In the Main Gallery 12 Nov. until 17 Dec., 2011 Opening | Saturday 12 Nov. at 7pm for more information, contact: Michael Davidge/Christine Mockett modern fuel artist-run centre 21 Queen St. Kingston, ON K7K 1A1
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Ordinary Language Sarah Greig, Kyla Mallett, Roula Partheniou
In the Main Gallery, Modern Fuel presents Ordinary Language, an exhibition of works by the artists Sarah Greig (Montreal, QC), Kyla Mallett (Vancouver, BC), and Roula Partheniou (Toronto, ON), curated by Michael Davidge. The exhibition features work by three artists who each continue, in their own trajectory, an analytic aspect of contemporary art practice inherited from Conceptual Art. Sarah Greig’s multi-disciplinary art practice openly reflects upon its own processes of composition. Roula Partheniou’s recent work is marked by an exploration of how the re-making of a familiar object can trigger a shift in perspective and perception. Kyla Mallett’s recent work is based on research into second-hand self-help materials and explores ideas of belief, metaphorically alluding to the practice of reading and interpreting works of art. In Ordinary Language, books play a significant role as transmitters of critical traditions. sarah greig is a Montreal-based artist. Her work deploys strategies that are reminiscent of conceptual approaches from the early 1960s. By exploring time through linear and non-linear arrangements Greig seeks to create a place for the viewer to consider the experience of time in a variety of ways. Recent exhibitions include Group Show at Silver Flag Projects, Montreal; Art Now, Duration in Common, Contents, at the White Box, Portland, Oregon; and More Different Than Same at Optica, Montreal.)
kyla mallett consistently deals with the intersection of language and the social realm, utilizing pseudo-anthropological strategies of research, collecting and archiving. She has received critical attention for both national and international exhibits over the past decade, at such institutions as the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris, the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Alberta, ThreeWalls in Chicago, and the Mount St. Vincent University Gallery in Halifax. roula partheniou ’s work is marked by a concern for marriage of material and form and is drawn together by a strong sense of both logic and play. She has exhibited her work both nationally and internationally, with recent exhibitions including Permutations at Truck Gallery, Calgary; Out of Print at Mercer Union, Toronto; and Rubbish Rubbish at MSVU, Halifax. Current and forthcoming exhibitions include Things Exist, Birch Libralato, Toronto and Something Like, Plug In, Winnipeg. She is represented by MKG127, Toronto. coming up at modern fuel: In the galleries: Voir Dire by Tammy McGrath in the Main Gallery and Poofs Rock by Tim Murphy in the State of Flux (Opening January 14, 2012). In February: Vapours concert with Hector Centano (Toronto), Andrea Jane Cornell (Montreal), and Matt Rogalsky (Kingston) (Feb. 25th, 2012).
Zero to Infinity essay by michael davidge Ordinary Language features the work of the artists Sarah Greig, Kyla Mallett, and Roula Partheniou, who each in their own manner continue the tradition of Conceptual Art within contemporary Canadian art. If, as Joseph Kosuth wrote in the seminal 1969 essay “Art After Philosophy,” all art after Marcel Duchamp is conceptual, then the claim would be rather indiscriminate. But Kosuth wrote his essay in order to distinguish a pure form of conceptual art practice, including his own, from the rest of the field. Something is borne in the work of these three artists that marks an allegiance to the history of conceptualism, even if they are not as categorically severe as their earlier compatriots. Sarah Greig’s spare use of simple materials in the documentation of the process of the composition of a work of art harkens back to the strategies of artists from the ’60s who countered the prevailing aesthetics of the High Modernism. Roula Partheniou’s cheeky sculptures and paintings also employ simple means to complicated ends that burrow into fundamental philosophical questions. Kyla Mallett’s multifaceted works also display research that underscores fundamental questions about the nature of art, and the world. Books appear in the works of all three artists and act as signposts of an encyclopaedic knowledge that is continuously expanded by their artistic explorations. As Peter Osborne notes in “Conceptual Art and/ as Philosophy,” there is an “inclusive” or “weak” strand of conceptualism that advocates an expansive, empirically driven and historically inclusive use of the term that confronts the narrower, analytically more restricted definition of it that Kosuth promulgated. As Osborne writes, “It is the infinite plurality of media that the idea of conceptual art opens up which is the point, not the explanation of that idea itself, directly, as art.” Osborne identifies the progenitor of this more inclusive tradition as Sol Lewitt, whose 1967 classic “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” helped codify an art in which the idea or concept was the most important part of the work. The ideas contained in the works by the artists in Ordinary Language make evident a dialectical response to a rigid conceptualism that supersedes its eschewal of the aesthetic qualities of the work of art. Moreover, the ordinary practice of making art can be seen, in general, to delineate a world that is far from the ordinary. Sarah Greig claims that her work is about nothing. She qualifies that statement by adding that even thinking about nothing creates something, thereby underlining the difficulty of her task. Ultimately, what is at issue are the materials themselves. In the corner, a series of photographs entitled Lit Room (2009) offers a view of a white space empty save for the light illuminating it, which, placed on the white walls of the Modern Fuel main gallery, creates a mise en abyme. Light becomes a marker of time as on a sundial. The light boxes, Light Shining Through Twice (2008), take the idea a step further and exhibit photographs of light shining through the box, with light from the box shining through them. Two moments are collapsed in a third, the encounter with the work of art, which, as a mise en abyme, or picture of the same scene within a picture, can contain infinite recesses. The simultaneous collapse and extension of time is most dynamically dramatized in two bookwork videos by Greig on display. Contents (2010) shows a reader flipping through a handmade book comprised of nothing but the contents pages from art history and theory books, which can only progress quixotically as time goes on. A second video, Fade-up Fade-down (2011)is the reworking of an earlier piece, Duration Uncommon, which shows a reader frantically opening and closing a book so that it falls randomly to a page filled with that page’s number to the number that the page is. It is obvious that the “nothing” of the authorship of these works is not nothing but rather something else, the performative continuation of conceptual art strategies on the odd chance that it will have meaning.
If Greig’s “nothing” has been shown to be productively generative, then a work by Roula Partheniou, in collaboration with Dave Dyment, can be seen as a key to the exhibition. Entitled Nothing to Infinity (2008), the work encompasses a stack of books on a low table. The book titles, as one reads them beginning at the bottom of the pile, start with Nichts Nothing and end with Infinity in Your Pocket on top. The work can stand as a metonym for the heterogeneous offspring of weak or inclusive conceptualism. That the work may simply be a good joke or even a great idea is compounded by the fact that it is actually an arrangement of paintings of books. The cover of each book in the stack is actually a stretched canvas that is painted to look like the cover of an actually published book. These paintings form a part of Partheniou’s ongoing Handmade Readymade series, which include covers from a wide variety of books with wide ranging subject matter. The works selected for Ordinary Language show a more philosophical bent. Joseph Kosuth extensively quoted from A.J. Ayer’s Language, Truth and Logic in his bid to contruct a philosophically rigorous Conceptual Art. Partheniou “covers” A.J. Ayer’s book in her own way. She also makes drawings of photocopies of eclipses taken from books. Included in the exhibition are pages from Tristram Shandy and The Hunting of the Snark, featuring illustrations that once again comprise everything and nothing. As with Greig, Partheniou brings an extraordinary amount of skill and rigor to the representation of ubiquitous and even banal objects, but always, running the gamut from paperbacks to banana peels, with more than a soupcon of humour. As a kind of practical joke, Ordinary Language features a selection of her Tape Stacks (2010) recent trompe l’oeil objects made of wood painted to look like tape rolls. Or is it an analytical joke? Kosuth’s bid to use analytic philosophy to create a tautological vacuum for art has been irreparably punctured. There is one more work that adds a further dimension to the exhibition. Situated in a window display case at sidewalk level on Queen Street, a one-off print from Kyla Mallett’s series Have You Experienced the Auric Energy Field (2010) will be on view around the clock to passersby for the duration of Ordinary Language. However, as it is printed with UV sensitive ink, the text of this text-based piece is will be most visible on bright days and will fade when deprived of sunlight. The text is taken from a new age self-help book that offers training in the interpretation and understanding of the inter-subjective aura. Analytic or ordinary language philosophy was meant to expunge metaphysical concerns from the discipline. Kosuth’s brand of conceptualism aimed to expunge aesthetic concerns from art. Mallett’s work is rooted in research and conceptual experimentation, but in practice it defies a narrow definition of conceptual art. In this instance, the metaphysical aura materializes before the viewer’s eyes in the formal qualities of the work. The artists in Ordinary Language might defy categorization as Conceptual Artists in a narrow sense, but the redeployment of early conceptual art strategies, the emphasis on simple everyday materials, and the prominence of language and numbers in their work clearly identify them as fellow travellers in the expansive field of conceptualism. Where they differ is in their variegated use of materials, the formal qualities of their works, and above all, in the kind of quotations they make, within their disciplines and without. One could say that Conceptual Art is now simply one more style in the fashion parade of aesthetics, but I would say, in the case of the artists in Ordinary Language, it is less a style than a badge of allegiance. michael davidge is the Artistic Director at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre.
Empire Robert Tombs In the State of Flux 12 Nov. to 17 Dec., 2011 Opening | Saturday 12 Nov. at 7pm Modern Fuel presents, in its State of Flux Gallery, a new painting installation by Robert Tombs (Ottawa, ON). Empire juxtaposes nine unique 1’ x 8’ striped colour-field paintings on canvas with one 1’ x 9’ stripe of gold leaf and tar applied directly on the gallery wall. The colours chosen for these stripes are largely derived from memory, to the extent that personally significant colour impressions can be reconstituted. As a site-specific painted installation, Empire acknowledges ‘acts of presentation’ as wholly within the overarching context of power and death. A catalogue for “The Morality of Paint: Erfurt Window” will be launched the night of the opening reception for Empire. robert tombs is a graphic designer and visual artist living in Ottawa, Ontario. His award-winning print-based collaborations with artists, art galleries and academic presses are in numerous collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Columbia University, Yale University, and Deutsche Bücheri Leipzig. As a visual artist, his recent work includes Brigus Mark (2007) and Erfurt Window (2008), the painted obfuscation of a communist-era bookstore’s showcase windows in Erfurt, Germany.