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May we suggest

Features / December 19, 2013

Michael Turner’s Top 3 of 2013: Signs of Change

“anewground” by Derya Akay at the Apartment, Vancouver
It was with no small measure of dread that I approached the Apartment for the opening of Derya Akay’s “anewground” exhibition. Dread because the Apartment’s narrow Chinatown storefront resembles less a domicile than a hallway leading to it, but especially because debut solo exhibitions by 25-year-old artists feel premature in a city where the more critically engaged galleries value modulated practices over polished objects, and that of course takes time. Much to my relief, what I found inside were a series of paintings and sculptures that spoke with sensual intelligence of the material investigations and multi-layered processes that many of Akay’s peers are pursuing these days, as well as an index of subtle yet informed applications based on the work of local practitioners who have turned this city from an exporter of montaged pictures to a garden of installation/assemblage. That some of these practitioners, such as Jerry Pethick, Liz Magor and Geoffrey Farmer, are represented by the gallery where Akay works as an archivist might account for these influences. That others, such as dancer Anna Halprin, who was showing downstairs, are from without speaks of an artist who is not only aware of who his neighbours are, but is, in the spirit of the conversation that is contemporary art, neighbourly. A good example of the latter is Akay’s treatment of the gallery floor, whereupon entering the exhibition space our feet are slowed by a choreographed sea of swirling white tempera brushstrokes that are not unrelated to similar strokes applied to a shelf supporting a de-silvered mirror and, higher up the wall, to ceramic palette-board-shaped “blobs” that reach for each other like the very hands that shaped them. An artist who watches is an artist to watch.

Adorno’s Grey by Hito Steyerl at the Audain Gallery, Vancouver
Expectations were high when it was revealed this summer that the Simon Fraser University School for the Contemporary Arts and the Audain Gallery would be hosting a fall lecture and exhibition by philosopher queen and excavator of the layered, subject-susceptible image Hito Steyerl. Happily, both the lecture and the exhibition did not disappoint, with both events drawing an exhilarating mix of new-media mavens and those for whom the Western art-historical canon remains operative. For her illustrated lecture, the Berlin-based Steyerl spoke slowly and surely of the processes that guide her work, the work of those who grade and pave the ever-expanding surface of our late-modern mediated world, and the ethical implications therein. But it was her installation Adorno’s Grey (2012) that resonated most with this viewer, bringing to light, in the form of a boxed-off video projected onto a series of large, unevenly placed rectangular panels, Adorno’s request that his Goethe-Universität classroom in Frankfurt be painted a shade of grey conducive to concentration. (A voiceover in this work also tells of a 1969 incident in which three students bore their breasts to Adorno during a lecture.) Outside the box, as it were, lean a series of smaller-scaled panels, some of which contain images of the excavator’s hands, while others look more like discarded (replacement?) drywall and cardboard. On the wall opposite the entrance of the box, a chronology of Adorno’s life is set amidst a series of related, though at times ostensibly incongruous, events. To say that everything Steyerl raised in her lecture could be found in her exhibition would only diminish the processes the artist might like us to consider. What lies at the heart of this contradiction is what made this exhibition a success.

Driftwood from Garry Point Gathered With Erik for Burning and Some Drawings of a Pair of Eagles We Saw by Michael Drebert at Hardscrabble Gallery, Vancouver
I am not on Facebook, but I am friends with those who are. This was how I heard about Michael Drebert’s impending February 23 performance at Hardscrabble Gallery, a project space housed in the residential garage of artist Erik Hood, and one that had already mounted exhibitions by Fabiola Carranza, Mark DeLong and Jacob Gleeson. “What else am I missing?” I asked Hood as he toured me through a project whose material and gestural elements were carried in its title: Driftwood from Garry Point Gathered With Erik for Burning and Some Drawings of a Pair of Eagles We Saw (2013). Hood recited the description on the gallery’s Facebook page—“a new project space on the cusp of Mount Pleasant looking to satisfy both country self and city self”—and from there we talked about a city (Vancouver) that is becoming increasingly difficult for younger artists to afford, and that if things continue the way they are, “country self” might refer to more than who we are during a weekend camping trip, while “city self” will have us living not in a cosmopolis, but a cash register. It was then that Drebert showed up to casually prepare what turned into a backyard bonfire, around which many of us sat rapt as he burned what he and Hood had gathered at Garry Point, and while doing so dried out the remaining waterlogged wood he had stacked (sculpted?) beside it, the wood’s plaintive hiss supplying us our music, its steam mingling with the smoke of our cigarettes and pot before going up in smoke itself. “I feel like I’m in heaven,” someone whispered, a confession that, at least for this viewer, had less to do with the fire than where we were and who we were with.

Michael Turner is a Vancouver-based writer of fiction, criticism and song. He blogs at

Michael Turner

Michael Turner is a writer of fiction, criticism and song based in the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil Waututh people. His most recent book, 9x11 and other poems like Bird, Nine, x and Eleven, is published by New Star Books.