Saturday, March 3, 2018

Real Tears exhibition reviewed by John Luna

Christine D’Onofrio: “Real Tears” at Deluge Contemporary, curated by Wil Aballe

Real Tears (2018), the work that lends its title to the exhibition, consists of three stands (like music stands), each featuring a hologram projection of the image of a different crumpled tissue. Are the surfaces of the holograms themselves stained with weeping, or is that sheen just fingerprints left by touchy-feely viewers at the opening? I read that they represent tears shed by three living generations of women in the artist’s family, although this story, in tandem with the formality of the stands, could also be taken for pataphysical persona-apocrypha. The aura of subjectivity in the work’s titling-as-testimony is implicit rather than explicit, a history gesturally sketched by proxied proof. The sense is of the subjects’ being worried, pulled, plucked and balled, simultaneously present-tense and remote in rainbow air-quotes, their definition elusive in the translucent capture of the medium’s elision.

On the facing wall of the gallery are two iterations of Unfinished Jokes (Feminist, 2012/2017 & Male, 2017), in the form of openers without punchlines, printed on posters arranged in stacks, recalling the ‘endless supply’ prints of Félix González-Torres. The stack on the left reads, “A feminist, a lesbian, and a nun walk into a bar”, while the one on the right asks the question, “What did one male artist say to the other male artist?” That the jokes are posed sans answers (the reverse sides are blank), adds tart gravitas to their endless-ness. This comes to mean more as I move to consider the adjacent piece, a shelf on which sits Feminist Joke Book (Lightbulb) (2011) its accordion-fold-format presenting most all of the answers one might ever expect to encounter to the question, “How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb?”

The dialogic provocation inherent in the structure of these kinds of classic, ‘question-(repetition)-reply-reaction’ jokes has been explored before, by for instance, Richard Prince’s recycling of Borscht-belt groaners on the surfaces of expansive canvasses. Prince’s work is characteristically passive aggressive, using pictorial hauteur to leverage cliché, and in so doing revealing a pathos of defeatist tact latent in both the joke’s origin and the phenomenon of its ever-increasing fatigue. I think of the refrain in the maudlin denouement of the Smiths’ song, “That Joke isn’t Funny Anymore”:

     I've seen this happen in other people's
     And now it's happening in mine

Of course, the absence of answers to a question asked repeatedly might function as an answer in itself, either as a pointed demonstration to a non responsive audience, or, more interestingly, a theoretical echo-chamber towards posterity and possibility. Asking what one male artist said to the other (forever) might be regarded as an address to art history’s often airless (but never heirless) dialogue, while a, “feminist, a lesbian and a nun,” are the usual suspects when it comes to woman intellectuals in the history of modernity – what schemes might they come up with together in that theoretical bar? The lightbulb joke features answers both nervily absurd and bitterly clipped (“none: feminists can’t change anything”.) Actually, while trying to recall more of the answers, I ended up searching the joke online (the first hit was Reddit, which was, as they say, a huge mistake – those comment threads! I can’t help but feel that this choice, pitfalls and all, is part & parcel of the will of the piece.)

Playing D’Onofrio’s accordion of answers reminds me of all of the times I’ve heard myself add that sibilant terminal consonant to adjust my phrasing of, “feminism” to “feminisms”, the dilemma of its being subject to multiple interventions and judgements (a kind of liberation too, a freefall through interpretive hells or heavens…) That these options or alternatives appear in the format of a single text (sheet of paper) whose action (unfolding) is presumptively interactive, makes their deadpan delivery more acidly lucid. Like the light-emitting diode delivery of some of Jenny Holzer’s Truisms, Feminist Joke Book is a text-as-visual-object-as-object-lesson whose dissolution into a social space of uncertain status quo as to for-or-against inclines towards some future resolution (when, for instance, the lightbulb is finally changed). As such, it becomes a critical counterbalance to the operation of the hankies with their amorphous physicality-cum-crypto-biographical currency. To bring the two together into a common subjectivity is to imagine an inquisition in the form of a pageant, something like the oratorio Anne Carson wrote for Gertrude Stein, with its sweeping gestures and halting pauses:

Your veto is unreasonable.
Your reason is a mystery.
Your mystery is way of lying.
This concept is no longer in use.

Between these works (and, indeed, between a votive evocation and theatricalized inquisition) is a video piece, Falling Woman (2008), projected onto the gallery wall opposite the entrance. It features the image of a figure in freefall through a blue sky filled with clouds. The figure wears a dress, the skirt of which is blown up over its face by the air current (only in brief glimpses to we spy fingertips or a flash of hair), exposing a naked stomach, pelvis and legs, with feet clad in streamlined flats. It’s odd how in describing this figure, I find myself avoiding gendering the (clearly female) body – why is that? It seems really strange that what amounts to legs and a vagina plummeting through space should evoke this response from me. It may be because if I write, ‘she’, I feel as if I am encroaching on some assurance of personhood ahead of gender, and to assume the agency of knowing anything for sure about this female who is falling, her face cloaked, even smothered, by the rippling fabric, I am assuming a familiarity, a confidence of outcome that I don’t possess. As if to reinforce this point, the falling narrative, with its stock audio whistling whoosh, is routinely interrupted by an almost blank, still shot, in which only a tiny cluster of specs in the center of the screen indicate some far-off action. One might suppose that this is a distant view of the descent, so remote as to promise no impending development. Perhaps this is what it is to be outside of the space of the blinded/obscured falling figure, a contemplative but wholly uninformative point of view. Between these intervals, she-just-keeps-falling, at closer or farther distances, the softly modeled relief of dress-over-the-face becoming something consolidated as a fetish, as in the non-finito narrative of Michelangelo’s Awakening Slave, or the ambiguous cruelty (either sadistic and masochistic, depending on whether you regard or relate) of Magritte’s hooded Lovers.

Some variations of the fall feel almost easeful and others very hapless-seeming, less a dread, dead drop than a soft panic of awkwardness blossoming into the headlong rush of having no tools whatsoever to address the situation; a kind of social/vestibular horror combo one would feel in media res of a falling dream combined with an at-work-with-no-pants-dream. So very odd and suspenseful and titillating and funny are these sequences, that I am loath to find evidence of a loop. But there is a moment when the pelvis twists in a baroque diagonal from vertical to near-horizontal, as if momentarily miming that familial mascot of the male gaze, Courbet’s Origin of the World, and a little passage of music appears, like a sentimental leitmotif that I am not sure one should take at its word. Is it a moment of poignant comfort or nostalgic trance? Is the body partaking of its space in a way that reorients falling through to falling into? Does the fragmented descent from from towards towards contain an attitude of plateau, whose momentary horizon orients lyrical transit within the contour of its unending conundrum?

The space of the fall is really well crafted, technically speaking. I am reminded of the way the term, “holding space” is used as a signal of non-judgmental support, here dramatized into a fiction of radical commitment: just how much space can you hold, when a true crisis arrives, or when you realize that your idea of “holding” something is, from a different perspective, the madly willful insistence on an intersubjective state of grace? This notion of falling, stripped of the sidebars of memory or taxonomy that form the video’s altarpiece wings, becomes paradoxically heavier in recollection, as if the suspense of that figure was becoming more urgent now with myself as witness partaking in its pilgrim plight, an unknown unknown.

A statement on D’Onofrio’s website concludes, “As feminism asks for a liberation of identity, liberation only exists when it does not know its end.” There is, in the moment of the loop’s catch, a question that might arise as to whether the moment of horizontal ease or invitation the body provides is a kind of narcissistic fishing or a reflection of liberation; that only in this moment of staging the end in terms of a terminal velocity, ambivalent or hysterical, self-obsessed or authentically invested, does the potential of the figure as affect become a subject and not an object. I feel that my own staging of uncertainty as a passionate brink is a bit of moral cowardice on my part, but I’m infatuated by the dilemma of the image and its drama and their seamlessness. It’s a credit to the work that this marriage, so compelling in itself, suggests at once an opaque, figural placeholder for two words I am in palpable, culpable and wholly regrettable flight from defining: art and feminism.

John Luna 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas at Madrona Gallery by Philip Willey - Dec. 2017.


A solo show by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas in Victoria is long overdue. Michael Warren of Madrona Gallery agrees but the problem he says is getting a body of work together. Yahgulanaas’ work is in much demand all over the world and Madrona are lucky to have at least one painting and some drawings to show. They are also lucky to have Ottilie Short, a student of Yahgulanaas at UVic, behind the desk to talk about him.

Yahgulanaas is a very active artist. He has had numerous travelling exhibitions and his work can be seen in public spaces, museums, galleries and private collections across North America, Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He works in a variety of forms and media. He also teaches, gives talks, writes books, sits on the board of the Museum of Anthropology at UBC and manages various trusts. His illustrated books include ‘Flight of the Humming Bird’ and ‘RED: A Haida Manga’.

With his prodigious energy and output he is actively expanding the audience for First Nations art. He achieves this by fusing traditional elements with contemporary phenomena, intricate paintings for instance that combine Japanese Manga comics with Chinese brushwork that he learned from Cantonese master Cai Ben Kwon, and Haida motifs.

It’s a hybrid art form that reflects his own background, Yahgulanaas has both Haida and European heritage and is descended from Isabella and Charles Edenshaw. He was born in Prince Rupert and grew up on Haida Gwaii where he was involved in community service for many years before finding time for art.

A series called ‘Coppers from the Hood’ perfectly demonstrates the artists’ cross-cultural interests and sense of fun. One piece in particular, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is actually a Haida motif painted on a Tercel hood. One might think that such blatant cultural appropriation would be a little controversial. Not so.  Aparently Haida Gwai locals found it quite amusing. As Yahgulanaas explains ‘car hoods are a traditional way of transporting canoes to water’.

As traditional native art becomes more experimental this kind of cultural fusion is gradually becoming the norm. The broader question of course is the extent to which indigenous people adapt to the dominant culture. Or even if they should. As Bill Reid asked in a discussion with Yahgulanaas ….is this work art or ethnicity?  It’s a serious question and the debate is ongoing. Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas seems to have found a light-hearted way of dealing with it.

Ocean Bird

Bone Box


Thursday, November 30, 2017

What a Piece of Work by Philip Wiley

Xchanges Gallery has its origins in the Signal Hill Arts Center located at Signal Hill in an unused section of the Canadian naval yards in Esquimalt. This was back in 1967 which may make Xchanges the oldest Artists’ Run Centre currently operating in Canada. Many of Victoria’s artists of the past 4 decades have been involved with Xchanges: some had their first solo exhibition there; others have given classes, been active members, and had studios there. The location has changed 4 times over the years.

In 1979 the group moved to a vast loft above Canadian Linen on North Park Street, built studio partitions and a large gallery, and was rechristened Xchanges. The organization stayed at the North Park location for 18 years, becoming a mainstay in the Victoria exhibition scene. This location was notable for intermittent subterranean tremors which most artists easily adapted to.

In 1997 Xchanges relocated to the heritage building at 420 William Street in Vic West — another converted laundry, once a bakery and its stables — and experienced a revitalization of its organization. The new premises made it possible to host events and exhibitions of different natures than had previously been possible, and the labyrinthine layout made interaction between artists more frequent, resulting in a thriving creative community.
During the months of January and February 2009, Xchanges artists transformed the former offices of their new location into spacious gallery, individual and shared studio spaces, and common areas. As in previous moves, much of the work was done by the artists themselves, in conjunction with expert tradespeople.

In February of 2009 Xchanges entered its 4th incarnation, moving to 2333 Government Street, Suite 6E. This one time motel provides a smaller and more intimate setting much closer to downtown and continues to nurture the artists and arts of Victoria to the present time as well as offering drop-in life-drawing, sculpture, and portrait sessions and other programs and events designed to enhance community interaction with the arts.

Continuing its 50 plus year tradition, the Xchanges coöperative hosts affordable studios for artists, as well as a non-commercial gallery dedicated to showing work by emerging and established regional artists. Many, many artists have enjoyed the facilities over the years, too many to mention individually. 

And it’s still going strong. This December the members of Xchanges invite everybody to their annual Members’ Exhibition and Open House.

The exhibition opens on Friday, December 1st, 7:00–9:00 PM
Studio Open House: Saturday, December 2nd, 12–4 pm
Exhibition continues: Sunday, December 3,
SaturdaySunday, December 9–10, 12–4 pm.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas at Madrona gallery

Madrona Gallery is excited to introduce Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, an award-winning visual artist, author and speaker. His work is collected internationally, including the British Museum, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seattle Art Museum and Vancouver Art Gallery. Large sculptural works by Yahgulanaas are part of the public art collection of the Vancouver International Airport, City of Vancouver, City of Kamloops and the University of British Columbia. His publications include national bestsellers Flight of the Hummingbird, RED: a Haida Manga and the upcoming War of the Blink.

Yahgulanaas' artwork transcends traditional notions of Northwest Coast art. The descendant of iconic artists Isabella Edenshaw, Charles Edenshaw and Delores Churchill, Yahgulanaas' early training was under the exceptional creators and master carvers of Haida Gwaii. He incorporates his background in traditional Haida art with Asian influences such as Chinese brushwork and Japanese manga comics to create what he calls 'Haida Manga'. A piece from Yahgulanaas' 'Coppers from the Hood' series was recently acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The piece is currently the only work on display at the Met by a living Canadian indigenous artist.

Ocean Bird
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

For further information and images please contact Ottilie Short at