Stéphane Calce Jude Griebel Jacquelyn Hébert Nathaniel Hurtubise Emily Jan Blair Phillips Tammy Salzl
OK OK OK: An MFA Exhibition “Come together, right now…”
- The Beatles
OK OK OK is an exhibition of friends’ work. It started with a conversation between Jude Griebel and Emily Jan in January 2014. In Griebel’s recollection, there was a lament about having missed so many friends’ openings in a busy year. They made a pact to not miss each other’s thesis exhibitions in the spring. Then, not wanting to leave this to the fates, they decided to bring some pals together, whose work they also did not want to miss, for a group show.1 OK OK OK is about the work of these very talented and very busy artists. But it is about our busy twenty-first century as well – about its profusion of technologies, histories, identities and differences. The artists here face this profusion gracefully. They show us how our history moves: in and beyond digital technologies (Calce and Hurtubise); mimetically, on rivers (Phillips); through colonial, post-colonial and settler culture (Hébert and Jan); anxiously on the land (Griebel); and lovingly between bodies (Salzl). Their works converge here, and respond to convergence as well – the convergence of media, of nature and culture, of remote histories and our own, and of bodies and their place in the world. 1
Jude Griebel and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (April, 2014).
1. Melancholy and Mimicry in the Age of Digital Convergence: Stéphane Calce and Nathaniel Hurtubise Odd bedfellows: a filmmaker and an abstract painter. Beyond their friendship, Stéphane Calce and Nathaniel Hurtubise have much in common. Their works respond to the pressure of digital convergence or convergence culture in general.2 In his films Calce uses traditional materials, (stone, clay, fabric, paint) and proto or pre-filmic image-making devices, (camera obscura, photography, mirrors) in the face of a paradigm shift toward digital formats within his discipline. For Hurtubise the digital ultimately converges with paint upon the canvas. If Calce’s response is retrospective and linear, gathering pictures of a pre-digital age and then transferring them to a digital format, Hurtubise’s work describes a more cyclical history wherein the digital finds its place amongst quasi-organic processes of accumulation, change, disappearance and reappearance. i. Stéphane Calce: Distinction sans différence (2014) Calce’s MFA work is a looped 30 minute, 35 mm “structure piece” transferred to digital HD film and presented on a plasma screen.3 The sound element in the work is creepy and enveloping. It is partly taken from an early twentieth-century cylinder recording by Thomas Edison of a love song, and partly composed by Calce using three notes on a piano prepared with needles, bills, paperclips and chains (à la John Cage). The ghost story begins with an image of a beige suit – the echo and refinement of Calce’s earlier experiments with sfumato in film. It is one of Calce’s suits, filled out by a mannequin. Its details pass in and out of focus, drawing the red color of a handkerchief into a 2
On the prehistory of digital convergence see Friedrich A. Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).
For more recent media studies of “convergence culture” see Henry Jenkins Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide (New York: New York University Press, 2006). 3
Stéphane Calce and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (March, 2014).
blush one moment, then vertically across the frame in a streak in the next. This rhythmic treatment of the image runs through the film and animates all its objects. Calce’s preparation of this image is carried out with a proto-filmic device. The originally inverted image is first generated by a camera obscura set up in studio, then filmed in 35 mm and corrected in Final Cut. The same order of operations – from preparation of an image to its recording – is at work in the film’s second part. Here Calce’s film is at its most structural. He conjures an image out of a kind of zero-degree or point of minimum meaning. The film’s second part begins as a white block of light with barely perceptible modulations in tone and texture. The white light flickers over a period of several minutes. Calce reveals an obsession with duration here, in the vein of Michael Snow. But he aims at something more humanizing than Snow’s prosthetic images. After several minutes without major incident a faint face appears at first as a distribution of shadows that gradually begin to resolve into eyes, nose and mouth. Like the suit, it is another of the filmmaker’s doppelgängers – this time a death mask executed in clay. In the film’s third section Calce presents a sequence of shots of textures – of cloth, wood and sponge. The textures, which look like lush abstract paintings, are rendered as images to be filmed in two stages. They are first photographed and then reflected in a curved mirror. A fascination here with mediated images, changed with every run through a new device, is apparent. The last part of the film, its “coda” for Calce, is given in paint. The painting, which Calce executed himself in oils gathers all the objects featured over the course of the film. The suited mannequin, the death mask, and the curved mirror used for the third section of the film are situated firmly on, or seemingly teetering at the back edge of a kitchen table. The objects are painted with a range of techniques, each of which Calce at one time or another has simulated in film: sfumato for the suit, chiaroscuro for the death-mask and a
sharp photorealism for the mirror and, appropriately enough, for the photographs strewn across the table at its base. The passage from medium to medium throughout the film is given a poetic summation in Calce’s treatment of the photographs especially. The photographs on the table seem drawn up and into the curved mirror by some mysterious power of affinity. The thin line of the mirror’s metal frame is a flimsy barrier between the painted/filmed ‘real’ photographs and the painted/filmed reflection of them. The image seems to refuse such a distinction. Calce’s play with objects and images in Distinction sans différence is not idle, but rather seems to describe a changing history of film. That his entire process of gathering predigital images and image-making techniques is finally rendered in HD digital format for a plasma screen is, I think, a matter of historical importance. This moment of transfer explains the melancholic tone of the film and its almost academic survey of media and art history. Calce positions himself at this threshold, laying his hands and his camera on images before he projects, or technically “compresses” them into the digital future. ii. Nathaniel Hurtubise: Mimesis and “Alienated Reflections of the Studio” Hurtubise’s work responds to this epochal shift as well. His engagement with art history might be said to begin precisely where Calce’s ends – with the Surrealists. However Hurtubise does not indulge these references. He notes, crucially and with a clear view of the times in which he paints, that Surrealist strategies exert a fascination for abstract painters in the twenty-first century, but were conceived in their “times of crisis” as tools of subversion.4 To be sure, our times are characterized as well by crisis but of a different kind. Hurtubise suggests that it is perhaps the late-capitalist experience of alienation that accounts for the continued relevance of Surrealist themes and devices. Fitting then that he describes his new paintings as “alienated reflections of the studio environment.” 4
Nathaniel Hurtubise and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (March, 2014).
Hurtubise is fascinated by the work of the French scientist Roger Caillois (1913-1978) on the phenomenon of insect mimicry.5 For Hurtubise, the model of mimicry in the natural world describes a way of working within and then beyond the studio – a way of following the displacement of a painting from its organic beginnings in the studio environment to its finished, exhibited and alienated condition. Hurtubise begins by sighting basic shapes for his compositions in studio detritus. He then photographs and digitally manipulates the shapes before transferring and partially camouflaging them in his paintings. His works begin as perspectives on tape used for older paintings. In this respect they do not begin or end at all but follow a cyclical pattern of generation, decomposition and then regeneration. When I visited the studio, two tape piles were affixed to the walls of his studio for surveying. In this state, awaiting his selection of a motif from within their tangles, they were lovely – somewhere between Tatlin’s corner constructions and the apocryphal statue inside every stone for Michelangelo. Hurtubise’s reintegration of used, incidentally painted tape in his process both refers to the hard-edge abstract painter’s practice of masking and revamps this tradition. For Hurtubise this way of beginning introduces an element of chance into his process and offers a set of quasi-organic, found shapes with which to work. But he achieves a more radical departure from the tradition of abstract painting through his use of digital tools. What, after all, could be more antithetical to the practice of wielding a paintbrush and making marks on canvas than digital photography and Photoshop? Hurtubise’s work within and then far beyond “digital parameters” yields wonderful results, but it also serves a critical purpose. Working in the very long wake of the abstract expressionists, post-painterly and hard-edge abstract painters, Hurtubise is keenly aware of formalist myths of purity – of painting that stands somehow outside of time and history. The challenge for Hurtubise was to continue to produce abstract work, and explore 5
See Roger Caillois, “Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia” (1936) Trans. John Shepley in October Vol. 31 (1984) p. 12-32.
formal possibilities in an age driven by digital content. The solution he favors is a “referential” mode of abstract painting that assimilates the contents of digital culture. The work is rich with references, not only to digital culture, but also to the materials and techniques of abstract painting – indeed it incorporates this history as content in an arrangement of geometric and organic forms. As a reply to the pressure of digital/convergence culture, Hurtubise’s gesture is bold. Digital tools are no longer the primary agents of convergence. In Hurtubise’s work, they too succumb to the mimetic “lure of spaces.”
2. The Convergence of Nature and Culture: Mimesis and Identity in Blair Phillips’s Work Anthropologist Michael Taussig introduces his book Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (1993) with an excerpt from Franz Kafka’s “A Report to an Academy.” In it Kafka notes a “tickling at the heels” that he shares with his distinguished audience – one that reminds us humans of our closeness to the ways of apes. The relationship between humans and these furry creatures is most clear in our great capacity for ‘aping’ or mimicry. This is the mystery at the heart of Taussig’s study, and one that for him has great historical significance. Taussig in his wonder-struck way goes on to say that the closer we look at mimesis as both a natural phenomenon (recall Caillois’s and Hurtubise’s insects) and as a tool of culture (recall Calce’s inventory of mimetic devices), the harder it is to determine where exactly the break between nature and culture, or “the mimesis of history” and the “history of mimesis” lies.
i. Blair Phillips: The line between nature and culture lies for a moment upon the AuSable River Hurtubise takes his cues from the mysteries of insect mimicry, and the lure of space. Phillips takes his from the mimesis of insects as lures, in the water. His photographic art flows from the older, heartier and equally mimetic art of fly-fishing. Mimesis in fly fishing occurs in the fisherman’s technique of imitating a dead fly’s fall from the sky onto the river, (dry fly fishing) and a newly hatched nymph’s rise through the water to the surface to dry its wings, momentarily, before taking flight, (wet fly fishing). An entire life cycle is represented in a set of techniques transmitted through the ages from fisherman to fisherman. Phillips is a chronicler of this natural and cultural history and a participant in it. In his work Phillips unfolds the mysteries of fly fishing, or as he puts it the elusive “truth of the fish” – their natural pattern of return to the waters in which they were hatched, and the social, recreational and industrial matrix that adheres to such a pattern. The work describes precisely the difficulty of deciding where (or whether) to draw the line between nature and culture. At the center of Phillips’s work there is the strangeness of the tied fly, of its mimetic effectiveness as a lure, and of its artful construction. Phillips’s art begins on a “desk full of animals used to represent insects… with feathers (for example), carefully selected for their ‘bugginess’.”6 The various names of the tied fly-types suggest the glorious weirdness of this subculture: “the bomber,” “the usual,” “the haystack” and “the wooly bugger.” This last is meant to imitate a leech but has evolved over the years in the direction of a more “generic living thing.” As if to anchor this dizzying changing of skins - what Taussig would call “mimetic vertigo” - Phillips offers Untitled (nymphs in jars) (2014). It is an homage to his choice mayflies, 6
Blair Phillips and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (April, 2014).
and a delicate reflection on the theme of capture in photography and fishing equally. The tied fly-type that is featured in Phillips’s work is the AuSable Wulff. It is a mayfly simulation, used to fish on the AuSable River in upstate New York. Tied with an orange body, it matches the mayfly’s orange color which in turn matches the orange sediment from the river. The fly and its simulation describe a unique economy of appearances, (we are returned to Caillois’s world here), that Phillips deftly captures with his camera in Unhooked (2014). These moments of photographic capture are the final statements in an apprentice’s story that reaches back centuries. It begins with a canonical work by Isaac Walton (1594-1683) in the obscure hybrid literary genre Phillips calls “instructional fly-fishing memoir.” The book is titled The Compleat Angler (1653). Phillips includes an early edition of it among his photographs, opened to a page on tying a fly. Walton’s instructions are given in the form of a play involving a master fly-fisherman and an apprentice – a relationship reflected in Phillips’s own with Walton. The apprenticeship with Walton describes Phillips’s interest in the development of a “romantic” seventeenth-century relationship between man and nature into a more “pragmatic” twenty-first century subculture. All these years after Walton’s play, we can expect that the teacher-student relationship has changed. It has. Walton’s equivalent in Phillips’s day is Fran Betters, a legendary fly-fisherman and fly-maker from the town of Wilmington in upstate New York. Updating Walton’s literary model of the instructional play in The Compleat Angler, Betters’s instructions for apprentices are available in an impressive YouTube clip included in the exhibition. The results of Phillips’s distance-training under Betters are documented in two elements within the exhibition: in a video in which the artist ties an AuSable Wulff, and in a striking photograph of a carefully constructed pile of Phillips’s best flies.
ii. A Social History of Romantics, Pragmatics and “Wooly” Bass Fishermen In good humor Phillips offered a sort of typology of fly-fishermen, moving through the categories from most-to-least skilled. Steelhead fly-fishing, Phillips’s favored mode, is most demanding technically, and tends to attract a more “robust and pragmatic type of fisherman.” The steelhead, he notes with mock-seriousness, is elusive - it is “the fish of a thousand casts.” Salmon fishermen are the “romantics” of the subculture. Phillips’s respectfully offers: “they are in touch with the history of fly-fishing, and often appear, (his smile grows at this point), on the rivers in period costumes.” The salmon fisherman’s art of tying is an object of some chuckling curiosity for Phillips. He notes that the flies they tie, while strikingly beautiful, bear no resemblance to anything that exists in nature. But the artist’s biggest smile is reserved for the comparatively low-skilled bass fishing type. Phillips summons his best ethnographic voice to keep his laughter in check. The bass fisherman, he explains, is often seen dividing his attention between refreshments on the boat and the fish surrounding it. The ethnographic voice now giving way to a rounded laugh, Phillips adds: “bass will bite at anything!”
3. The Convergence of Histories in the Work of Emily Jan and Jacquelyn Hébert In their MFA projects, Emily Jan and Jacquelyn Hébert take 17th and 19th century works as entry points into their twenty-first century situation. While they liberally interpret the histories (and the artwork) of the Dutch colonial moment and the French-Canadian heritage, Jan and Hébert are sensitive to the powers of repetition in history – to the threat of history as perfect mimesis. They face these histories with humor and insight and join them carefully with their own.
i. Emily Jan: “All the Things” - the Dutch 17th century and our late-capitalist “Embarrassment of Riches”7 The histories that converge in Jan’s ambitious After the Hunt (2014) are that of the Dutch 17th century and our own late-capitalist one. The installation is a cheeky updating of a painting by Franz Snijders titled Game Still Life with a Red Deer (c. 1630). Where Snijders painting describes a colonial “embarrassment of riches” in the genre of a post-hunt tableaux, Jan’s work gathers an assortment of plastic objects – flowers, fruits, silverware, found at various Montreal marches aux puces and a fripperie called “Renaissance” near her studio. This “glut of groaning goods and commodities” is arranged carefully around a central element: a gutted, life-sized roe deer made over a period of four months out of dyed merino wool.8 But this is not an homage, to Snijders’s work nor to the Dutch 17th century. Jan’s attitude toward this canonized art history is one of informed suspicion – of its teleological presentation, its Eurocentric bias and its criteria of selection. Snijders’s painting is interpreted symptomatically by Jan, as an intended picture of Enlightenment promise that actively conceals a colonial violence: the extraction of objects from far-flung contexts for the satisfaction of Dutch appetites. Her mimesis of the painting is aimed at a commentary, and a rather bleak one on the relationship between this celebrated moment in the Northern Enlightenment and our age of excess or “runaway production and consumption.” The work is very much of our time. Upon close examination the deer’s fibers look more like frozen electric currents than brush strokes, and the plastic objects surrounding the animal are, significantly, made in Taiwan. Not an homage but an historical investigation of the roots of our twenty-first century world-system of uneven exchange, lightening fast circulation, and redundancy, waste, obsolescence. 7
“All the things” is my favorite of Jan’s often-used expressions (it has a wide range of applications). And the second is taken from Simon
Schama’s The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987) 8
Emily Jan and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (March, 2014).
The lonely quiddity of Jan’s objects, without stories and crowded on a table, is compelling. Forgettable things are given an inexplicable place at her Dutch table. Their alienation is sustained in the work. A proper reflection of Jan’s view of history requires this it seems. But reparations through story telling are attempted. In Jan’s beautifully written key to the installation titled Still Life, she offers these objects a narrative home. Through personal stories and drawings for ten of the “exempla” in the installation Jan furnishes the lonely clutter with a backstory. In the book’s last story Jan describes her way of working with history in mind and in spite of its often discouraging messages: “The world teeters on some sort of brink. It seems utterly ridiculous to make effigies of animals or objects dead four hundred years. What magic would I hope to work with them? Still I show up; they are also the things I tend. Slowly they grow.”9 ii. Jacquelyn Hébert: The ‘Riel’ World Hébert’s MFA work plays irreverently at a game of citation and substitution - of old French-Canadian and Canadian icons for new and more complex ones. In the process a spirit of invention and humor helps her through the difficulties of linguistic/cultural identity formation. Hébert deals with tough subjects, but obliquely and with refreshing and productive levity. The fraught politics of indigenous and French-Canadian claims and counterclaims to the land, and to iconic bits of Canadian material culture (canoes, paddles, quilts) are carefully considered in Hébert’s process. Binary discourses on cultural appropriation seem to me to miss the point of her work. Hébert’s attitude of play and sense of irony suggest the vulnerability and porousness of all cultural traditions. It is not appropriation and its warring contestants, but hybridity and its suggestion of growth, reciprocity and dynamism that is the more helpful rubric here.
Emily Jan, Still Life (Montreal, 2014), p. 61.
While conducting research at Concordia’s Gail and Stephen A. Jarislowski Institute for Studies in Canadian Art, Hébert came across a lithograph by the Dutch-Canadian artist Cornelius Krieghoff. The work, titled French Canadian Habitants Playing at Cards (1848) is quaint at first glance. After some sleuthing Hébert uncovered a mystery. No positive identification of the sitters in the work had been made but there was some speculation that the family was that of Krieghoff ’s French-Canadian partner. With this in mind, and upon close examination an atmosphere of seduction and conspiracy appears in certain details of the work. Krieghoff ’s work seems to ask more questions about French-Canadian identity than it answers. In French Canadian Habitants Playing at Cards (After Cornelius Krieghoff, 1848) (2014), Hébert reimagines the serious business of Franco-Manitoban heritage preservation as a buzzing afternoon among friends. In this short looped video Hébert explodes the mystique of the Krieghoff lithograph into a kind of cheery bunker scene where Franco-Manitoban cultural workers and artists gather to, well, hang out a bit. The work retains the conspiratorial tone of Krieghoff ’s, but sends it up as well. Louis Riel, the Métis champion of the Franco-Manitoban heritage watches over the would-be revolutionaries from a black and white banner at the back of the room. It is a portrait that honors Riel’s good works for Franco-Manitobans. But it’s also a little sexy and dangerous-looking – more like the iconic Che Guevara portrait than a dusty bit of Canadiana. Bunting flags hang near the Riel portrait setting off its gravitas with something a little more festive. The Krieghoff lithograph hangs beside it to the right and on the wall to the left, a copy of Joyce Wieland’s textile La Raison avant la passion (1968) suggests the ghostly presence of another French-Canadian icon – Pierre Trudeau. The real people in the video are family and friends. Hébert’s best friend, her mother and aunt sit at the table. Behind the table a friend fiddles with her iPhone near the director and artistic director of Winnipeg’s La Maison des artistes. For all its wit and crafted silliness, Hébert’s video is a touching homage to her community.
4. The Convergence of Bodies and the Land: Jude Griebel and Tammy Salzl In his essay titled “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936), Walter Benjamin remarks on the “withering” of the artwork’s (and nature’s) “aura” after the advent of photography and film. What sustained the aura before Benjamin’s time was a spatial and ritual distance between a viewer and the object he/she beholds. “Every day,” for Benjamin, and, so it seems for us as well, “the urge grows stronger to get hold of an object at very close range by way of its likeness, its reproduction.”10 Jude Griebel and Tammy Salzl play at this game of distance and closeness but entirely free of traces of mechanical means of reproduction. Nevertheless, a powerful urge to bring things closer – namely bodies and landscapes, is expressed in their work. Whether this convergence is an expression of the culture of reproduction, or a defiant response to it is unclear. In their art, one and the same figure will oscillate between the lovable and the alienated, or between the homely and the un-homely. Griebel and Salzl do not offer distance and closeness as clear alternatives. Rather they suggest in their work that we are both at home (in nature, with our families and desires), and profoundly alone, strangers to ourselves and the world, and generally unfamiliar – at one and the same time. While it is tough to bring these elements of our experience into harmony, it behooves us to do so – for the sake of our friends and families, and for the sake of our environment. i. Jude Griebel: “Manscaping” in Grey’s Anatomy and on the Prairies Griebel began to draw on the prairies, with the help of Grey’s Anatomy - his father’s canonical guide to human anatomy. At the age of 5 or 6 he traced the outlines of bodies from its pages and filled them in imaginatively with “landscapes, various objects and
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Art in Theory (1900-1990): An Anthology of Changing
Ideas, Eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Cambridge: Blackwell Publishing, 1992), p. 512-520.
memories.”11 His way of relating the inhospitable prairie landscape to humans was to graphically internalize it – to give it a home inside the body and within the imagination. As Griebel developed his drawing in his teen years he became interested in the themes of growth and change, and their darker companions as well - decay and death. After encounters with 1980s psychedelic horror films, Garbage Pail Kids and ghoulish skateboard graphics, the diagrams of Grey’s Anatomy were left far behind, or rather the illness they were meant to assist in treating became a kind of muse. Griebel’s work from this time forward takes on a powerful psychological resonance. Griebel’s creatures are physically impressive. And so they should be considering their burden of collectively carrying the weight of a good part of the natural and built world: its organic waste in Composting (2014), its concrete roads in Accident Mouth (2013), its farmer’s fields, barns and animals in Feeder (2014), its swamp waters in Mire (2014), and its bricks and mortar in Disassembler (2014). Griebel’s early tactic of drawing landscapes directly into bodies-in-outline finds a new context here using unruly materials, more color and three very earthly dimensions. The work comically stages a collision of the land we use and the bodies we inhabit. This is the destructive fiction – that there are bodies in which we live and environments from which we extract the things we need, that Griebel’s work exposes so well. In many of these works, the balance is rather tipped in favor of a vengeful environment colonizing rather than serving human bodies. Composting began for Griebel with question about the vanitas paintings of Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593): “how would his eternally ripe figures rot?” Griebel’s re-imagination of Arcimboldo’s work plunges it into our contradictory moment of eco-philosophy and rampant consumerism. The result is a compost heap in the shape of a lounging human figure with wool socks and an iPhone. Arcimboldo’s vanitas here is taken up into our culture of leisure, self-involvement and plain vanity. Accident Mouth as well began for Griebel with a question. Thinking back on Grey’s Anatomy, Griebel asks: “what would a 11
Jude Griebel and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (April, 2014).
medical model about saying the wrong thing all the time look like?” After, the belly laughs these works are sure to trigger, we are left with an indelible picture of the fallibility of humans – our vanity, our sloth and our bad judgment. Feeder (2014), Mire (2014) and Disassembler (2014) are slightly kinder works. The traits Griebel describes here are not necessarily bad ones. In Feeder a barn-headed goliath steals a farmer’s field to use as a body and proceeds to shovel animals into its mouth. This is a comment on the scourge of agri-business in the prairies, but Griebel notes the work is driven by something “more personal” too. More personal and more universal I think. The work describes a fine line between well-honed survival instincts and greed. Agri-business is a consequence of the latter, but Griebel seems to suggest it grows out of a more benign and traditional relationship between humans and the land. In Mire and Disassembler too, Griebel imagines some finer aspects of human nature – sensitivity and curiosity or ingenuity, running amok. The beings here succumb to their forgivable habits of “feeling flooded or overwhelmed” and “taking things apart and rebuilding them” nearly disappearing themselves in the process. Griebel’s works are pitch-perfect in their treatment of the uncertain relationship between our species and the natural environment. That is, his wildly imaginative sculptures are also troublingly realistic. He describes a fantasy of isolation by putting our solitary habits into the world where they have real and often ignored consequences. ii. Tammy Salzl’s Watercolors: Gendered Landscapes Salzl aims in her latest work to find a way for lone figures painted in watercolors to carry the narrative weight of her earlier “operatic battles” in oils. 12 She recognized that the stories of her sitters – artists, friends and family, were compelling enough to be captured without the aid of bold scenery and narrative devices. The challenge in her new water12
Tammy Salzl and Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal (April, 2014).
colors then, was to draw the narrative power of her earlier landscapes into the bodies of solitary figures - to achieve a harmony between land and body. In her choice of sitters and her way of working with them – with a light directorial touch – she captures psychological harmonies as well: of her son’s adolescent camaraderie, of her daughter’s transitional identity, and of her friendships with artists. Salzl’s work is heart-wrenching too. The difficulties she captures are basic: we are stuck in our bodies with carefully guarded ideas about who we are that often don’t match our appearance. Salzl has a much funnier way of putting it: “these zombified portraits” communicate that we humans are “psychologically sick on some level.” Salzl attributes this perspective at least in part to her experience of parenting, of feeling too much too often: “you pull out your heart, stick legs on it and send it into the world… you become sensitive to everything.” Salzl’s sense of humor and responsibility as a parent is clear in her work. In Juvenescence (2014), Salzl is careful to indicate all of the signs of manhood not yet realized: a peach-fuzz mustache, disproportionately long arms and large feet, a nervous picking at the fingertips and a generally wooden manner. Salzl tried heroically in the work to help her son and his best friend over this hump with instructions to imagine that they were relaxing at the beach! The beach shorts were supposed to help. But as Salzl notes, it didn’t quite work since thirteen-year old boys are “prisoners of their own bodies.” To set off the weight of this captivity narrative, Salzl lingers over signs of the boys’ friendship: their parts that touch and the respectfully maintained strip of space that runs down between them. Girl In Between (2014) is a centerpiece in the new series. For me it is a magical portrait, both because of the story of transition and bravery it tells and because of Salzl’s treatment of the image. It seems in motion, glowing, beatific. Salzl’s daughter Ronan is shown at age 15, two years after her transition was initiated with testosterone blockers. She is perfectly balanced, and meets the painter’s gaze squarely. Ronan shares with her brother and
his best friend a disproportionately large set of arms and feet. This is any young person’s lot. But of course she is not just any young person. The wisdom and self-possession registered in her face and posture are signs of her distinction. Ronan’s transition is indicated beautifully by her hair and makeup, by a faintly visible black bra, and by a very significant dress. It was purchased and worn to school unapologetically at age 14 - one year after her transition began and one year before this image was made. It is an index of the time of transition, and a powerful marker of Ronan’s conviction. Salzl’s first ever self-portrait titled Entartete Kunst (2014) appears in this series as well. She is shown with her hands held behind her back, and on her knees. She assumes the “penitent, earth-bound” position implied by reddened knees in her earlier oils, and in the portrait of Ronan. The picture is a study in the dynamics of a gendered gaze. Such a study is a matter of very serious personal and familial interest for Salzl. It fits beautifully here with work that ultimately asks: how do we look upon the bodies we desire, and how is that looking responsible for the inscription and capture of those bodies by gendered codes? Salzl’s sitters very often look back. According to the artist, this is when the portraits come to life and are finished. In her self-portrait Salzl looks away. We are trusted as viewers in this gesture. Generously, she leaves us to decide when and how the work has come to life – when and how it begins to look back at us.
Tammer El-Sheikh, Montreal, May 2014.
Drawing from a background in music and cinema, Stéphane Calce is a multidisciplinary artist who builds intricate immersive environments with sound and images. His current research interest is in merging film, painting and sound to create compositions and expand his studies in harmony to the visual realm. Stéphane currently resides in Montréal where he is completing a master’s degree in fine arts at Concordia University. His resume includes academic prizes such as the Mel Hoppenheim Award and the Alfred Pinsky Medal. He is also a recipient of the FQRSC master’s bursary. As a freelancer, he has recently composed sound designs for filmmakers Mike Rollo and Richard Kerr. Sound is a kind of musical analogy for human thought. But sometimes, the aural domain needs a little help from another, the visual, to describe the concrete world. I see my work as an attempt to bridge the gap between being and seeing while blurring the lines between objective and subjective views. Whether I marry sound to film, video, painting or photography, my projects often reflect my will to escape specialization anddo a bit of everything while I live. As such, they embody my taste for challenges and experimentation.
Griebel received a BFA from the Emily Carr University and has worked in residence internationally including the Frans Masereel Centrum, Belgium, Workshop OM, Japan, and the Elsewhere Museum, USA. His recent exhibitions include How You Were Made at Galerie Sturm, Nuremberg, BRERART Contemporary Art Week, Milan and Collision 10 at Parisian Laundry, Montreal. www.judegriebel.com
Jude Griebel’s work examines how our imagination negotiates abstract notions such as growth, transition and mortality through metaphorical and experiential avenues. His painted sculptural bodies become sites of fusion, in which physical anatomy is merged with allegorical counterparts. The expression of his concepts through papier-mâché acknowledges the subversive and adaptable nature of the medium and its history of use in Halloween costumes, amateur theatre, ritual craft traditions and design.
My recent artistic focus combines an interest in ethnography with a desire to examine the evolution of cultural symbols. I work mostly in video and photography but I also experiment with print and object-based works. My background in cultural anthropology greatly affects how I analyze the world and my recent focus on Canadian identity is rooted in the belief that the personal is political. As a Franco-Manitoban Canadian who also identifies as a member of the global community, I live a complex mix of hybrid identities that are difficult to resolve into one finite meaning. I am interested in what we share in common and what makes us different from each other. I want to examine how we identify with certain cultural symbols while at the same time comment on how the passing of time affects who we believe ourselves to be. Jacquelyn Hébert is a Winnipeg-bred, Montreal-based interdisciplinary artist who has exhibited her work across Canada and internationally. Hébert received a SSHRC Graduate Scholarship in 2010-211 for her research-creation project Francophone-hybride which examines bilingual identity in Canada. She recently exhibited at La Maison des artistes visuels francophones (MAVF), Winnipeg, les 7ième Jeux Internationale de la francophonie in Nice, France and at the Arts Court in Ottawa. She holds a Bachelor of Media Arts from Emily Carr University, Vancouver and is an MFA candidate at Concordia University. www.jacquelynhebert.wordpress.com www.francophonehybride.wordpress.com
Nathaniel Hurtubise is a Montreal based painter. He received his B.F.A. In painting from the Ontario College of Art and Design. Subsequent to this he has pursued graduate studies at Concordia University. His work involves a selfreflexive approach to painting which incorporates his studio and the material byproduct of his painting process. In 2013 he was nominated as a finalist in the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.
Emily Jan makes immersive sculptural installations inhabited by historical, mythological, and hybrid flora and fauna. The work presents an idiosyncratic vision of natural and human history, blending the artist’s eclectic knowledge of biology, anthropology, and archaic lore with the ephemera of daily life. By using everyday North American materials (wool, wicker, recycled cloth, found objects) worked in labor-intensive ways, Jan to re-imagines our universe ‘through a glass darkly’ – the ghost of history and the complexity of the present fabricated from the materiality of the mundane. Before moving to Montreal where she currently lives and works, Emily Jan worked for over a decade as an artist, designer, educator, and sometime journalist in the United States, South Africa, and Mexico. Having lived and worked in both the First and Third worlds, she is particularly fascinated by the colonizer’s dream of the colonized and by the echo of recurrence that ripples into the present. Recent exhibitions include Latitude 53 (Edmonton), FoFA Gallery (Montreal), the Museo Textil de Oaxaca (Oaxaca, Mexico), and Paxton Gate Gallery (San Francisco). She is also proud to be a M.A.I. (Montréal, Arts Interculturels) Mentorship Grant recipient and an exhibiting artist in their 20142015 season. www.emilyjan.com
My current work deals with the bond between the fly fisherman and the river. Through an examination of the literary history of the fly fisherman and the act of learning to fish, my hope is to find some hint of visually expressing why we fish, and how that process has defined an intimate connection with the river and its ecology. Born and based out of Montreal, Blair Phillips is photographer and filmmaker whose work reflects on the presence of the artist in the landscape. He has most recently shown his work at Les Territoires (Montreal) and spent a month long residency at the Vermont Studio Center. In 2008 he received a BFA with a Specialization in Film Production and is currently enrolled as an MFA candidate in the Photography faculty at Concordia University.
It is my relationship to nature that has guided my art practice. Through the mediums of photography and video I have attempted a visual expression of what I feel is an uncertain coexistence between the internal experience of a landscape, what came before, and the effects of our presence.
simplest of gestures
My paintings engage a humanist and somewhat existential tradition of realism. The subjects I paint are creatures of my vision, my way of seeing the world, and my attempt at self-discovery. This work is self referential in the intuitive choosing of my subjects. I am drawn to peopleâ€™s stories, to the things they make, to their singularities and particularities, their individuality and humanity and the way these things place them within and outside of the norm. I follow this intuition to transform my thoughts, feelings, anxieties and arousals into a painted form that vibrates with humble yet monumental presence.
Tammy Salzl is an Edmonton born, Montreal based painter who has exhibited in public and artist run centres across Canada. Recent exhibitions include two person shows at Latitude 53 in Edmonton and at the FOFA Gallery in Montreal, solo shows at the Union Gallery in Kingston, Ontario, AKA Gallery in Saskatoon, and a solo show with residency at SlaM Gallery in Berlin, Germany. Salzl is a Tedeschi Scholarship recipient and has received grants and residencies from QALC, KIAC Centre in Dawson City Yukon, the Banff Centre, and the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. She is represented by dc3 Art Projects. www.tammysalzl.com
Tammer El-Sheikh is a Visiting Scholar in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University. He recieved his PhD in Art History from McGill University for a dissertation titled Strategies of Refusal: Art and Cultural Politics in the Work of Edward Said and Hassan Khan. His writing has appeared in the periodicals ARTMargins, Parachute, Candian Art, ETC and C Magazine.
LIST OF WORKS
Distinction sans Différence 2014
Accident Mouth 2014
35mm film scanned in HD video, stereo sound, and custom-built directional speaker swivel mount.
Papier-mâché, epoxy resin, foam, hair, glass, wood, oil paint. 15” x 48” x 39”
30 minute loop. Feeder 2014 Epoxy resin, wood, papier-mâché, foam, leather, oil paint. 68” x 48” x 48”.
French Canadian Habitants Playing at Cards after Cornelius Krieghoff, 1848 2014
untitled 2014 Oil on board. 30” x 40”
HD video projection. Les histoires changent avec le temps/Stories Change With Time 2014 Installation, mixed-media installation, (Single channel HD projection, cast canoe paddles made with handmade paper, shipping crate). Variable dimensions.
untitled 2014 Oil on board. 36” x 58”
After the Hunt 2014
Mixed media: wool, reed, resin, silicone, leather, Bryophyllum daigremontianum, Chlorophytum sp., raw pine, found objects and textiles.
Inkjet print. 40” x 50”. Untitled 2014
20’ x 4’ x 8’. Inkjet print. 16” x 20”. Untitled 2014 Inkjet print. 16” x 20”
Fights Like a Girl 2013 Watercolour on paper. 41cm x 31cm. Girl In-Between 2014 Watercolour on paper. 61cm x 51cm. Uneasy Grace 2013 Watercolour on paper. 28cm x 18cm.
Our heartfelt thanks to our thesis advisors: Ingrid Bachmann, Trevor Gould, Richard Kerr, François Morelli, Luanne Martineau, and Chih-Chien Wang. Our deep and abiding thanks as well to Phil Hawes, Megan Turnbull, Clinton Burch, Chris Flower, Ted Tucker, Alexandre Larose, Michael Wees, Mike Rollo, Elliott Rajnovic, Genevieve Moisan, Liz Colford, Karin Zuppinger, and Maureen Kennedy.
Les Ateliers Jean Brillant Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema GSA, Concordia University Hexagram-Concordia CDA, Concordia University MFA Studio Arts Programme, Concordia University.
Designed by Emily Jan with Jacquelyn Hébert, May, 2014. OK OK OK exhibition views and the work of Jude Griebel, Tammy Salzl, Jacquelyn Hébert, and Emily Jan photographed by Eric Tschaeppeler. Other images courtesy of the artists.
WITH GRATITUDE TO THE FOLLOWING INSTITUTIONS: