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Carousel artists spell it out in pictures

0 out of 4 stars

Carousel CRSL23+

at Index G

$30-$6,000. Until Sept. 14,

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50 Gladstone Ave., Toronto; 416-535-6957

Carousel CRSL23+ is such a joyfully overheated gathering of new works by a gaggle of edgy artists that it's scarcely sufficient just to call it a group show.

In fact, the show is a coming together of two ambitious impulses: It's a celebration of Carousel magazine and, at the same time, the inauguration of a new venture for Index G, the Toronto gallery where Carousel CRSL23+ opened on Thursday night.

Carousel, despite its curiously Victorian-wholesome name, is an inventive Toronto-based literary and arts magazine which, in the words of its founder and managing editor, artist and writer Mark Laliberte, "focuses on giving equal space to word and image; it ideally works with artists interested in 'exploring the page' in whatever way they see fit."

The ways they see fit are invariably fresh and invigorating. The magazine's handsome pages are home to a tumble of raw, cheeky, often deliciously vulgar drawings, frequently sulphurous paintings (like the eerie Douglas Walker portfolio in the current issue, Carousel 22), obstreperous photographs, nicely demanding poems and scattered text-works.

The other shaping impulse behind Carousel CRSL23+ was the decision, by Index G's co-directors, Holly and Ka-Sing Lee, to expand their limited-edition print program (their Good Edition suite) - which hitherto produced handsome, postcard-sized, archival prints of works by gallery artists in editions of thirty (selling for $30 each) - to include much larger prints (17" by 22") as well, in editions of only ten (and selling for $300).

The exhibition proper seems to have begun with Laliberte's suggestion that because "Carousel" is an 8-letter word, it might be possible, as he explained in a recent e-mail, to organize "a little art/text experiment for inclusion on Carousel #23." The experiment would involve asking certain Carousel-related artists to interpret one of the magazine's eight letters - all of which would eventually be reproduced in colour, as a special section, in the magazine.

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The advent of these eight illuminated letters clearly struck Holly and Ka-Sing Lee as a good reason to launch their big new Good Edition prints - and indeed the eight C-A-R-O-U-S-E-L ink-jet prints (by, in order, Erik Jerezano, Michael DeForge, Jason McLean, Luke Ramsey, Mark Laliberte - who made both "U" and the final "L" - Derek Beaulieu and Jesse Harris) form the core of the exhibition.

Inevitably, however, the exhibition soon expanded to include many other works by Carousel artists, among the highlights of which are a wall of exquisitely tortured, grubby, violently energetic drawings by the brilliant Ed Pien, four collaborative drawings by Pien and the hectic Jason McLean, a couple of unforgettable, unique, ice-blue drawings by Douglas Walker, three insanely conflicted woodcuts by Victor Romao and some really smart and visually gorgeous silkscreens by Windsor-based artist/text-maker Gustave Morin. One of Morin's pieces, Shock Corridor Rapidtransit, is a route map showing a bus's progress through station stops with names like "Revulsion," "Entropy," "Angst" and (near the end of the line), "Courage" and (the final stop) "Illusion." What a dispiriting ride!

Mark Laliberte has contributed some of the best works to Carousel CRSL23+, namely his rather Lawrence Weiner-like graphic word-works, such as a wicked, three-word print that reads "Tar And Tripe." I also liked his "L" print (illustrated here) for the final word of "Carousel". Here, standing against an eye-scalding orange ground, a rather bemused, white skeleton throws his black skeletal shadow - which, being a shadow, is of course, horizontal - as all self-respecting skeletons themselves probably should be. He is shown, the very spokesperson for that old momento mori feeling, contemplating the letter "L," rather in the way Hamlet is always shown contemplating Yorick's skull.

The Calibration of Chance at the Susan Hobbs Gallery

$1,700-$20,000. Until Oct. 18,

137 Tecumseth St., Toronto; 416-504-3699

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This is a group show too, but the group isn't very large - just four artists. Curated by gallery director Claire Christie, the exhibition leans heavily in the direction of that strange need most conceptual artists now seem to have: To stand at a safe distance (but safe from what?) from any expressive act. Writing about Hamlet a moment ago has reminded me of Polonius's decision, in investigating the nature of Hamlet's presumed madness, that he will "by indirection, find directions out." So many artists today - and they are often the most significant ones - feel compelled to proceed by studious indirection.

Take Michael Graham - whose work Passing (2001-2008) is a highlight of Christie's show: Graham has contrived a dizzyingly complex, engagingly ramshackle arrangement of two 16 mm projectors situated so that the film stock passing through them has to travel not just from reel to reel, but from reel to gallery ceiling to somewhere on an adjoining wall and finally (wearily) back to the projector again.

The black-and-white film itself shows a flock of pigeons in flight. It is a loop made up of just 30 frames of pigeon-flight, subjected to a computer script that takes the last frame (frame 30) and inserts it wantonly somewhere into the mix. The film still goes on looking like a flock of pigeons in flight - albeit with moments here and there of slight slippage and disruption. But the disruption in the film's linear progress is what constitutes the distancing that Graham seems to want from his own work. And this distancing is further facilitated by the wear and tear that accrues to the film stock in its around-the-room travels. Clearly, the film is being degraded as it is projected - a consummation apparently devoutly to be wished.

The same abashment before the primary expressive act informs the small, black-and-white photographs by American photographer Alison Rossiter - whose photos have no subject except for their own decline, being made of out-of-date, dirty, mouldy old photographic papers (from 1926, 1957, etc.). Rossiter's photos are curiously lovely - and yet they are touched only by time and decay, rather than by the hands of the artist. By contrast, Laurel Woodcock's DVD, Conditions - which shows a lawn chair that falls over when the wind blows hard at the balloons tied to it (a hurricane piece!) - seems almost shockingly under the artist's direct control. No distancing here - the lack of which is beginning to look curiously unsophisticated. You could say the same, too, about Shirley Wiitasalo's two acrylic paintings - if their stupendous beauty didn't carry them safely and aloofly beyond the realm of the whole artist-present / artist-absent discussion.

Corwyn Lund

at the Convenience Gallery

Until Sept. 26, 58 Lansdowne Ave., Toronto; conveniencegallery.com

Here's a brilliant piece that you hardly notice unless you go looking for it. Toronto artist Corwyn Lund has muffled up the windows of the storefront Convenience Gallery - the site of so much offhand brilliance - and by placing a plane of smoky plate glass between you and the gallery's usual window space, and a couple of amplifying speaking-devices of the kind you find at cashiers' counters, side-by-side on the glass plane, has created two closed sites of what the artist calls "indeterminate transaction." It's a glum masterwork of total unavailability, a piece of crushing bureaucratic nullity.

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