Wednesday, July 8, 2020

My conversation with Montreal-based artist Kandis Friesen was far from routine. In the lead up to our chat, I planned to visit Friesen’s most recent exhibit, Tape 158: New Documents from the Archives at TRUCK Gallery, here in Calgary. But just before this the province went into lockdown and the gallery was closed to the public. Rather than an in-person experience of the show, I had to rely on documentation of the exhibition provided by Friesen: an archive of the archive. While looking and listening to the documentation on my computer, in the comfort of my living room, I was drawn to the intricacy and beauty of Friesen’s show: exploring the ghostly presence of history through video, sound, photography, and installation. As an artist from Canada with Russian Mennonite roots, Friesen’s work looks at the complicated role of the archive, and asks us to consider how identity, nationhood, and historical objects are formed through us, and with us.

Her multi-media work seems particularly suited...

Friday, June 19, 2020

This past February, I attended the Berlinale Film Festival for the first time. My partner, Omar Elhamy, had a short film in the competition, and we took the opportunity to make a holiday out of it. I was particularly curious about the Forum Expanded and went with ambitions to write about this unique program. However, for a variety of reasons, including the 300 + minute run-time of films in the exhibition portion, distance between venues, scheduling conflicts, and the looming shadow of other (overdue) writing deadlines, I decided it was good enough to just absorb what I could, and learn for next time, if there ever is a next time.

I was, however, taken with one of the Forum’s curators, Maha Maamoun, who I first encountered as the moderator for a screening that included a film by mutual friend, Ahmed Elghoneimy. The program went quite late, and was prolonged by a heckler in the audience who proceeded to offer his “critical” (and therefore important) contribution—a monolog about the deat...

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

If over 270 million people worldwide could watch something “together,” what should it be? In a period of enforced physical distancing, what claims to collectivity are being made on behalf of the livestream?

The Together at Home Instagram Live campaign is a particularly high-profile example of a new genre of online pandemic entertainment. The musical performance series was organized by Global Citizen, an international non-profit that describes itself as “a movement of engaged citizens who are using their collective voice to end extreme poverty by 2030,” and inaugurated with a performance by the organization’s festival curator and Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. Building on the extreme popularity of these Instagram Live performances, the organization quickly pivoted to planning a larger event in support of COVID-19 relief.

This subsequent relief event came to be titled One World: Together at Home. The spectacle consisted of a six-hour livestream “pre-show” on Saturday, April 18th, 2020, av...

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

At least for now, the Jersey City artist Brandon Ndife seems to suggest that we take a few steps forward with him towards the future. Or maybe more likely, shuffle across an alternate space/time that mirrors the one we currently occupy.  Keeping in touch with history, this hypothetical in-between terrain is murkier, more eerie. It is dystopian like the one we know, and perhaps it is nearing a threshold of something hopeful; but I won’t say it is optimistic. This is where his budding practice in sculpture thrives. It is a place to imagine, think, and speculate alongside felt realities. Even though what we encounter in Ndife’s work is grounded in sculptural thought, it is just as wrapped up in painting, makeup effects, and meticulous preparatory drawing. 

Over the last six years or so, Ndife has been burrowing progressively through object-making: wandering, feeling out, and retooling. In the show Just Passin’ Thru held at Interstate Projects the bricolage in his work looked...

Friday, May 15, 2020

Phat Le and Benjamin de Boer took different paths to arrive at their current collaborative practice — Le is a student of architecture and de Boer is a poet. Their projects are united by their use of concrete. They embrace the material’s malleability and ubiquity, positioning it as an entry point for civic engagement. In 2016, the pair facilitated a workshop in which participants learned how to cast concrete by pouring rockite into condoms to create moulds in the shape of butt plugs. This tongue-in-cheek approach to materiality and collective action continues in Meditation in Concrete II, Le and de Boer’s latest exhibition, which opened at Alexus Projects’ Grab-a-Slice Gallery this past January. 

The subject of investigation this time around is hostile architecture, a concept that describes design elements that intentionally impede the use of public amenities. The middle armrests installed on many public benches are an example of this insidious strategy. Their placement prevents people f...

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

For the last four decades, American artist Tishan Hsu has made a mark through his focused investigation into the embodiment of technology. His multimedia work exists in a terrain both familiar and unfamiliar, sublime yet accessible.  From the early stages of his career in the 1980s,  he’s been interested in technology’s impact on affect and its phenomenological implications. Making art was then an opportunity to respond to the accelerated changes of biological and digital infrastructure.

“I speculated that the world I would inhabit would be a technological one, for better or for worse.  As a result, I wanted to get closer to technology, as a way of understanding it as a potential inspiration for creative production”, Hsu describes.

It is this desire to trace the corporeal conditions of the then new normal that has sustained Hsu’s unique visual language. From his choice of materials like tile, alkyd, ceramic, video and sound, he continually demonstrates an awareness of the rhizomatic...

Friday, May 1, 2020

I made love to the Earth on ecstasy. I dug my nails into it and held it in my hands. I pressed my pelvis against it and inhaled deeply, like I would the neck of a lover.  I cried and pushed into the ground, trying to move inside it and feel it all around me. John Berger wrote, “When in love, the sight of the beloved has a completeness which no words and no embrace can match: a completeness which only the act of making love can temporarily accommodate.” 1

Soaking and pulsating 

You are Springtime  

The wind smells different, the earth is defrosting and remembering how to grow. 

I press one finger into the mud and its tight caress is cold still. I wiggle my finger around until I know the dirt is under my nail and closer to my blood.

My mother is my best friend. I thank the universe for her every day. She rocks me in her lap through heartbreak and tells me I am still her baby. While snot runs down my face and my eyes are swollen she calls me beautiful, and I believe her. She laughs out st...

Friday, April 24, 2020

The architectural residue of abandoned Pizza Huts, a tote bag full of receipts for Gatorade, Cheetos, NASCAR memorabilia, the giant rotating bucket outside of KFC— these are uncanny images which to some extent are synonymous with American iconography. Though the imagery of the American Dream has shifted into absurdity, there remains an underlying urge to participate in the fantasies of American commercial culture and to produce images of American identity. In the conversation that follows, artist/curator/arts facilitator Philip Leonard Ocampo discusses the paradoxical ways the ideals associated with the American Dream have impacted his family and artistic practice in a Canadian diasporic context. Born to Filipino parents, the Toronto-based Ocampo recently completed his studies at Ontario College of Art and Design and alongside his own studio work, he has since engaged in a number of curatorial projects including The Bald Eagle’s Claw, at Xpace Cultural Centre in the summer of 2019. At...

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

If there’s anything that captures the concept of “spectacle” famously theorized by Guy Debord in his 1967 text “The Society of the Spectacle,” it’s social media, followed closely by sporting events. “The decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing” constitutes the society of the spectacle, wrote Debord, who then aptly declared that commodity has colonized society. It’s a bit obvious for me to say that Instagram represents the manifestation of Debord’s words, but what isn’t obvious is the nuanced way that Marisa Kriangwiwat Holmes blends these concepts into her photographs, disorienting the viewer. 

Advertisements. Instagram grids. A race track. In our conversation, Kriangwiwat Holmes points out that in terms of visual literacy, as a culture we’re best at reading advertisements. She uses the language of advertisements—the colours, composition, and position on a sign—as a framework for her art practice. The result is a dystopian jest, images tha...

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Indigenous ways of being lie fundamentally in the strength of our people and the land that carries us. Beading falls within our embodied knowledge and celebrating these practices encourages our modes of sovereignty and resilience. Beading can and is often done alone, though the practice also brings our community together in powerful ways. Evenings spent with kin, or lunch time beading groups, like the one I hosted weekly at Concordia University, provide meaningful spaces for intergenerational learning and healing. The act of beading prevails as an Indigenous knowledge system–it integrates modes of map-making, displays our understanding of the land and our bloodlines–while including encoded stories, language and teachings. With hundreds of beaders connecting at a distance through social media, and other means over the last ten years, the need for larger scale beading events has given rise to two in so-called Canada within as many years. 

The most recent of these was The Beading Symp...

Friday, April 3, 2020

Julie Oh relies on instinct; an uncritical trust of feelings elicited on a first encounter. The Saskatoon-based artist collects found objects which are often commonplace and recognizable to many, and then initiates a period of sustained engagement with them. Very little of the object will be physically altered during this time. Instead, Oh looks to isolate an encounter, providing the audience with an obscure and novel perspective. In this new light, it is almost as if the familiarity of Oh’s selected objects is exactly what makes them seemingly so foreign — it is a practice that lowers the partition between these two outwardly opposed conditions of perception. Through this understated gesture, Oh contemplates more far-reaching questions regarding the relevance of context, value, perspective, and engagement. 

I first encountered Oh’s work through the documented performance accompaniment of the installation lines, a piece she produced in 2018 as part of the RBC Emerging Artist Series at t...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Document 3. Beside this file is an image I saw on Tumblr. It is an ad for a scent called E’au D’Héroïne, and on the bottom it reads: by Jork Weismann. There's a close-up shot of an opened mouth, a tilted back jaw, with oozy champagne-colored liquid spilling out generously. I was attracted to this image because of its wetness, vulnerability, and sexiness.

I became obsessed with the notion of oozing substances in my third year of art school. But the curiosity started at an earlier age. It began with the first nutrients I ever consumed—the milk from my mother’s nipples. That is, how it came to be and how her body could produce it for my consumption. Later in life, there was a different kind of ooz that caught my curiosity. It was the feeling of wetness I first encountered between my legs after a basement make-out sesh. I gradually came to associate moments of intimacy, moments of pleasure and vulnerability with these involuntary oozing liquids from our orifices.  We are made of water more...

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

In recent years, the United States has finally started to formally acknowledge its volatile relationship to the original peoples of the land, despite their long protestation and resistance to erasure. In the U.S. and Canadian art worlds, this recognition, though late, has come with a host of reparative institutional tactics, some of which include the performance of printed and spoken stolen-land acknowledgments or dedicated space in exhibition calendars for Indigenous artists. Though these efforts are certainly worthwhile and should continue, it is important to note that they are merely first steps on a path towards the rematriation of land and cultural autonomy for Indigenous folks in the U.S and Canada. Santiago X is an artist based in Chicago whose work contends with the growing pains of making space—physically and intellectually—for Indigenous peoples, their knowledge, and their artistic output.

Trained as an architect, Santiago X’s projects take on a set of spatial politics in thei...

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Leigh Bowery, Carmen Miranda, “Love Shack,” Showgirls, Björk’s swan dress at the Oscars, Macy Gray’s outfit emblazoned with the release date of her next album at the 2001 MTV VMAs, reality television, just about everything Lady Gaga has ever done—in a truly nebulous set of relations, references, and time periods, these things all have in common that they are beholden to the legacy of camp. Last year’s Met Gala put camp on our minds again, reviving Susan Sontag’s prominent essay, “Notes on Camp” (1964), and distributing it to celebrity stylists in what was itself a campy gesture of mingling pop culture and intellectualism. 

Camp has not really been at the forefront of discourses surrounding cultural production over the past decade; though, in actuality, it has operated heavily in the background. We have taken it for granted as a sensibility because its cultural dominance has obscured the esoteric and sophisticated nature of camp’s history. For many people, perhaps it was “RuPaul’s Drag R...

Thursday, March 5, 2020

According to the curatorial notes :

Sawsawan/dipping sauce from Filipino cultural writer Doreen G. Fernandez, who considers it as representative of the cultural ethos of sharing labor, authorship and power.  “Dirty Kitchen” is the name for the outdoor kitchen where the foundational , but sometimes messy task of cooking is done. It is an extension of the home where nourishment takes place and friends and family gather. The title is a metaphoric  underscoring of practices that resist colonialism and a stated expression of our foundational value, the domestic as a figurative and literal space.

The venues span across six sites: There were private homes hosting exhibits and screenings, there was one which is an occasional bar that used to be a private residence/project space for artists, another venue was at a university where most Filipino participants at Triennial studied, and the other venue was at a ferry station—a literal fluid conduit of mobility.  The residential sites beared the...

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