Me A Talker – Oscar Figeuroa

In the tall space of Robert Kananaj gallery is Oscar Figeuroa’s Solo, Me A Talker. Here one finds their eyes dart upward taking in the cool guy banner of some clear material with the classic opaque black shades, which connote a kind of playful Lacanian sensibility: as within that framework in line of sight we next see a mirror with playful eyeballs, attached at the height of a small child on the back wall of the gallery. This googly eyed mirror is leaned just so. A lot of the work engages the whole space in its ironic placement on the floor and wall interstice for example. The placement of a window frame against the wall was another favourite in its simple if not universal message. This is a strategy I have seen Oscar investigate in previous works with a certain mastery for evoking a kind of youthful abandon. Each piece is a poetic conundrum. There is a lot of questioning here, a lot of wanton paradoxical implications. His works are humble reflections evoking the inner child in all of us. A frankness and ease hold each quirky piece at odds with the viewer, shifting and varied one never tires of the wit and play.

Oscar is a rising star in this rebellious gallery of onlookers. His work sits in ironic contrast to assertion. His eyes are open wide, but is this a waking dream? Robert Kananaj seems to think so, or is it hyper-reality? This language of complex syntax is best found here in the coalescing views of this contemporary peripatetic, Oscar Figueroa. 

“You Fuck With That You Fuck with Me”

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Salon A’Cote #1 : Savina Ioannou, Mike Morris, Izaak Sacrebleu & Shaheer Zazai

A’Cote Studios is a little off the beaten track. No one is denying that, out in the stockyards its a far cry from Toronto’s burgeoning west end art scene. And yet here I am entering an intimate space, being handed a glass of champagne and stepping out from under the coat rack and into a vaulting salon in the classic style. I over-hear the young gallerist Francois A’Côté explaining the roots and conventions of such a technique to a stoic old collector, and some curious eavesdroppers such as myself. People seem to be braving the subzero temperatures and traversing the city just to get a peek at these underground artists. “The salon style had its genesis in mid 19th century France,” Francois explains, “In essence what I admire most is the inclusivity”. These works in this way defy hierarchy. The ad hoc assemblage is precious and intricate with paintings ranging from a few inches across to a few feet. Some of the larger pieces have been ingeniously hung so as to lean down toward the viewer. The whole assemblage vibrant and eclectic, is installed on a huge red square, alluding to the old salons of Paris.

Of course we can’t quite just sum these young artists up as members of some neo-salon de refusés. They are a curious group and an active one at that. Three painters and one photographer. Savina Ioannou’s small works play off Shaheer Zazai’s abstract pieces in a colourful syntax, a whiplashing dancing frenzy of forms, most electric in each case. Savina’s practice is grounded in art therapy, a field of which she is an expert, such titles as Night Bloom and Vibrations In Blue evoke a kind of synesthesia, while drawing on notions of conscious and unconscious processes. Zazai’s work is threefold, in this fine selection of almost 50 works, his obsessive love of teal dominates the eye. However, the curious conceptual work, a digital archival print on watercolour paper from his Microsoft carpet series, is very successful in breaking up the visual space with it’s elusive pattern. Also included are a new series of smaller abstractions breaking from his usual colour scheme. They have a certain whimsy, I find them reminiscent of the impressionists of the old salon.

Mike Morris’ photographs meanwhile, characteristically shot on a 1957 rolleiflex, are seamlessly woven throughout. His subject’s hands clasped against a chainlink fence, challenges one’s gaze in her blithe abandon, holding you there in stasis. One thinks of the police uncertain of their next move. Should they just toss aside their uniforms and jump in themselves? His elegant series Night Swim becomes perhaps the most prescient narrative in this compelling labyrinth of plastic approaches. Last but not least one finds Izaak Sacrebleu, the glue holding it all together. This here is familiar territory for his work, as most pieces come from his ‘Painting About Painting’ series, a body of work inspired by 19th century salons. I myself linger at a smaller acrylic painting of his, I succumb to the endless charm and cheekiness of Stoke Newington Proprietor of Fine Arms & Lumbers, which I believe is from his Kitsch Assemblage and the Ornate series.

As I sit in the lavish yet humble comforts of A’Cote Studio, I can’t help but hope for the success of these sorts of underground endeavours. À Côté’s expertise in installation, and careful considerations here make for a refreshing stand off to anything bourgeois or centralized. This wild west is a place for conversation and appreciation amid synthetic approaches to contemporary curation.

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Fotopsychodiagnostik: by Christine Davis

“Art is the strife of earth and sky,” Martin Heidegger. The first thing that pops into my head as I take in these beguiling dreamlike light boxes. They feature moody vibrant cityscapes, sweeping clouds and sunsets. I am blown away. I am drawn to lit up images, I am reminded here of the smaller effect I achieved with colour slide photography as a sophomore. Of course there is nothing sophomoric about a show at Olga’s.

These cerebral dichotomies beget a dualistic harmony so cherished by those who know the Rorschach test. What is hidden and what is revealed is dramatically manifest in these elegant glassworks. Having a background in mental health, I wonder, what right does Davis have to be appropriating old tests from psychiatry or psychology? Why is she referencing this famous epistemological tool in her work. Since 1921 of course many people have been inspired by the Rorschach test. Interesting that its integrity has been slowly eroded: the original test was most effective when it was unknown to the patient – it has been a controversial method since the 1960’s, and perhaps before. Litigation over its efficacy and objectivity has occurred as recently as 2001 – the test being unknown to the patient prevented biases from emerging, prevented the patient’s impulse to skew the test results.

“Within the symmetry, we see instead mushroom clouds and post-apocalyptic cities. They are all at once seductive, and deeply threatening.” There is a sort of unease, a sort of warping to be sure. Although my most innate response is something closer to the notion of phantasmagoria. The work is successful in drawing out the phantasm of ones mind, eradicating any clutter, these works draw you in the way a Rorschach test properly does, revealing that hidden element Heidegger felt was so intrinsic to the sublime. I get that time and place can be integral to a work. Especially with those still enthralled by the American Dream, or in this case acknowledging a paradoxical weariness of it. I would say however, the Statue of Liberty or emphasis on NYC is the one failure of the exhibition. From the exhibition statement I am to understand it was the inspiration. To me it leads the work into some dialogical mish-mashing of American art. The gallery rebuts this notion stating, “Fotopsychodiagnostik is the artist’s direct response to witnessing the well-weathered symbolic view from her studio window, while listening constantly to the news. The work is a result of the disconnect between beauty and disbelief.” This is an interesting perspective, it gives the viewer a sense of the emotion Davis wishes to convey. A reflection on her connectionto a chaos outside her studio window, dubiously silenced by the majesty of a vast panoramic metropolis and open sky. Although in the sense of Roland Barthes, I am drawn to the work more objectively. I am drawn to see the work as something much stronger than American art (though perhaps I’m simply betraying a personal bias). I am not interested in where she made it, or what city it depicts. The point here is the timeless element. There is a stirring of the subconscious in these luminescent images, a deep surreality. One stands amidst these rows of glass in baffled contemplation. There is something clinical, sterile: some synthetic element. Are these x-rays of the artist’s soul? Sublime landscapes of the unconscious?

The swanky sofa at the end of the gallery seams almost glib, were it not so extravagant. One gets the unwieldy feeling of a Stanley Kubrick film. Did he ever directly portray psychoanalyses? One of the images makes up the fabric of the piece. My associate asks to sit down, to which Olga’s heir apparent smiles and says, “You break it you buy it”. Not exactly an invitation, but a reasonableresponse. He did not sit down. This classic scenario brought to mind the great divide in art: what is commercial or museum quality, versus the current trends in relational aesthetics. It is a stellar show in one of the grand galleries of North America, and Christine Davis has just made it on my radar. Alongside the exhibit I learn of a ‘work in process’ called ‘Machines for Thinking’, or ‘Knowledge of Life, or the Imagination is a Function without an Organ’. At any rate a terrific accompaniment to the work at Olga Korper Gallery, giving us a glimpse into this fascinating artist’s peculiar methods.
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Limitless, Boundless, and Forever Beautiful: An Exhibition by Long Gao

We found Black Cat by following trampled rose pedals in the snow. ‘Good god, what a romantic,’ I thought. Though in the snow amidst all the footsteps there was also something tragic: so many feet decimating such soft expression. Anyway, following the trail we arrive at a quaint and minimal gallery portioned out of a very old building in Toronto’s west end. The Black Cat is an ancient store front with distinctive features, and we are now here at Long Gao’s exhibition, Limitless, Boundless, and Forever Beautiful. Sweeping through this pleasant facade of a time gone by – unique glass work framing from above – groups mingle before an effulgent mandala of red rose pedals. I make my way through the crowd, past the parallel projection of pinned rose emojis. “She loves me, she loves me not” : this vibrant circle expresses that kitsch trope of boyhood uncertainty. This is “the ephemerality of love within the context of digital technology,” put simply by the artist’s statement. The rose is dried out dust, but the love endures. The love fades and the rose emoji lingers forever after in global semantic networks. Your children’s children’s children will see that rose, in the same way that historical figures’ intimate letters are read throughout the succeeding centuries, without an ethical thought. That is, so long as a solar flare doesn’t wipe out every microchip on Earth some day. When’s the last time you reread the transcripts of a failed relationship?

And of course we arrive at the simulacra.. “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning,” posits Baudrillard. There is indeed a dark side to this work: despite the J-pop aesthetic, and all the cute and bubbly feelings this intersection of the virtual and the real connotes. The work is so vibrant and so pop, and yet it deconstructs our sense of the real. Is a virtual flower meaningless? Or can Gao’s hybridizing of the virtual and the real produce emblematic expressions out of this paradox of meaning? Gao’s reification of the virtual is a vivid reflection on the flat surface of our global village. It is a compelling case for the striving of real emotion and feeling in our online wooing. Are we being sincere? A virtual bouquet is certainly cheaper. What does a certain combination of imagery evoke? Our expressions he seems to affirm, are meaningful: whether entangled in our olfactory bulb like the flowers, jotted down on paper, or in their trans-human form produced in these instantaneous electro-reflections. These symbols are the vernacular of the 21st century. “The secrets of the Egyptians, were also the secrets for the Egyptians themselves,” says Žižek. It could be that we’ll never fully grasp the depth of our own symbols. As McLuhan predicted, it seems we have come full circle, hot and cold media intermingling in a frenzy of interwoven expression. Emoji are now standardized by Unicode, like any other alphabet: there is even a committee where the standard is in flux. They ask one another, “Do we need a squirrel emoji when we have a chipmunk?” Do these new media at least function in part to transcend conventional languages? These ideograms are, to my mind, neo-hieroglyphic images. I think this type of work draws us into that notion of a return, somehow incumbent to McLuhan’s electronic age. I am reminded here of the tautological Stein, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”


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