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Transcendent Squares
Rosemont Art Gallery
A horizontal band of blurry, dark and light blue hovers at eye level against the gallery wall. The room and viewer are reflected in its shiny surface like shifting aquatic forms. Because the pigment is suspended in thin veils of rhoplex, the solid rectangle ( 5.5 x 5.5 x 60 inches) looks more paint than panel, more painting than sculpture. The surface has depth. Slender strata of translucent, nebulous water: infinity in a millimeter. And, in the cobalt, teal and anthraquinone shallows, lurk dusky forms that interfere with reflection. The subtle colour and tonal shifts read not only as paint, but also as an abstraction from a blurred photograph. The possibility that the unfocussed shapes nearly rhyme with what it reflects creates a curious play between plane, depth and representation. This dark mirror seems to both record and shape the scene. The eye moves from cloudy mobile pictures to smooth skin and through to creamy to inky space and back again. Such a meditation destabilizes the painting and our selves. Marie Lannoo is a perceptualist. She plays with our visual expectations.

While related to Donald Judd's rectilinear wall sculptures of the late 1960s--with their uniformly lacquered surfaces-- See Nothing, See Everything is warmer and more seductive. From a distance, it looks industrial, but up close, the paint is thick, luscious and uneven. It seems like it was poured like hard candy. If this is Minimalism, it is Minimalism with feeling. The very imperfections render it human. But there is more.

The surprise of this object is in its second set of reflections. Radiating above the painting are transcendent squares, faint colours in a staccato phrase banding the wall like a rainbow. Their source seems to be florescent tubes concealed in the bkue box. In fact, the structure is solid. The aura comes from light reflecting off a row of ten brightly painted squares on top of the beam. Art historically, the piece could be seen as a twist on the work of Judd and Flavin. But less burdened viewers can simply delight in its beauty and cleverness.

On the surface, See Nothing, See Everything is simply a pleasure, a construction intended to please and charm. But, along with the visual delights, the painting is also receptive to metaphor. A sourceless light radiating from arecumbent body may suggest spirit. And what of the title? How can one See Nothing and See Everything ? An answer, from believers, is in the ancient hope that through death (when one sees nothing) all (ultimate truth and reality) will be revealed.

Picture two modest, monochromatic squares: a grey panel and a white one--very minimal gestures, hardly works of art at all. The grey is a stone composite. It is clean, smooth and familiar. The white one is a more engaging. As you move, the pearl-fleck automotive paint faintly shifts from white to blue to pink. Both objects share in the gorgeous banality of perfection.

Like the Minimalists, Dean Drever uses the latest manufactured materials and industrial processes that erase the trace of the artist's hand. He enjoys well-made things. On one hand, these objects are ends in themselves, lovely things that luxuriate in their formal and material qualities. They embody beauty and demand nothing but appreciation. On the other hand, to separate materials from their utilitarian sources and put them on display is to render them into samples or indexes of the manufactured good life. The squares are contemporary fetishes, blank surfaces without use, context or content but still emitting power. The power is associative; they conjure their synecdochaic sources--designer furniture and sports cars.

As art, this gesture implies a critique. Drever asks us to consider the disparity between abstraction and lived experience. The sample/art work remains pristine only because it is untouched by life. It is apart from, rather than a part of, the world. Drever is underlining the gap between commodity culture as the realm of images and simulation, of perpetually new products, and the lived world of touch, wear-and-tear, and used things.

But this is just the surface. And it is surprising how many people miss the fissures that add another level of meaning. The titles, Smash Him With a Pipe and Flame, declare a seemingly invisible content. If you graze the surface with your eye, you can see tiny, precise lines and slight differences in the grain. The flame in the white panel is much easier to see than the silhouette of the two women fighting in the grey. You really have to crouch and move around until the reflected light helps draw out the picture.

As with Marie Lanoo's work, these slick objects are mirrors that engage us in various levels of reflection.

The reflective surfaces are intended to promote a self-reflexive viewing experience. Viewers cannot help but identify themselves in the shiny surface of the work, allowing for a play of desire, repression and corruption. Viewers are naturally and narcissistically) drawn to their own image; yet seeing anything unflattering or negative reflected back at them--either in themselves or in their surroundings--they suppress their impulse to look.

Much of my work comments on the repression of anger in individuals, and the perverse expression of anger through violence and its systematic suppression. There are socially sanctioned forms of brutality, such as exercised by the military and the police; and non-socially sanctioned forms, such as exhibited by the Mafia, street gangs and bikers. My work is concerned with this hypocrisy and the role the media plays in reinforcing them. Curiously, reporting on socially sanctioned forms of violence (especially those directed at minorities) is often suppressed while the media has a feeding frenzy on the latest serial killing. Smash Him With a Pipe alludes to the spectacle of excessive violence. (Dean Drever)

Violence and vulnerability also lies on and under the surface of Tammi Campbell's paintings. She layers oil paint and wax to create fleshy membranes that resemble colour field paintings. Sickly ochers, minty greys and blues bleed into each other below an epidermis of muted and sullied pink. Waxy textures and tints writhe across the canvas like a shudder. The encaustic carries the impress of the warm flesh that applied it. The squaring feels like an act of aestheticized violence, the arbitrary imposition of a grid over a living thing. As with Drever, the square is means of sampling, of separating something from its original site and context for the pleasure of our viewing.

A closer look reveals blurred blue trails that transform into veins, and swelling patches of colour that become bruises. A once sensual surface becomes repulsive. The viewer is caught between pleasure and discomfort, that special zone of reception that is triggered when a normally repellant thing is seductively portrayed. Separated from the body, we are powerless to act, to consol or kiss better. We do not know the history of the event, the circumstances, the relationship(?). Does this image that is more than an image stands as a fact, a silent witness of casual pain? Or does it record the psychic pain that remains when bruises heal?

Memory and its distortion over time are consistent themes in my artwork. Memory is unreliable, undeniable and inaccurate to fact, but it is also how one constructs one's own histories, knowledge and sense of self. When isolating a moment of experience I find I am only able to recall the skeleton, thus, in fleshing out and reconstructing the past, whether in memory or in paint, the original experience is lost and only the copy remains.

Inspired by how the body remembers and reacts to its surroundings, my paintings create a dynamic located somewhere between subject and technique; using the idea of the temporality of existence through bruising as a starting point, they reveal what goes on beneath the surface through the build up of translucent layers of color. As a result, little squares of damage reveal the imperfections of memory and the residues of reconstruction.

Through the act of painting, I attempt to construct recollections of both the distant and immediate past, endeavoring to isolate moments of experience. The paintings document an inherent desire and struggle to construct something concrete out of an ever--shifting intangible past.   In areas the paintings are very detailed and coherent while in other places where recollection fails--nebulous, vague, incomprehensible voids emerge. Relics of the past are used to illuminate the intangibility of memory while simultaneously representing its discordance with physical truths. (Tammi Campbell)

In the center of the gallery's longest uninterrupted wall are four (16.25") squares made from laminated western red cedar. They are set a half-inch apart and at various heights. At first, the arrangement seems haphazard, but upon closer inspection, it is clear that the artist has matched up the wood bands to create an image of ocean waves. The illusion is furthered by the polished and waxed wood, it glows with a lustrous depth, and the grain and knot waves seem to move as you do.

Everyone has had the experience of staring at wood and finding scenes and creatures in the grain. Da Vinci advocated that artists do this to prompt the imagination. Rod Sayers' Suite Red Landscape is designed as a similar meditative device, but with a specific set of associations in mind. Klewetua (Rod Sayers) is a member of the hupacasath Nation of the nuu-chah nulth, and currently works and lives on the ahaswinnis Reservation in the suma'us valley.

Rod's work strives to achieve the living relationship with the standards set out by his ancestors, and with his observations of the condition of the cultural possessions of current history. Rod believes that having a living relationship with these possessions will allow his work to evolve and to reflect on the condition of our world today, and on our perception of culture and tradition.

(From Rod Sayers' biographical statement)

Sayers' earlier work looked much like the components of Suite Red Landscape, but was addressed to mainstream art history. It was a First Nations voice speaking back to White art from a position tangling with both traditions. These pieces also took the Minimalist square and made it into a cedar drum. The gesture both returns art to nature, and makes it functional. Central to Sayers' project is making art that is a "living relationship." In a piece like "Rebutal to Kandinsky," he appears to be saying that spirituality is not an image but a relationship. By making painting/sculptures that are also drums, the artist is suggesting that the viewer should become a participant and not separate art from life.

"Suite Red Landscape" can be seen in line with this earlier work. But it evokes another layer. Knowing the artist's heritage and location (on Vancouver Island), we can enter the work and discover a relationship between the ocean, the trees, the sound of a drum, and our heart beat. The piece is simple, sweet, complete and compelling.

Contemporary First Nations artists face some interesting problems as they compose objects that honour tradition, history, and location while also contending with the New World . Sayers, perhaps because his culture has survived better than many others', has invented even more complex articulations of this central challenge.

This current body of work came about as the result of posing a problem to myself, how do I remove the practical utility from objects of my culture? I observed that many objects of utility became precious showpieces, far too valuable for everyday use.

The utility question arose during a critique of a series of hand drums I constructed entirely of red cedar, adorned with traditional motifs of the nuu-chah nulth. The original idea was: if you are going to permanently hang a drum on the wall, it should be made for that purpose, and not use a perfectly good drum and take away its utility. My goal was to create purely ornamental pieces. My red cedar drums were of course still drums, and even had a pleasing tone.

How to remove the drum from the drum? The material was important. I stayed with the red cedar. It has been used by the peoples of the nuu-chah nulth since time immemorial and its significance is important to the work. It was suggested that I push the design beyond the perimeter of the drum, so I did.

The result became "the panel series," works constructed entirely of western red cedar, and also of yellow cedar. I devised a system to allow the material to dictate the final composition of each piece. The images you see emerged from the 2"x 6" boards as they were cut in order, one rip at the time, and reassembled edge to edge in that order. The "Suite Red Landscape" for example has dictated that it be laid out the way you see it before you.

This work has become a place of quiet contemplation. The material speaks for itself until I move on to let the material take me to a new place. (Rod Sayers)

Perhaps the most eye-catching work in this primarily monochromatic exhibition is Christopher Friesen 's Is he gone yet? The ( 48"x 48") acrylic painting plays on Pop and Minimalist art. Up close, it is a surface covered in uniformly painted, brightly coloured, small squares. The grid is regular and unrelenting. Stand back and the squares become pixels that the eye blends to make a face--a Hollywood starlet, Shannon Elizabeth .

One of the lessons I have learned from feminism is that if gender is a cultural construction, it follows that culture also constructs desire. In my studio practice I am taking an honest look at the nature of my desire as it pertains to Hollywood actors/actresses.   I am modifying the male "heterosexual gaze" as outlined by Norman Bryson: men are the bearers of the look and women are the objects of the look. Bryson's model points to voyeurism as the central process in the male gaze and to identification as the central process for looking at men. I don't believe that this is always the case. I believe a voyeuristic gaze can be directed at men and men can identify with women. I am also interested in exploring Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's notion of homosocial desire. Homosocial is the social bond between persons of the same sex: especially men. It includes such activities as male bonding. My work contains notions of friendship, mentorship, rivalry and hetero-homosexuality. My work complicates the male "heterosexual gaze" with notions of identification and desire. (Christopher Friesen)

On one level, this is a trick painting. It is a non-objective, Minimalist grid and a portrait. The two are not supposed to go together, and yet here they are. It is also a trick in that the eye and mind are fooled into seeing a face in what should only be squares. The painting reminds us of the constructed nature of our vision, of fame, and, well, where you take it from here is up to you. Friesen harnesses this optical illusion to talk about how gender and desire are constructed by society. The face that gazes from the canvas knows that it is being made into an image, that its primary function is to inflame a desire that cannot be satiated, only prolonged through the purchase of further images. Friesen hijacks the picture from the usual circuit of reproduction, distribution and consumption and makes it into a self-conscious painting: self-conscious because it demonstrates an awareness of its condition. The artist could have just photographically enlarged the picture. Such an act would not take much thought or time. But, by reproducing the image in paint, Friesen is adding the element of his time, care, craft, and labour. The gesture makes a link between the labour used to make the money and the desire-images that that money purchases. The painting also seems to be an effort to get closer to the starlet--in much the same way that fans make detailed drawings and paintings from photographs of stars for a home shrine, or even to send to the actor. When you make such a work, your thoughts are often fantasies about getting together with the subject. Friesen evokes this with his teasing title, Is he gone yet? , which creates a triangle between Elizabeth, the viewer (Friesen?) and a rival male--who may share her 'picture' space or be another viewer. It is a complex and tangled narrative. It is also a little creepy, like glimpsing into the mind of a stalker (fanatic). However, if we read this as a self-conscious work, it may be a critique of the image industries. The media is increasingly saturated by Star culture propaganda and the attendant idea that you only signify if you are, have proximity to, or emulate, a star. [For a strange performance of this anxiety from the star's point-of-view, listen to Eminem's Stan ]. While Friesen might be seen as playing into this, there is also a subtle resistance. He is not making a loving rendering such as fans make. He emphasizes its constructed nature by chopped the image into bits and is reconstituting the pieces into a fractured collage. Most importantly, while painting the individual squares, he has no sense of the whole, only of the particular. His working project is less about desire and identification and more about colour mixing and matching. The job is exacting but routine, unglamorous, and unromantic. Knowing this, Friesen's project seems to be the opposite of desire; it is a renunciation, perhaps even a masochistic way of working out artificially stimulated desire. Instead of reading this as squares making a face, you could see this as a face making squares. This obsessive, abstract, hand-painted grid may be the theraputic means through which the artist hopes to move from an immature form of desire to a differentiated one.

The tiniest work in the exhibition is smaller than one of Friesen's squares. Despite its diminutive size, Ryan Arnott's One Die is loaded with meaning. Carefully set in the center of a white pedestal and over-protected by a Plexi-glass vitrine, the sculpture resembles a regular die except that it has only one dot. The artist carved a depression into the center of one plane of a blank die and painted the dimple black. As an art-world joke, One Die undermines the Minimalist taste for monumental heavy metal sculptures (especially Tony Smith's 6 foot steel cube Die of 1962). Nevertheless, this is still a pretty minimal thing. It is a white plastic, machine made, monochromatic cube. But the dot opens it up to non-Minimalist meanings. It is Conceptual art because it employs the least physical means to express an idea--but what idea?

The dot stands for 'one'. A die with only one one defies conventional play--it is perverse. One Die undermines chance, a necessary element for competition. Perhaps it is related to Yoko Ono's elegant comment on conflict culture in her all-white chessboard and men. But there is a game that could use such a die. Perhaps this is a memento mori (a remembrance of death). The six sides are like the six shots in a revolver. Is this a game of Russian roulette where only one of the chambers is loaded?

In 1995, my father's architectural firm was working on what would be his last design project, Casino Regina. One day, he raised the idea of my making a small artwork, a multiple which might be sold in the casino gift shop. While such an enterprise seemed highly unlikely, I did consider it and focused on dice as charged objects that I could possibly make art from.

Dice intrigued me because of the multiple meanings of the word 'die'. Handled properly, an artwork made with these tiny cubes could deal with the big subjects of death and chance--quite a pair.

I realize now that two weeks after I did the drawing, my father died suddenly of a heart attack.

I see the square or cube as representative of a form of human perfection. Man saw geometry in nature and refined it. So a square is a surrogate for humankind; a cube on a globe is man on earth. But the corners of the cube will be worn down. Entropy sets it on a course toward becoming a circle.

Death can lead us to consider our beliefs about the meaning of life. This artwork makes the point that there is no chance that you will not die. It is a memento mori.

This bone is a tiny tombstone.

Game over? ( Ryan Arnott)

The one die is a bone, is a tombstone. The one die is 'to die'. And, the one die will one day round out to an eye, its black pupil endlessly rolling, a circled square.

There is, in this seemingly materialist series of macabre jokes (all ending in death), a desire--expressed in a die that never dies, never rests on a number, and as expressed in a question mark ("Game over?")--for a life after the game. Is dot of the 'i' of the eye of the die the one (1/i) that got away?

Most of the work in Transcendent Square is Post-Minimal. That is, they are in-formed by that tradition but have agendas and meanings at odds with the aspirations of the original movement. Post-Minimal works tend to include the human touch, to soften the edges of the grid and to sully the surfaces. Kim Morgan's lace (squared) is a tower of five white cubes. The stack seems ready to topple at the slightest vibration. The five sides of the cubes--boxes, really--are made of firm but fragile materials. Many of the surfaces are perforated like lace. They are, in fact, fabric stiffened with plaster and concrete.

I start with a departure from Minimalism, more specifically, Donald Judd and the cold cube. While Judd's cubes are beautiful, their formal rigid structures are controlled, industrial and fabricated, devoid of a human trace, leaving no room for inserting the lived experience of our daily lives. My cubes are not. They are metaphors for the quotidian experience of myself. I cast them from a solid square, using domestic material such as cheesecloth, lace, and curtain fabric. When released from their mold, the formal rigidity of the cube collapses. Light flows through.   When placed in groups they lean toward each other, are dependant on each other. They evoke the ephemeral; the manmade is evident both in the gesture and in their imperfections. While using the cube as my reference point I acknowledge the formal aspect while engendering it with an intimate, female interpretation.

I was thinking of sculptors such as Jackie Winsor, Mona Hatoum, and Eva Hesse, all of whom responded to the formal (male) minimalist structure of the cube by creating their own. (Kim Morgan)

Morgan's human-sized tower evokes both a person and a community. The integrity of the being is dependant upon the parts. These are fragile and invite empathy. However, they are also independent and do not seem to profit from our help or care. This is a strange construction. Morgan claims to want to create a female structure that resists Minimalist masculinity, but does so by molding 'feminine' materials (fabric) in a 'masculine' (cubic) mold. The results are weak vessels and poor structural materials. Perhaps she is illustrating the impossibility of such a project. She may be showing the folly of building 'femininity' against a model of the 'masculine'. Or, she may be suggesting that despite feminist theory, women are still following this old paradigm.

An important aspect of this work is light. Minimalists preferred natural or existing industrial-style lighting--anything but the theatrical. Morgan's sculpture is theatrically lit. Light pours down from a spot, causing the top box to fill with and radiate light. It becomes translucent and seems material and immaterial at once. The lower boxes are lit from the sides and appear more substantial. The stage-like illumination adds a narrative possibility--a move up from substance to transcendence.

I don't know if a spiritual possibility is part of Morgan's thought for this work. The narrative does not need to be metaphysical, it could refer to another type of enlightenment. For example, if she is making sculptures that are "metaphors for the quotidian experience of myself," lace (squared) seems to portray Morgan as the product of a female nature pressed into an uncomfortable shape by a masculinist culture. However, her sculpture also shows that she has the agency to re-form herself after her own design. Her architecture, with its emphasis on flexibility, change, dependency and community clearly differs from the Minimalist sense of form and relationship.  

Most of the work in Transcendent Squares can be characterized as introverted. A habitually introverted person tries to reduce external stimulation (or control it on their terms) so he or she can concentrate on the fascinating processes of their own mind, being and/or physical and emotional activity. At a certain point, some try to share this process or the products of their investigations with the world. Often the resulting work is oblique and met with puzzlement unless the person has developed the artistic means to communicate effectively. When it works, the art is often novel, complex and requires a deep engagement. The most brilliant example of this is Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's The Dark Pool . Objects can be considered introverted if they record or imitate these processes.

Several years ago, George Glenn created the Plexi-glass Room ,

"an 8x10 foot space which brought together a variety of objects related to my process of making art. The clear walls were a tangible, almost invisible space in space, catching light and slightly altering the visual character of the contents in the room. In subsequent plexi-glass pieces, this interval of space has proven a useful transition between life and art alerting the viewer that the objects they recognized had an enhanced meaning.

After a slide presentation, someone observed: "If I am hearing you correctly, what ( the Plexi-glass Room ) is about is your mind observing and interacting. It doesn't matter what is there. It could be empty because whatever it is or isn't triggers your thought process." Transcendent Squares has given me the opportunity to construct a new piece, there is no empty space , and observe its space, contents, and the observing mind."

It is interesting to compare this statement to Kim Morgan's. Both are constructing contained, liminal, empty spaces they can metaphorically and literally inhabit. It is a strange performance that is at once full and empty, transparent and opaque, generous and hermetic, revealing and concealing, present and absent. It appears from the statements that the artists are sincere and serious about what they think they have achieved. And yet they are clearly aware of the impossibility, or at least the contradictory nature of their work. As interesting as the particular manifestations is the fascination impulse to do such a thing.

Like The Dark Pool , the Plexi-glass Room has us look over the artist's shoulder and try to inhabit his space, mind and larger project. The clues are everywhere, but the equation can never be solved because the fullness of the work can only be embodied by the subject who assembled it.

there is no empty space is a Plexi-glass cube with that sentence etched on the inside of two of the panels.

Describing Einstein's energy /mass equivalence (E=mc2) Leonard Shlain comments in his book Art and Physics ; " . . . when this equation is reversed and energy is converted into mass, then we must accept that pure energy can wring matter from out of the nothingness of the void." Earlier in the book Shlain, comparing space in Eastern and Western art, comments; "In the predominant eastern philosophies, . . . empty space was the void. In Zen teachings, this plenum contained within it the pregnant possibility of everything. From the invisible cornucopia issued forth all that was substance."

Can a space be empty and not empty at the same time? Can material objects be simultaneously solid and not solid?

While working on "there is no empty space", I imagined that the words etched on the inside walls of the cube would refer to that inside space, . . .a sub atomic, better yet, koan-like stretch of mind. When the piece was assembled I was fascinated to observe that the words referred to both the inside space and to the larger environment in which the cube was placed. Its nuance changed when its was relocated. In absence of an inside object, the cube seems to conscript its surroundings. This quality is beyond my original concept for the piece and engages me on a new level. (George Glenn)

there is no empty space is perhaps a more refined articulation of the Plexi-glass Room . It is a stripped down idea that stands for what is the essence of the more Baroque installation. It takes out the particulars and leaves us with the intra-personal general condition, a koan that we can inhabit. Like the science fiction story inventor who struggles to build a time machine, only to disappear one day, leaving his family and peers to wonder if he succeeded or ran away, Glenn, teasingly, leads us through the development of his project only to keep his discoveries to himself. What is the "new level" that engages him? The resulting hermetic chamber is an open question able to contain all that is poured into it.

John Noestheden, Ernst Klinger and Christopher Gardiner fetishize labour. They each take on nearly impossible tasks that are more acts of control than expression. Noestheden embosses paper with pi; that is, he stamps a sheet of grid paper with metal number stamps that make up pi, or at least part of it. Because there is no end to pi, the task is literally impossible. Gardiner builds painting-sculptures that combine meticulous sewing with brush strokes. The whole is a grand yet minimal attempt to simultaneously reveal and conceal. Years ago, Klinger set himself the task of making white paintings. The examples here are only two among hundreds past and hundreds yet to be. All three men value the hand-made but not the autographic. Their intensely personal labour appears, surprisingly, anonymous, mechanical, and thoughtless. Is it a record of meditation? Is it a penance, or a purification before a search for perfection?

Control dynamics is the unifying element binding my 27 year practice. Working freely between drawing, installation, sculpture and performance, my practice has strong conceptual inclinations. I fetishize labour. Patience, simplicity and perseverance are constants. These overriding concerns derive from a personal need to impose order and control, either partial or total. Behaving like a machine has become a desirable experimental condition that delivers its own contingencies of (un)predictability and (im)perfection. By scribing the infinite sequence of quasi-random numbers of the square root of two, I surrender control and behave like a machine. My only control is the configuration and the presentation of the number stream. Human error and imperfection become random variables in this work and are carefully recorded. Most errors (seizures) are invisible. ( John Noestheden)

Some people are drawn to order, to ordering, as a means of bringing the external world in harmony with their calm internal state. Such people are rare. Most impose order on the external world as a symbolic means of harmonizing their chaotic internal state. And it can work. For those who trust things and labour more than ideas and words, repetitive actions are concrete poems. They establish the fact of a life through living. Such art is driven by the need to record a living life through marks that mark the passage of that life. In this mode of making, each individual gesture has little meaning in itself. Meaning comes from the activity as a whole.

Why become like a machine? I think this desire goes back to what I was saying about the introverted personality. Most introverts require large chucks of time alone to devote to their own activities, in their own space, in their own way, according to their own schedules. At a certain point--I say this as an introvert--you realize that the specifics of the activity are less important than the fact of having this space and time alone to think, feel, and be, free from the stimulation and responsibilities of the world. But, just as often, no thinking or feeling happens during such an activity. The mechanically preoccupied body frees the mind to observe itself, detached. This bliss is addictive.

Whether the artist is stamping pi into sheets of paper or making repetitive strokes of paint, the content may be less in the form than in the process. I think introverted people--and the introspective aspect of everyone--is wordlessly drawn to such hyperbolic works because they resonate with their own similar activities.

If you attend to these objects, and the company they keep in this exhibition, in conjunction with the artist statements, you will know more about the deep creative workings of the introverted personality than you can learn from any book.

Zen was designed by and for introverts.

Chris Gardiner makes square and rectangle-painting sculptures. They are mono-chromed, fabric covered boxes with meticulously hand-stitched edges. He has been making these things for a decade. The "anxiety compartments," as he calls them, are heavy. He claims they are filled with objects. But, unless you destroy the work, you will not know them. Sleepless Nights in Korea is a thick expanse of drying-blood red. The label explains that, apart from the visible elements are hidden thing made of wood, aluminum, lead, felt and shellac.

I make what I call anxiety compartments which are then covered in fabric and paint skins. I drew the initial idea from Dutch bedside boxes (for resolve of anxiety) and reversing, conceptually, the notion of Pandora's box. Beyond the idea of their being resolved of personal and planetary anxiety within the system, I am also interested in the reflexive issues raised in terms of its art object properties. Typically, an art object aims to reflect and represent the world it is made within. My work purposely conceals the message to reveal the very impossibility of statements and the deep-rooted anxiety at the heart of that venture. I think my essay and the Venus Bivar essay attempt to articulate just that but I feel the work itself speaks volumes on its own. I am not interested in spelling out my maneuvers for the viewer. I have spent 10 years articulating the objects themselves and ten years extracting more and more language from them. Please be careful in their description. They are careful objects and this is how I intend them to be witnessed... carefully. That is why I asked for breathing room around them. It is important that the reader of the work see nearly nothing. I will be successful in this enterprise if that is what I am told someone saw. I hide anxiety. I hide me.

Shunryu Suzuki's words:  Be like a great bonfire and leave no trace of yourself. I have spent over ten years trying to do just that. The square I am including in Transcendent Squares is testimony to that.

The 4' by 4' red painted anxiety object to be included in Transcendent Squares  was made to hold and transform physical and metaphysical anxieties from a period in my production phase, which I refer to as "My Korea Anxiety" period. It is a red object in reference to red being a death color in Korea. (Chris Gardiner) Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James based their careers on secrets. At the center of most of their stories is a secret around which swirls the speculation that drives the action. And, the speculation and action increase in intensity the longer the secret remains concealed. The artist gains more by holding us in suspense that in pulling back the curtain. Preterition is the literary term for this circling around an unmentionable. Occasionally, as in Hawthorne's The Minister's Black Veil , the secret is never revealed. The reader like the characters in the tale, remain in suspense. The utility of this device is that it allows the artist to behave as if (s)he has shown something without having really done so. It is a means of testing the waters without the risk of diving in.

Chris Gardiner's "anxiety compartments" are not self-immolating gestures, but frozen bonfires. They contain every trace of himself. Rather than erasing, Gardiner is mummifying tokens of his being. Like a diary, these packages seem addressed to a future (perfect) viewer/reader who will be more appreciative than those in the present. Perhaps one who will be willing to risk violence to see what is hidden. And, if all goes well, it will be a reader who cannot then interrogate the artist.

He says "it is important that the reader of the work see nearly nothing. I will be successful in this enterprise if that is what I am told someone saw." Nearly nothing is not nothing. To see "nearly nothing" is definitely to see something. What is the thing he wishes people to see? Is it the desire to express, or to be, nothing?--that would be something! To say 'nothing' is always to refer to a specific absence, a missing or overlooked thing. This recalls the title of another piece in the show, See Nothing, See Everything!, and the hope that our existential crisis will be resolved in a flash of (for some, apocalyptic) enlightenment. From the Buddhist point-of-view, everything is in nothing and nothing in everything. Is this what Gardiner is gesturing toward?

A frightening possibility (after Derrida) is that we have nothing at ourcenters. Ours souls, Selves, etc., are only the expressions of a desire. The rich architecture (even, or especially, concealed architecture) is a bulwark built around this lack. This is a significant nothing. Is this the "metaphysical anxiety" Gardiner is talking about? Is his work is a closed book, a volume accessible only to the imagination?

He does say that the present box was "made to hold and transform physical and metaphysical anxieties." This hint about physical anxieties and the use of the Korean colour for death, revives the idea that this is an act of mummification; that Gardiner is symbolically wrapping and burying his corporeal and spiritual anxieties. This ensures, ironically, that they are at once disposed of and given a new life. The act tends to reify these anxieties rather than eliminates them--which may be an admission that doubt and anxiety can be a strength, the root of an over-coming. His hope is for transformation; that these energies will be changed from negative to positive through this ritual.

What remains for the viewer? In an agnostic cultural moment, the sight of such necessary rituals is likely to ring true for many people. The "very impossibility of statements" does not preclude the necessity of trying.

Ernest Klinger has spent a long time making white paintings, but they have yet to become repetitious. Each is an experiment in balancing renunciation and meaning, refusal and acceptance, in the inevitable of making a mark by our passage through this life, and the desire not to make more than the necessary violences.

These works are my response to our contemporary, accelerated culture.   Out of necessity, I must participate in, and even contribute to this acceleration, but every so often I go to my studio to reflect, to contemplate, to paint, and to think (or to not think, for that matter).

In a world that increasingly shouts at us, I choose not to shout back, but to respond with silence. In a world that bombards us with images, I choose to respond with no image. To a culture that is accelerated and rewards acceleration, I respond by slowing down. In a culture that unabashedly promotes the material, I seek to find a balance in the spiritual.

The material is measurable, quantifiable and provable. The spiritual is intangible and ephemeral, but not, I believe, inexpressible or intransmittable.

I know of no technique whereby I can actually paint the spiritual. I can only paint the physical elements and hope, as I do, that the spiritual elements will somehow be carried into the work as well; that intimations of the spiritual will reside in and be transmitted by the works.

These are my stated goals-what I aspire to. I don't claim that I am succeeding in accomplishing this, but it is what I continue to reach for. (Ernest Klinger)

The two untitled works in this exhibition are grid paintings that feature rows of single white brush strokes (324 and 162). They start off thick and end a little thinner as they speed out their short lives. The paintings look like charts or calendars. Each stroke records the life of a specific mark but could also be symbolic of a second, a day or lives. Like Noestheden, Klinger often works like a machine to reduce the personal and autographic. It is as if these are martyrous acts of devotion, a self-imposed renunciation in the hopes of healing the world, symbolically and by example. Often, men and women of deep feeling, adopt patterns opposites to their natures in order to take the world into themselves and be living antidotes.

Klinger paints the spiritual while knowing this to be impossible. He is sure that in the effort something of that experience will come through. Every spiritual tradition uses images and things and disciplines as means to reach the spiritual. The things and practices are not spiritual but sacred. To the adept, and in the moment of use, these things hover between being and non-being. But, when an artist is not working within a tradition--with shared codes and elders--often the tools are arranged, the messages sent, but few can use or read them. Empathy for the larger project is a necessary condition for the reading of this work.

Among the most minimal of pieces in this exhibition is Dennis Evans' Fata Morgana , a five foot square sheet of sheer, milky white dacron stretched over a cedar armature. Depending on the light, the stretcher and even the wall can barely be seen through it. It is both a presence and an absence.

Fata Morgana means mirage. It is also the title of one of Werner Herzog's key films, 1968-70. As always, he is commenting on the human condition. In Fata Morgana he exposes mankind's shaky position in the universe with a slow-witted and sometimes dull presentation. The lack of emotional highs and lows are cast with deformed and obscured imagery--translucent, mirage like. It takes place in the deserts of northern Africa. This even keeled delivery influences my perceptual queries.

My Fata Morgana begins with the optical phenomenon that veils and reveals. The milky white dacron stretched over the cedar armature has the ability to absorb and reflect light simultaneously. Depending on the lighting and viewing position it can appear opaque or transparent but more often than not translucent. These soft perceptual shifts challenge our ability to locate and stabilize the picture space. The reality of picture plane and figure ground is in question. The ambiguity of space infers that the whole is more than the multiplicity of its parts. The object is a real time experience in the physicality and immediacy of the viewer's space.

Fata Morgana is a sure statement of uncertainty. The fact of its thick yet permeable presence, yet otherwise utter blankness, can be uncomfortably close to the dream-like relation many of us have to reality, for time to time. Staring into the piece feels ridiculous because you know there is nothing to reward your attention. There is nothing hidden, no design. It makes me wonder, then, about other works that have designs and meanings. Are they just projected desires on the truly blank fact of our lives? Or, is this meant to inspire a more hopeful meditation--that a peaceful, full nothing lies behind the world of images?

Look In, Look Out is an architectural model for a building Evans intends to realize this year.

It will be a straw bale structure (possibly finished with stucco) with an eight-foot cubic interior. There will be a window/door cut into each of the sides. It is a space for individuals to contemplate the natural world and themselves. Like Fata Morgana , it is an empty stage, an amenable space for the viewer/participant to make meaningful.

Linda Keeper makes felt marker drawings on graph paper. She meticulously fills in the squares to create patterns. The first ones were quite simple, but they are becoming increasingly complex. The designs derive their richness not only by playing with interference patterns, but also through odd colour games. If you spend enough time with them, they become hypnotic. And if you try to trace her organization, they are often bewildering.

I started my graphic artwork in the winter of 2001 after I won a gift certificate for art supplies at a Sakewewak Artist Collective's Christmas party. I bought 20 felt marker pens and a science graph paper notebook. At the same time, I began the book The Artist Way, by Anne Cameron. I wrote in my January 20th morning pages, " I could open up my heart and mind to my Creator and ask for help in getting my work done. ... I like geometric patterns and Indian style patterns."   In February I began simple designs and experimented with colour and texture on different size squares creating one called Sunrise and another like a tapestry in shades of blues, purples, greens and hints of black.   For me, it's part of a healing process: my own personal occupational therapy.

Some days and nights I was and am obsessed with tactile and mechanical action of filling in paper with colours, patterns, hidden images and random pictures. By now I have hand coloured literally thousands of squares and created over one hundred pieces of work with no two exactly the same. My favourite size is 10 x 10 to an inch, the decimal system developed by the ancient Aztecs. As a kid I loved math and geometry.

People have interesting and varied responses. Frequent comments about my patience,   " Do you do beadwork?" " How much time does it take to do a piece?"   Some see hidden images depending on their focus. " I see the circles in your squares." Some like the variety in my use of colours and the visual texture it creates.   They say it looks like weaving, fabric or tapestry; beadwork, quillwork or a pieced quilt top; mosaics or tiles.

Know Where You're From to Go Forward reflects some of twists and turns on my journey along the Red Road while living the reality of an Anishenabe woman, daughter, sister, mother and grandmother. Patterns from my "Urban Indian" experiences, Sisler High public school where I dreamed of being an architect; Winnipeg Indian and Metis Friendship Centre where I met artists like Carl Ray, Daphine Odjig, Jackson Beardy and many more; years of going to or organizing Youth/Elders workshops, trade and craft shows and cultural events, concerts and celebrations. (Linda Keeper)                  

As with many works in this exhibition, Keeper's drawings are theraputic. Separate from the world and yet symbolically linked, these patterns emerge and evolve according to their own logic, carrying away the artist with them. When I first began looking through Linda's large collection of drawings, I thought they were repetitive and decorative. But I could very quickly see the nuances and invention. It was clear that she was searching for something. Her making was restless and often strange. She kept complicating the designs, pulling out symbols, relating colours to personal and cultural meanings. Soon, the pages became as alive to me as music. This simple piece is just a section of her journey, a glimpse. It is a mandala form that seems centrifugal and centripetal at once. While Keeper may, in conversation, point out the meaning of the colours and patterns, that is, what they mean for her, but she also leaves it up to you to find the meanings that you need.

Though cool and calm, You Come as A Tornado and When You Depart All Is Forgiven is the most expressionistic and painterly painting in the exhibition. While the ground is stable, the colours are vibrant and celebratory. Like so many thing here, the painting's art historical roots are hard to locate. It is a hybrid informed by abstract painting, by Navaho sand paintings, by Tibetian mandalas, by First Nations bead and blanket designs. But, as Bob Boyer explains, the sources are not only derived from the external world.

Every thing, every idea, is made up of one or more things or ideas that preceded it. But some things, some works of art do not just skim the surface of previous likenesses, but endevour to reach below the surface and tap into archetypal designs and narratives that are meaningful to more than one age.

This painting is in response to references heard being made about the whirlwind, the swastika and supernatural forces. A reference was also heard being made about an individual's ability to stay ahead of disaster.

In studying Aboriginal art history one will notice that in traditional Northern Plains culture the square is represented far more than the circle (a very interesting observation that goes against the popular written reference to circles). But I note that if you add up all the right angles [ 90 degrees times 4 ] you end up with 360 degrees the same amount of degrees referenced in the circle.

So-o-o-o, following this line of thought the painting is about the meditative process entered as if a maze and or vision quest that leads one from the outside to the inner or outer realm of the mind and/or spirituality.

This interest in the creative or spiritual visioning process has been a part of my work for the last five or six years. The process is usually unveiled through works referencing sacred places I have visited in the world, usually a reality but sometimes imaginatively. Visiting people both actually and spirituality has also lead to 'portraits' about their essence rather than their being. This process is like traveling down the highway on my motorcycle when there are times my body and motorcycle disappear. Somehow my mind and/or spirit transcend the physical and all I am aware of is the air, wind and smells. I as a person disappear into a wedge of the world around. At night as I crawl into bed in the dark and close my eyes to the dark a light opens up on in my eyes closed room. Thus begins another space full of light with all kinds of action and images continuing on in parallel to what is going on around my bed and house. In the dark of a sweat lodge when a song is sung a world of daylight creeps in to reveal an answer.

Is this the world of the subconscious? Is this all imagination? Is this meditation? Is this creativity? Is it reality? Is it approaching Nirvana? Is it the Spirit world? Is this communicating to the universe by becoming part of it?

Spiritual and religious careers have been made of this stuff. Artists and philosophers have built careers around this stuff. Martyrdom has followed this stuff. Heresy is just around the corner of this stuff.

Due to my particular circumstances and upbringing I have been tracking these questions from my youth. Sometimes I am moved by the thoughts as spiritually and sometimes I am lead to dismiss them as pure imaginative entertainment. Sometimes Carl Jung is the answer and sometimes Joan of Ark.. Not being particularly gifted or moved as a writer I have over the years tried to bring the above issues into existence through paint. Perhaps I have been successful and perhaps not.

For me the process has lead me to the path of abstraction. A bad choice over the past years when painting, abstraction and spirituality were kind of pariahs of the pop culture reflected in the arts. Kind of the opposite of the smart, techy, sterility experience of recent art making practices. My chosen approach feels archaic in nature. I guess it is archaic in nature. I guess I have chosen to be archaic in my present practice.

Art McKay, Otto Don Rogers, Lawren Harris and Madame Blavatksi come to mind. Tibetan and Navajo sand painters come to mind. I know the subject is as old as mankind. The experience has been documented in caves throughout the world. Greater minds and painters than I have questioned the experience, but there it is. I am compelled to try and reach that depth in painting that we so easily reach through sleep.

Is it abstract painting or merely painting of abstract thoughts? At the moment [I think ] abstract art is merely the painting of abstract thoughts. I guess spirituality is an abstract thought. It seems archaic and, arcane but it still appears to be part of the question to our humanity.

Our Postmodern era is characterized by a critique of metaphysics and a disbelief in meta-narratives--including a search for truth, beauty and purity. To be engaged in contrary, existential and metaphysical research, is to resist the dominant discourse and to appear (worse still) Modernist. But, as I have tried to show, this work is not regressive, it exists between Modernism and Postmodernism and challenges both. The artists borrow what they need and are beholden to neither. What is interesting to me, is that most are struggling with the deep problems of meaning rather than just semiotic and art world problems. They are not illustrating theory or their spiritual convictions, but engaging us with their restless search. On the surface, Transcendent Squares is an exhibition of abstract art by fourteen Western Canadian artists. I hope viewers can glimpse something more.

David Garneau 2003


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David Garneau
Associate Professor at The University of Regina
Faculty of Fine Arts, Visual Arts Department.
RC 245 | (306) 585-5615 |