Saturday, November 13, 2004

Free tix from one of our regulars to last night's Death Cab for Cutie show at the Commodore. So I was a little surprised to arrive around 930 or so, only to hear the surge of applause for "Montreal's...Stars!" Could those be the same Stars whose debut disc I played to death in the shop last year, after hearing a track kindly supplied by Ron Terada? Yep! Great warm keyboard washes, tons of vocal interplay, little snippets of Brit electropop and 80s choruses in there, too, Johnny Marr smiling down from the wet November sky. Long generous set from Cutie, too, but the Stars were the night's highlight for me -- out into Granville Mall's neon and falling rain at 12:30, feeling much younger than I really am, now.

(And if you don't believe me, just Google "Elevator Love Letter"):

My office glows all night long.
It's a nuclear show and the stars are gone.
Elevator, elevator, take me home.Posted by Hello
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Remembrance Day

Cold, cold blue sky. Light white dusting of along the North Shore peaks, and deeper snowdrifts in the basin below the Lions.

Wheeling the garbage around to the big blue metal bin on Kingsway. Coffee cups, old New York Times sections, pizza boxes, plastic bags, scraps of paper off my desk.

Chilly in the shade. Then back around the corner onto Main. Brilliant warm sunlight.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Yet another Japanese mushrooming site. Really, really good color photographs, and an exhaustive Latin key. Just spent an productive half hour matching my reference photographs to theirs. Posted by Hello
Sunday, November 07, 2004
Another Art Review (for those who asked. No copies of the G&M to be found anywhere in the vicinity of Mount Pleasant, so, after midnight, off to the 24 hour 7-11 store downtown, where I was able to buy the sports section, the business section, and the visual art section -- but nothing else -- for 75 cents, as they had been discarded in the rack by a previous purchaser)

On Kevin Schmidt & Tim Lee
(slightly expanded "author's preferred version" of an article first published in the Globe and Mail national edition, 6 Nov 04)

By Christopher Brayshaw

Two photo-based exhibitions by Vancouver artists Kevin Schmidt and Tim Lee, one at Tracey Lawrence Gallery, and the other at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery, offer dramatic insight into art photography’s continuing evolution on the West Coast.

Though Lee and Schmidt at first appear to have nothing more in common than their shared medium, careful thinking reveals correspondences between them. Such comparisons, in turn, demonstrate how the cosmopolitanism of much recent Vancouver photography (in dialogue with ideas arriving from Los Angeles, London, and Düsseldorf), has been clarified by local politics and history, like water passed through a sieve.

Call that water post-conceptualism, but a very specific strain of it, one that, while acknowledging Marcel Duchamp’s insight that anything can now -- at least in theory -- be plausibly considered art (that is to say, you can no longer convincingly object to art on morphological grounds alone; an oil painting and Damien Hirst’s sculpture of a chopped up shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde are equally plausible, though not necessarily successful, art works) still prefers image-making to other art practices.

Working with established forms (as opposed to creating new materials and new forms with each new piece, a la sculptors like Thomas Hirschhorn and Jessica Stockholder) means working with art history. Schmidt and Lee both ask what it means to create images, and how they might complicate viewers’ responses to them, playing with the ways in which thought and vision enable us to perceive images as whole even if they actually fragmentary, or assembled over time.

Lee’s and Schmidt’s thinking draws upon a certain strain of late 1960s photo-conceptual art -- the early photographs of figures like Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Robert Smithson, and Douglas Huebler – and the recent work of artists like Erwin Wurm and Vancouver’s Rodney Graham, whose lush production values, zigzagging leaps from medium to medium, and constant undermining of the mechanics by which illusions of “reality” are created are a touchstone for Schmidt and Lee. Their work, like Wurm’s and Graham’s, is also really funny, and any description that doesn’t account for the frequent grins, guffaws and groans it provokes misses some essential part of it.

Schmidt’s Fog, at Presentation House Gallery, is a two-piece installation. Facing you in the darkened gallery is an eight foot by eight foot slide projection of a West Coast forest interior at night. Huge gnarled trees are covered by beards of pale green moss and lichen. Evergreen boughs crisscross the image plane. Sword ferns’ sharp points protrude from an opaque white mist that swirls across the foreground. The projected image’s enormous size and crystalline clarity makes it seem like a doorway to the distant river valley where the photograph was taken. You feel that if you stepped forward, you would find your feet scuffling through the ferns, and kicking up clouds of mist.

Fast on this sensation’s heels comes the recognition that things are not quite as they seem. Your shadow covers the image as you approach. The light on the trees’ trunks is too harsh for sunlight (It’s actually strobe lighting, created by a bulky kit packed by Schmidt and an assistant into the woods). The unnatural fog is dry ice. A second projection of an almost identical scene is stationed nearby in the exhibition space, as if to push the scene’s impossibility right over into the absurd.

Fog packs a whole train of art-historical associations. First, the tangled forest interiors of orthodox regional modernists like Emily Carr, Jack Shadbolt, and Gordon Smith. Second, and more importantly, works like Rodney Graham’s 75 Polaroids (a photo-sequence detailing a nighttime stumble through a West Coast forest, lit only by Graham’s camera’s flash attachment), and Illuminated Ravine (an urban forest lit by portable high-intensity floodlights, and meant to be walked through). These artworks’ level of detail, like Fog’s is almost hallucinatory, or psychotic, in its intensity, detailing the edges of every leaf, and the unnaturally sharp-edged shadows that stand out on the tree trunks.

Many artists assume that photographic clarity equals conceptual clarity. Schmidt, like Graham, clarifies only to confuse; his pictures aren’t “reports on knowledge,” but something more sly and provisional.

Landscape is a genre that has largely been ignored by younger Vancouver artists, perhaps out of the mistaken belief that it is solely the province of conservative artists like the late Toni Onley. Schmidt refuses to be confined by regional interpretations of landscape. Fog, like his previous, widely-exhibited video, Long Beach Led Zep, uses regional landscape motifs only to open up landscape art to the world outside the region.

While Schmidt’s work ranges all over the West Coast, Tim Lee’s images are made inside the white walls of his studio. Lee’s photographs and performances are derived from, or are re-enactments of, seminal art-historical and pop-cultural moments. Lee hybridizes art history and popular culture so willfully that his images’ titles, far from clarifying things, only add further layers of complication to the process.

Take a picture like Untitled (James Osterberg), 1970, in which a life-size Lee stretches and bends over backward, defying gravity and biology, a la comic books’ Plastic Man, or Mr. Fantastic.

The photograph is based, at least in part, on Mick Rock’s seminal picture of a bare-chested Iggy Pop in concert, bent backwards on the stage and howling into a microphone, his chest muscles clenched and tight, as if ready to burst. But the picture is also a gloss on Lee’s previous photo diptych, Untitled (No. 4, 1970), in which the artist seems to float, as if suspended by magic or sheer force of will, inches above the studio floor.

And of course both pictures are studies – sequels, if you like – to one of Lee’s favorite works of conceptual art, Bruce Nauman’s double-exposed 1966 self portrait, Failing to Levitate in the Studio.

You can think of the bent figure in the picture as Tim Lee, or Tim Lee pretending to be James Osterberg, who in turn is pretending to be his punk-rock persona, Iggy Pop, or, alternatively, Tim Lee pretending to be Iggy Pop in order to more accurately imitate the real object of his homage, Bruce Nauman. . . .

Needless to say, this associative chain isn’t clarified by exposure to further Lee productions, but hopelessly, and quite deliberately, obscured, so that you reel from picture to picture, never quite sure if Lee’s pop cultural allusions (to Harry Houdini, to Ted Williams, to Steve Martin, to Bobby Orr’s 1970 levitating, game-winning goal at Boston Garden) are as straight forward as they first appear, or if their obvious sources are actually stand-ins for the artworld figures Lee most admires.

The level of cynicism you assign to this strategy depends on how calculating you think Lee is. I think his frantic, and often very funny impersonations and name-checks, are symptoms of a fan’s honest anxiety that his own work may not measure up to that of the artists he most admires, Bruce Nauman and Rodney Graham among them.

Anxiety and crafty emulation are good materials for art – think of Manet’s emulations of Velasquez, or Jeff Wall’s Picture for Women, itself a restaging of Manet’s painting, A Bar at the Folie Bargére.

By playing with and around the conventions of conceptual and post-conceptual photography, Schmidt and Lee create their accessible, satisfying, and highly accomplished art.

(Kevin Schmidt’s Fog is on display at North Vancouver’s Presentation House Gallery from 6 November through 19 December 2004. Tim Lee’s exhibition, The Askance View, is on display at Vancouver’s Tracey Lawrence Gallery from 28 October to 27 November 2004).

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