My Kid Could Do That

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“My kid could do that.” It’s a comment we hear from time to time at the Galleries, especially when we’re showing artwork that might, at first glance, seem deceptively simple to produce. More often than not, these remarks lead us to the best kinds of conversations with our visitors, about how and why contemporary artists do what they do, about what we want from art and about why we value some kinds of aesthetics over others.

But what’s so bad about kid’s art anyway? Anyone who’s stepped foot in a primary school classroom knows there’s some pretty genius stuff going on in there. A couple of years ago, an unnamed first grader from New York City got more than a bit of attention in literary circles for a poem they wrote during National Poetry Month:

We did the soft wind.
We danst slowly. We swrld
Aroned. We danst soft.
We lisin to the mozik.
We danst to the mozik.
We made personal space.

It was Sojourner Truth Parsons, one of the artists currently on view at the Galleries, that sent this poem our way, proof positive that kids have moments of brilliance that rival their adult peers.

Parsons’ own works are often lauded for their wonderfully ingenuous point of view. With their poppy colours, sparkling glitter and deliciously loose brushwork, these pieces are a delight for the eyes, and make for especially great viewing for our youngest audience members. That was confirmed this morning when we opened our doors before regular hours so that families and babies could enjoy an exhibition tour, story and song time, and a craft inspired by Parsons’ work. Hosted in partnership with the Oakville Public Library, the program saw moms, grandmas, aunties, and babies come with open eyes and open minds to turn out some lovely little artworks.

Collection Spotlight: Valérie Blass

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With Cosima von Bonin’s sea creatures all around us this past month, we’re seeing underwater life everywhere we look these days. Gairloch Gardens has flooded repeatedly over the past week, as the stormy waters of Lake Ontario breach the lake wall and spill into the park. As bulldozers tried to get the lake water back where it belongs, we half-expected to see something akin to Valérie Blass’ Presque Plus emerge. This sculpture, held in the Galleries’ collection, sees Blass erect a beguiling pair of swamp-like creatures from just a ghillie suit (a camouflaging costume used by hunters and military snipers) and a found metal armature. Much like von Bonin’s works, this clever combination of objects carries a dark humour, an erotic undertone and an uncanny familiarity.

What we’re reading

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This month the curatorial office at Oakville Galleries is reading Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds: The Octopus and the Evolution of Intelligent Life. For a long time, humans have thought themselves to be exceptionally clever, more so than other species. Philosopher Godfrey-Smith suggests that this is not so. We are not superior to the other animals with which we share a planet; we are just differently intelligent. One certainly gets that sense with the creatures that populate Cosima von Bonin’s current exhibition in Gairloch Gardens. They are mysterious and yet also a bit human-like, misbehaving—a shark at a school desk is not acting as most sharks do!—and crafty, not only because they are (for the most part) hand-stitched, but also because they are surely “up to something.”

5_TH_0488Staying on theme, next on our reading list is Fifteen Dogs, a novel by André Alexis about a pack of dogs that the gods Apollo and Hermes have imbued with human consciousness and language. A perfect accompaniment to Sojourner Truth Parsons’ exhibition down the road at Centennial Square.

Image: Installation view of Cosima von Bonin, HAI AM TISCH 1, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Neu, Berlin. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

From the archives: Deirdre Logue

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On the occasion of Images Festival’s Canadian Artist Spotlight on Deirdre Logue, we’re throwing back to Deirdre’s 2008 show Beyond Her Usual Limits here in Gairloch Gardens. As part of the Spotlight festivities, we’re gearing up to release a new monograph on Deirdre’s work, co-published with Open Space Victoria, A Space Gallery, Gallery 44 and Images Festival. Join us at The Commons at 401 Richmond on Saturday, April 22nd from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm to celebrate the launch of Beyond Her Usual Limits: The Film and Video Works of Deirdre Logue, 1997 to 2017. Photo: Cheryl O’Brien.

Collection Spotlight: General Idea

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On the heels of opening Sojourner Truth Parsons’ exhibition Holding Your Dog At Night, where allegorical depictions of dogs abound, we’ve been thinking about General Idea’s poodles non-stop this week. The still above is from Shut the Fuck Up (1985), held in Oakville Galleries’ collection; it’s just one of countless instances where the regal dog appears in General Idea’s work. The collective’s use of the poodle has been widely understood as a symbolic self-representation by the artists, in part a nod to the members’ queer sexuality, but also to the cultural status of the artist, the fanciful pooch and artist alike known for their “effete banal image” and “desire to be preened and groomed for public appearances” (as relayed by the narrator in General Idea’s Cornucopia, 1982).

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.