the gallery is given the arrangement to take home with them.

_TH_8099

Flowers have been involved in rituals for centuries. There is evidence of flowers buried with the dead dating back 60,000 years, and during the Victorian era an entire language was popularized around them. This sense of ritual, hospitality and gesture is familiar terrain for both Clintberg and Ramsay, who have long explored these ideas in their respective practices. In an interview from the Banff Centre in 2016, Mark writes: “Hospitality exists as a device to make social relations run smoothly. But often there’s social friction. I have a copy of Emily Post’s guide to etiquette and I’ve referred to it frequently as a document on social relations. […] But an ideal host should never fear friction, and would therefore probably avoid such aspirations. I think the ideal host never appears to be trying too hard.”

Of course, try as we might, we at the Galleries are imperfect hosts ourselves—we’ve gifted the flowers too early, as another visitor sneaks in the door, and gifted them too late, chasing visitors down in the garden as they leave. Sometimes, though, we manage to get it right: recently our animateur Audrey Yip gave the flowers to a young visitor, whose parents were touched, noting that it also happened to be the day of her graduation from school.

The daily gesture implicit in this work brings to mind philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s writing on repetition:

“The force and the grace of repetition, the novelty it brings us, is the return as the possibility of what was. Repetition restores the possibility of what was, renders it possible anew; it’s almost a paradox. To repeat something is to make it possible anew.”

Installation view of Mark Clintberg and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, For the last guest, 2014/2017, silkscreened print on glassine, flowers, vase. From Propped, Oakville Galleries, 25 June – 2 September 2017. Courtesy of Mark Clintberg (courtesy of Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, Toronto) and Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Listening to Les Levine’s Wire Tap

Posted on by .

_TH_7965

“Listening is not a natural process inherent to our perception of the world but rather constructed by the conditions of the spaces and times that engulf us.”
Lawrence Abu Hamdan

Les Levine’s work Wire Tap (1970) is currently on view at Oakville Galleries in the exhibition Les Levine: Transmedia. The work is presented in a dedicated room, where twelve speakers encircle the space’s three walls. The speakers play a loop of twelve hours of telephone conversations recorded by Levine from his personal phone conversations about the production of artwork over a yearlong period. The work was originally presented at New York’s Fischbach Gallery in 1970, and was acquired shortly thereafter by the National Gallery of Canada in 1971.

Levine’s description of the work, excerpted in the exhibition label, from a press release for the work sheds light on the artist’s approach: “Wire Tap deals with the non- physical aspects of art activities. It exposes publicly the mental process or software involved with art production. [...] The telephone has destroyed any notions of privacy society has had. Wire Tap is like spying on yourself to find out how information effects the operation of your brain.”

When Wire Tap was originally installed it used recorded cassette tapes. Cassette tapes first emerged in the 1960s but rose to prominence culturally during the 1970s and 1980s. Curator Barbara London has noted that because their relatively low cost, audiocassettes brought new possibilities for presenting and sharing sound and rap art. Despite that accessibility in recording and sharing as well as portability that the cassette offered, it was gradually crowded out by CDs and more recently digital technologies. There has of course been a localized reemergence of cassettes in certain genres, but for the most part it has been steadily on the decline. In 2011 the Oxford English Dictionary even attempted to remove the word “cassette player” from its 12th edition Concise version.

This situation presents an interesting scenario for artists and museums, of whether to continue presenting a work in a format that is becoming obsolete for continuity, or whether to make the shift to a technology that can be more readily conserved for the future. For a fascinating account of the research that can be required for making this type of change, Conservator Ben Fino-Radin’s gave an in-depth account of MoMA’s restoration of Teiji Furuhashi’s Lovers (1994). In the case of Wire Tap, it still uses the work’s original speakers, and the National Gallery of Canada’s team transferred the original work to digital media players, but it hasn’t lost the ambient sounds of the original recording.

In Fino-Radin’s piece, he writes about a relationship that is common to galleries and museums:

“Two of MoMA’s most important mandates are related to its collection: exhibition and preservation. It may then come as a surprise to some that these two aspects of the Museum’s mission are often in opposition to one another, and must be kept in a careful balance. Physical objects are all, to varying degrees, subject to change. […]Time-based media artworks also face this fundamental balancing act of exhibition and presentation. For example, the longer a video projector runs, the shorter its life will be. Every second a cathode ray tube television displays an image, its screen dims just so slightly, eventually rendering it dead forever.”

As technology evolves ever more rapidly, contemporary artists and conservators both find themselves tackling challenging questions of exhibition and preservation within the span of an artwork’s life, questions that will need to be addressed for time-based works in the years to come.

There will be an opportunity to listen to Les Levine in conversation with curator Sarah Robayo Sheridan on Thursday, March 9, presented in partnership with the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto.

Image: Installation view of Wire Tap, 1970. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.