Across the work of Twelve People

written by Anastasia Hare, 2012

The first exhibition in the new location of gallerywest emphasized the gallery’s aspirations to bridge dialogue across contemporary Canadian art practices and connect diverse media, themes and locations.1 Part retrospective, Twelve People showcased selections of the recent work of twelve Toronto and Regina based artists, many of whom were featured at the former gallerywest location or have collaborated on art projects. Evan Tyler, Sojin Chun and Alexandra Gelis currently work as a video collective, Video Cape. Vince Vining, Jonathan Edward Mayhew, Nicholas Robins and Zoë Solomon are members of the White House studio project in Toronto. Randal Fedje was featured at gallerywest in a solo exhibition last summer; and Marco Buonocore’s photography was included in an exhibition curated by Alice Dixon in April 2011, as well as selected by Tyler for a showcase across the street, following in March 2012.2

Tyler and Vining explain their intention was to craft an exhibition that would embody the spirit of the contemporary Canadian psyche.3 Their selection of artists was based on a mutual multimedia approach and the exhibition date in December –the twelfth month of the year.4 Noticeably, the title also has twelve letters, which boldly declare the artists’ presence. Focusing on the artists rather than the subjects they portray, the title implies the works as surrogates, and attributes equal authorship to them. Likewise, the gallery slogan, “room for contemporary art” emphasizes an inclusive project space that adapts towards creative visions.

Together, the works featured in Twelve People evoke notions of composite wholes, vague counterparts, and aspects of everyday life that traverse location and classification. Upon entering the gallery, the manufactured merged with the natural in Nicholas Robins’ mural of brightly coloured organic forms which appeared to creep in from the outdoors, as if they generated from the urban landscape.5 Their accumulation formed a complex that spanned the wall, and induced the sort of delight experienced when apprehending a rainbow.6 Displayed on a shelf opposite the installation, the forms grew on rocks and were encased in frames. Like a collection of specimens, these works could be seen to represent both the controllable and uncontrollable aspects of life.

The interrelatedness of handmade, industrial and digital processes is conveyed in Vince Vining’s sculpture, Layer Cubes (2011), composed of two converging groups of layered, imprinted transparent black squares. At the intersection of the squares are two lights, which Vining explains are used to emulate Photoshop effects.7 Positioned in the gallery window, sunlight filtered through the layers and created shadows and reflections of the digitally produced graphics. Similarly channeling light and distorting representations, Laura Margaret Ramsey’s series, Prismisms (2011) is comprised of black and white photographs that only partially depict scenes, abstracted by a crystal prism. Like isms, the prism becomes a filter that obscures, and conveys the notion that perception is based on partial information and memory.8 The figure depicted in Jason Cawood’s photograph Calgary Legs (2011), is also shadowed and twofold: he is stagnant, seated cross-legged and waiting, but also in transition, alluded to by his location in the Calgary airport.

Correspondingly emphasizing the notion that identity is multidimensional and only partially knowable, Randal Fedje explores gender stereotypes in Greg (2011). This portrait depicts a seated figure, rendered bare-chested with his legs spread apart and head tilted back. The pose is seductive, but at the same time suggests exhaustion in relation to the peacock –a symbol of myriad meanings, such as immortality, pride and beauty– which lies dead on the floor. This work was included in Fedje’s exhibition, Personal Differences, queerness and masculinity, which explored the fallacy of masculinity and queerness as separate entities.9 Nearby, Jonathan Edward Mayhew’s sculpture, positioned at the center of the gallery, similarly conveys being and events through a theatrical language of props and staging. This workincludes a painting of an abstracted crawling figure, a noose and a hole, that amount to readings of pleasure and freedom, and conversely, pressure, restriction and control.

Continuing the theme of piecing together clues were the carefully arranged, displaced fragments of an excursion, Paris Cell Snaps (2008-2011). This series is comprised of sixteen images in the format of standard personal photographs taken by Alice Dixon while living abroad. The snapshot quality and asymmetrical compositions reveal an immediacy and spontaneity, as if taken in transit through a window frame or while walking past, and suggest an attempt to retain the idiosyncratic experiences and everyday oddities encountered in a foreign city. Also exploring the fluid nature of self in the context of place and daily life through personal device, Sojin Chun’s video work, captured on her phone, narrates memories and longings from the artist’s personal diasporic experience.

Reminiscent of the private emotions and gestures passed in the street, Zoë Solomon’s wall hanging masks, which are part of a broader series centered on ineffable clairgustance, depict emphatically wide-open mouths containing crystals, a cityscape, and a thousand outstretched hands, each representing an inner world.10 Similarly showing unidentified scenes of personal significance, Marco Buonocore’s black and white photographs depict window fronts and streetscapes of Canadian neighbourhoods, in an attempt to capture the unique rhythms of modern life.11 In relation to this urban fluctuation, Alexandra Gelis’ videos of street protests and celebrations symbolize the power of collective momentum to covey public messages.

Evan Tyler’s video work What will it be? (2011) disorients these rhythms through a sequence of street corners and crowds which capture the movement of turning. In his documentation of places, expressions and events in Toronto, Tyler achieves a meeting of sites and opposite directions, and evokes a consideration of familiarity, expectation and navigation.

The relations inherent in the works featured in Twelve People then, suggest the contemporary Canadian psyche as one that embraces indistinct boundaries and opposites, and collective practices and values. And in this sense of sharing and belonging, and connecting diverse social and personal experiences within the city, the exhibition manifested the affirmation on the permanent text piece hung in the gallerywest office space: “Being obsessively driven to become a respected contemporary artist culture”. 



1 What Evan Tyler refers to as psychogeographic narratives.

2 Independent of gallerywest, Evan Tyler curates the showcase at Piola on a monthly basis.

3 Twelve People, gallerywest exhibition booklet, 2011.

4 Twelve People, gallerywest exhibition booklet, 2011.

5 Nicholas Robins’ mural extended to the gallery facade, and remains there as a semi-permanent installation.

6 Twelve People, gallerywest exhibition booklet, 2011.

7 Twelve People, gallerywest exhibition booklet, 2011.

8 Twelve People, gallerywest exhibition booklet, 2011.

9  Exhibition held at gallerywestDecember 10-28, 2011.

10 Correspondence with Zoë Solomon.

11 Twelve People, gallerywest exhibition booklet, 2011.