Jeffrey Spalding – Le Droit de Suite at the St. F.X. U., Antigonish, N.S.

Here we see internationally renowned artist, author and curator Jeffrey Spalding installing an ongoing piece entitled “Diary Secrets”, which began in 1975. Consisting of panels, canvases, and gallery walls all painted the same colour and re-painted with a new colour, making the underlying colours become “secret”.

“The art practice of Jeffrey Spalding is rooted in an academically rigorous philosophy of conceptual art…born in Halifax at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design…in 1967 when Gary Neil Kennedy became president.” (Bruce Campbell, CA, 2011)

“Diary Secrets” is only one of three groupings of work in the exhibition “Le Droit de Suite: Process Painting 1974 – 2011” showing now at the St. FX University Art Gallery in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. The other two groupings, “Re-viewing the Black Paintings” and “Corrective Pleasures” come together in a brilliant illustration of not only Spalding’s brilliant career thus far, but also reminds the viewer of the importance of this school of conceptual art to Canadian Art History.

On Thursday February 3rd Jeffrey Spalding will give an illustrated lecture on his work. The presentation will start at 7:00 pm, Room 205 Schwartz School of Business, StFX University.

The Gallery is located on the StFX University Campus, 1st Floor Bloomfield centre next to the University Bookstore. Gallery Hours are Tuesday -Friday: 12 noon to 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday: 1 to 4, closed Mondays and Holidays. For more information please phone 902-867-2303.


Juan Zavaleta – Beauty, Blood, Politics

For two years, Mexican/Canadian artist Juan Luis Zavaleta worked in a major meat plant in Manitoba. There he witnessed tens of thousands of hogs slaughtered every single day. His health deteriorated, both physically and mentally, but from that arose a body of work that is macabre and beautiful and political and strong.

I asked both Zavaleta and the curator at Gallery Connexion, Meredith Snider, some questions about the current installation of  Souls of God (Get Back to Us) and Slaughterhouse:

AM: Is the work beautiful?

JZ: Any work that offers the opportunity to give a response back can be considered beautiful. The parameters of beauty and ugliness are ruled by social temporary contexts. Therefore, such concepts are merely abstract and cannot be used to label a work of art such as a conceptual installation which was designed and created to convey a specific message in regard of its subject matter. The beauty of ugliness could be considered in certain cases (not in all cases) even more profound and attractive than pure and plain beauty since its meaning lays in the response the audience gives towards it.
So yes, my installation is deeply beautiful.

MS: Juan Zavaleta’s installation The Degradation of Ourselves is aesthetically beautiful, drawing sensory, emotional, and intellectual judgments from viewers.  It invokes a sensory experience as one follows arrows on the floor throughout a series of passages, created to mimic a factory style production line.  Instead of carcasses and machinery as one would find in a slaughterhouse, viewers walk between bloodied uniforms once worn by the artist and shifting walls of dried, blood-soaked paper towel.  There is a vague odor at certain passages that one must assume is blood.  It is not so intense as to be revolting but is enough to give the illusion of a scent.  One may be struck by feelings of disgust, but upon further consideration, by feelings of empathy for those working in the conditions that are represented by this installation.  It requires contemplation and questions; the need for large-scale production based on demand and over consumption; how current century jobs approach human slavery; and one’s own role in this type of industry.

AM: Is it painful?

JZ: My installation is very painful considering the several fibres that its subject matter touches. These topics, such as human misery and animal suffering (although the installation was never meant to be an instrument of animal rights advocacy) can be defined in a series of sub themes such as human slavery, labour abuse, social break downs, physical detriment and many others. Once the public experiences the entire installation, they too get a sense of this pain. As a human being that was directly involved in this experience, it was extremely painful for me, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn firsthand the reality of human bondage inside the 21st century industrial complex.

MS: The installation required monotonous and continuous action reminiscent of the factory job it represented (on a small scale of course!).  At the particular pork plant where Zavaleta worked 10,000 to 20,000 hogs are slaughtered every day forcing workers to repeat the exact same cut or motion equivalent times.  It can easily lead to injury.  The exhibition voices a painful experience shared by many people, including immigrants to Canada who may have come from developing countries for the appeal of a better life.

AM: Is it political?

JZ: My work is always human related. It permanently deals with social issues, and in this specific project, yes, it is absolutely political. I am using this installation to raise awareness towards the cynically open 21st century slavery. This is a new bold strategy to keep people under absolute and ironically volunteer bondage. We are allowed to leave any time we want but we cannot because all of us are bounded to perpetual debt inside the financial system.

MS: The Degradation of Ourselves certainly references the power of a corporation.  It brings to light the degrees of difference between the factory workers and those in top management positions.

AM: Is it personal?

JZ: Could not be otherwise. It is very personal since I was directly involved in this 21st century slavery. It is so because I lived the detriment and because I do not want humanity to live under such circumstances any longer. I want my kids to have the opportunity to leave whole lives, unchained from this enslavement, controlled by a tinny but none the less evil elite that we can openly describe as “new world order”.

MS: The Degradation of Ourselves represents a personal experience for Zavaleta, one that was challenging both physically and mentally.  When viewing the installation one gets a sense of what it must be like to work on the kill floor of a meat processing plant, the repetition, the monotony, the blood, and the close quarters.  It has a human story element that resonates even more strongly than the slaughtering of hogs does.   Zavaleta’s own uniforms hang in the installation, mimicking a production line but making a closer link to human than to hog.  The most personal component of the exhibition for me is #8, The Marks of Death.   The paper towels each have a marking of dried blood that is reminiscent of used sanitary napkins and at the same time several markings appear phallic.  Zavaleta
obtained these marks by pressing paper towel to the neck of the hog where it had been cut to bleed out.

Souls of God (Get Back to Us) and Slaughterhouse is on display at Galerie Connexion in Fredericton, New Brunswick until February 24th, 2011.

Cadenza – Jinny Yu & Don Andrus at the Confederation Centre

Two well-known Canadian artists from different parts of the country have begun a dialogue on painting by creating two large murals for a new exhibit at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery.

Jinny Yu and Don Andrus: Cadenza is a collaborative project by artists Don Andrus (a former professor in Art History at Concordia University Montréal, now based in PEI) and Jinny Yu (born in Korea, now teaching at the University of Ottawa).

The pair picked a starting point, an 18th century Venetian mural by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). Cadenza is not an homage to Tiepolo or the history of painting. It is an inquiry into the nature of painting today and their respective studio practices.

They agreed on the scale of their works: both murals are the same size as the Tiepolo: 5 feet by 44 feet, and that their works will be installed facing each other. Yu did preparatory work during a Charlottetown residency, and completed her work while in residence in New York. Andrus visited Yu in New York and adjusted the colour of his work to resonate with hers.

“In essence, it is a dialogue on the walls. The title Cadenza is apt, a term in music referring to improvisations within a scored piece of music. It is a reference to their intention in creating their own particular variation on Tiepolo’s mural,” says the exhibit’s curator, Ihor Holubizky.

“In a local history perspective, Tiepolo’s mural was completed 15 years after the establishment of continuous French settlement on PEI. Yet it survived, and close to 300 years later, its signal is amplified and rests on the walls of the Confederation Centre Art Gallery—food for thought and quiet contemplation in the 21st century,” he adds.

Jinny Yu and Don Andrus: Cadenza opens January 15 and is on display until May 29. The exhibition is curated by adjunct curator Ihor Holubizky.

above image: Don Andrus, (detail), 2010, oil stick, oil pastel, fresco slip on meranti board, 163.4 x 121.9 cm, on loan from the artist


Betty Goodwin: Darkness and Memory at the Dalhousie Art Gallery

Organized by the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Betty Goodwin: Darkness and Memory graces Nova Scotia’s capital at the Dalhousie University Art Gallery from January 13th – March 6, 2011.

A constant presence on the Montréal art scene since the late 1960s, Betty Goodwin (Montréal, 1923-2008) is recognized as one of the leading figures of contemporary Canadian art. In 2003 the Dalhousie Art Gallery presented The Prints of Betty Goodwin, organized by the National Gallery of Canada, which featured a rich selection of iconic prints by the artist. Betty Goodwin: Darkness and Memory is a traveling exhibition which features more than thirty works by Goodwin drawn from the permanent collection of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal.

In the accompanying exhibition catalogue, Josée Bélisle, Curator of the Permanent Collection for the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, writes:

Produced over a period of five decades, Goodwin’s oeuvre developed in cycles of work, linked but distinct, that were executed either concurrently or in alternation but were always compelled by a singular and powerful thread: that of the traces and signs of the presence (or absence) of the other and, by extension, the self. Goodwin persistently re-examined the objects that shape our time and our passage through the uncertain territories of human existence. A sense of timelessness, almost of an eternity vanquished, infuses the entire body of work of one of Canada’s most exceptional artists.

The national tour of the exhibition Betty Goodwin: Darkness and Memory has been made possible with the support of the Department of Canadian Heritage through its Museums Assistance Program.

Douglas Gordon: Play Dead: Real Time at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery!

Experiencing the work of internationally renowned artist Douglas Gordon, I get the unique feeling only attained when writing or saying aloud the word, “milk” over and over again. I used to experiment with this when I was a child, and found that when forced to examine the mundane in such detail, it becomes something else entirely; something abstract, other worldly, thought-provoking. Try it; milk, milk, milk, milk, milk, milk, milk, milk, milk…

Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery in Halifax’s upcoming exhibition of the 2003 piece “Play Dead: Real Time”, opens on January 7th, 2011, at 8pm. For this monumental video installation, Gordon transported a four-year-old Indian elephant to New York’s Gagosian Gallery where he filmed the massive pachyderm performing a sequence of circus tricks from playing dead to standing still to begging. The three screens, as well as the large scale and Gordon’s brilliant camera angles create something very different from just an elephant in a white cube.

My work is more about researching, about memory, about stories that happened, films I saw… I’m interested in finding out what happens when you look at something so long, it disappears. You look at a picture, you start looking through the picture and you get to the other side- and then you go back to the front view. “-Douglas Gordon, 1999

Interesting. I wonder if Mr. Gordon in fact, also used to perform my little experiment with “milk”, repeating it over and over again until it disappeared into something completely new.

Douglas Gordon: Play Dead: Real Time is organized by the National Gallery of Canada, and will be showing at Saint Mary’s University Art Gallery until February 6th 2011.
Douglas Gordon was born in 1966 in Glasgow, Scotland. He lives and works in New York.

Image: Douglas Gordon Play Dead: Real Time 2003 Courtesy National Gallery of Canada © Douglas Gordon / photo © NGC