Saturday, November 03, 2007

Living Utopia and Disaster

Thank God for Art, that's all I can say. So much art seems to me to be so much better at moving one, not to mention making one think in new ways. The Alberta Biennale of Contemporary Art at the Walter Phillips Gallery at the Banff Centre makes it just a little easier to deal with the environmental anxiety roiling barely under the surface these days.
For the 6th incarnation of the Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, curators Catherine Crowston and Sylvie Gilbert have undertaken an investigation of the dual themes of Utopia and Disaster within the context of Alberta and its relation to the world environment.
While I'm not quite sure yet what the context of Alberta is in its relation to world environmental devastation and while I would have wished for something that hit closer to home, I'm excited by the number of brilliant pieces. Highlights include Jennifer Bowe's luxurious blanket woven of text, Anu Guha-Thakurta's scraps of ephemera pinned daintily to a wall, shadows sturdy as pegs. Some of the work is very on point: Chris Flodberg's triptych of paintings of dogs tearing at food while above them a banquet laid out, and behind that an urban world crumbling. Others are a little more slant: an empty room with a camera waiting to be interacted with, the only possible outcome a grayscale of self from Kay Burns , Jonathan Kaiser's installation is a room filled with the sound of rushing water, half a dozen empty fish tanks, holes stopped up, seaweed spilling through the roof, and a transom over the door showing water rising and rising... One of the most moving, and powerful is Mary Kavanagh's installation of videos embedded in small holes (4x6), that show people frolicking on what first seems to be a beach, but turns out to be the White Sands missile testing grounds. A brilliant reworking of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days that resonates profoundly. The works do, as the curators hope, illustrate the wild swings between depression--there's not a hope in hell for either the human race, or the planet--and optimism--we haven't even begun to imagine what innovation can mean!

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