The view from my office

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For the past 19 years the view from my office window has always been breathtaking. Whether it’s blowing snow, damp and dull, calm and sunny, or windy enough for waves to be rolling over the breaker wall in Gairloch Gardens, the view of the lake never disappoints. I’m not alone in feeling this way—over the years, Oakville Galleries has exhibited a number of artists who have created site-specific works using this exact vista.

To me, these works capture milestones in the garden’s development, documenting how the landscape has changed over the past twenty years. As you will see in the four pictures below, the view from my office window is nothing if not dynamic. Each day is a new adventure in colour and texture. I see various forms of wildlife and get to hear the sounds of Lake Ontario throughout the day. I consider myself to be one of the luckiest people in the world—each day I experience a different view of the gardens and it makes me feel like I have escaped to the cottage, away from the bustle of life in the city.

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Angela Grauerholz, By the Lake, Oakville, 1995. Collection of Oakville Galleries, purchased with the support of the Corporation of the Town of Oakville, the Elizabeth L. Gordon Art Program of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation and the Oakville Galleries Volunteer Association, 1995.

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David Rokeby, Machine for Taking Time, 2001-in progress, computer-assisted, site-specific video installation. Collection of Oakville Galleries, purchased with the support of the Cananda Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program, the Corporation of the Town of Oakville, the Edna Powers Memorial Fund, and the Oakville Galleries Volunteer Association, 2001.

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Installation view of Ron Benner’s Trans/mission: African Vectors on view from June 2002 to November 2004.

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David Rokeby, In the Offing (composite image), 2011–2013, computer, stored digital images, custom software. Collection of Oakville Galleries, purchased with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts Acquisition Assistance Program, the Corporation of the Town of Oakville, 2007.

Listening to Les Levine’s Wire Tap

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“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.

From the archives: Liz Magor

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Longtime Oakville Galleries favourite Liz Magor just opened her retrospective you you you at the Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Zurich last week. Here’s a throwback to a survey of her early works here in Oakville in 1993, which included this terrific piece Dorothy, A Resemblance (1981), a portrait rendered through cast lead objects. Photo: Rod Demerling.

Child’s play

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LeporelliWith most of Oakville Galleries’ education programs running at our location in Gairloch Gardens, it’s easy to identify what we do with this place. A conversation I have almost daily is how stunning it is here. And it is! The gardens, lake and horizon are all pretty spectacular. But what makes Gairloch so special, I think, isn’t just the view beyond our windows, but all the formative encounters with art that take place within our walls.

A few weeks ago, we hosted a group of local moms and toddlers for an exhibition tour and artmaking workshop. For a few of the little ones, it wasn’t just their first time visiting a gallery, it was their first time getting to paint! A two-year old boy learned how to hold a paintbrush for the first time; a little girl discovered finger painting, using every colour she could get her hands on; another was blown away to see how red and white mix together to make pink. These are the moments—moments that have happened thousands upon thousands of times here—that make Gairloch such a wonderful place to come to work every day. What may seem at first glance like child’s play is really a milestone for parents and children: in their cognitive and creative development, and in their relationship with each other.

Want to experience a little of the magic firsthand? Come by our free Family Day workshop this coming Monday and see where it can lead! Or bring the whole family to visit one of our exhibitions and follow it with some at-home craft time. You’ll be delighted to see what creativity it prompts.

Collection Spotlight: Stephen Andrews

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2002.13As images of protests have filled our social media feeds over the past three weeks—really, over the past three years—we’ve been thinking of Stephen Andrews’ hoi polloi series from the late 1990s, images of crowds watching, being watched and protesting. This particular work, held in Oakville Galleries’ collection, was inspired by the mass demonstrations that took place across Ontario during the 1995 Days of Action, a series of labour actions protesting the Mike Harris government. Invoking the acute power of assembly and the energy borne of it, Andrews details for us those moments when power begins to shift from the body to the body politic.

Etel Adnan: Sea and Fog

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Oakville Galleries’ current exhibition takes its title, Sea and Fog, from a 2012 publication by Etel Adnan. As with many of Adnan’s written works, weather phenomena and motifs from the natural world—the sea, the sun, fog, fires, deserts and storms—form a continuous backdrop to a series of prose-poetry meditations on time, place, poetry, war, love and loss.

She writes, for example: The sky fell and storms blew on its face. It sank deeper; in that maelstrom humans lost balance. There were fires on earth and questioning in the waters.

Despite the dark charge of such passages, however, the sea, as ever, is a restorative force: We fear violence, but more feared is its absence. So heavy is the world becoming. Heavy in the soul. A few laps in the ocean will bring rest.

And later in the book she urges her readers to: Look well at the Pacific before you die. The best of the promised paradises have neither its hues nor its splendor.

With this book, Adnan continues to eloquently give voice to the trauma of an increasingly unsettled world, and to remind us that art, poetry, and the natural world may offer much-needed moments of liberation, resistance and respite.

Etel-Adnan-4Images (top to bottom): Selected poetry and prose by Etel Adnan; Installation view of Etel Adnan: Sea and Fog at Oakville Galleries in Gairloch Gardens. Left: Montagnes 4, 2015, india ink on paper. Centre: Forêt automnale, 2015, wool tapestry. Courtesy of Galerie Lelong. Photos: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Levine’s Restaurant: You Get More With Les!

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On St. Patrick’s Day in 1969, Les Levine opened New York’s first Irish-Jewish-Canadian Restaurant in Manhattan’s Gramercy Park. Levine’s Restaurant drew on the artist’s simultaneous interests in mediated environments—utilizing feedback mechanisms such as closed-circuit televisions—and social frameworks, such as those dictated by dining out. New York magazine would announce the opening in its weekly restaurant column: “Artist Les Levine has […] opened a restaurant. Well, not quite a restaurant, but an ‘autobiographical culinary environment.’ … The food, like Levine, is Irish-Jewish-Canadian; the menu includes Mama Levine’s Special Entrees and Her Son’s Favorites, all served with rye bread, salad and potato latkas [sic]. All this begins at lunch and continues to 3am and there is a special discount of 20% if you are a Levine namesake. Levine has provided the electrically inspired stroke of placing five television cameras and eight monitors right in the center of all the Irish green and Israeli pale blue of the décor. This ploy makes everyone aware of everyone else, which is why a lot of people go to restaurants in the first place.”

Join us tonight at 7:00 pm for a free guided tour of Les Levine: Transmedia at Oakville Galleries at Centennial Square.

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Images: Levine’s Restaurant, 1969. Collection of the Museum of Mott Art, Inc. © Les Levine

The visual poetry of Jim Andrews

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bpNichol’s animated computer poem 
First Screening is one of the centre-points of our current exhibition, Down To Write You This Poem Sat. Originally developed for the Apple IIe computer and made available on floppy disc, the poems were nearly rendered inaccessible when that technology became obsolete. It’s thanks to Jim Andrews and the visual poets at vispo.com that we’re able to experience them today. Andrews and his team have carefully restored and preserved the work, migrating it to a series of contemporary formats.

From Victoria, BC, Andrews has been publishing vispo.com since 1996. Before that he produced a literary radio show called Fine Lines and later ?FRAME?. Of bpNichol, Andrews says: “I met bpNichol when I was producing the radio show. His parents lived in Victoria; he’d visit occasionally. He kindly appeared on the show a couple of times. I gave him a ride to the station once in my little yellow Honda. He told me about having recently ‘discovered writing for television.’ He wrote for Fraggle Rock, a much beloved Muppets spin-off.”

Of his own work, he says: “I thought of myself as a poet but was not interested in the usual modus operandi of publishing poemy poems in the little magazines. Radio was an interesting exploration of the literary for me, and then when the web came along, I fell hard for its multi-medial and potentially intermedial possibilities, and also its ability to reach an international audience in ways that I couldn’t otherwise.”

To experience some of our favourite visual poems by Jim Andrews, click on the following links and (as Andrews advises): “Turn out the lights! Turn up the sound! Throw away your preconceptions about poetry!”

Man of Letters (1996)
The Pop Up Poems (1996-98)
Seattle Drift (1997)
Enigma (1998)
Stir Fry Texts (ongoing)
Nio (2001)
A Pen (2007)
Langrid (2014)

Image: Installation view (detail) of bpNichol, First Screening, 1983-1984. Courtesy of the estate of bpNichol. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.