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Mariam Nader’s Top 3: Nature, Necrosis and Nexus

1. Ineffable Plasticity at the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art, Toronto

“Nothing is certain. Nothing is real.” This is the tag line for the final exhibition of 2011 at MOCCA, and the words vibrate throughout one’s tour of the show—not only in relation to the pretense of the exhibit, but because of one’s initial uncertainty regarding the connections between the works of art displayed. “Ineffable Plasticity,” curated by Camilla Singh, is a group show featuring the work of Mat Brown, Sherri Hay, Faith La Rocque, Jordan MacLachlan, Anders Oinonen and Susy Oliveira; it aims to examine the extent to which our physiological and psychological selves are manipulated by nature. While this seems like a fairly guileless investigation, the exhibition presents a contrary reality, manifesting in a dynamic collection of sculpture, installation, drawing and painting. Each work employs an aspect of the spectacular in a manner that invites the viewer to deliberate on the link between the “experience of being human” and the work in question. Whether you are scrutinizing the large selection of surreal (but sometimes too-real) terracotta sculptures by MacLachlan, wondering about the ubiquity of an elegantly bubbling aquarium in the middle of the gallery, or caught up in seductive and Bosch-esque narrative drawings by Brown, the MOCCA’s cavernous, reticent space is perfect for contemplating these fantastic works.

2. Memento Mori / Bone Again at Art Mûr, Montreal

There is nothing so immersing as an exhibition that addresses age-old philosophical queries in a fashion that is playful and contemporary. “Memento Mori / Bone Again,” a group exhibition featuring the work of 18 Canadian and international artists (from Nicholas and Sheila Pye to Damien Hirst to Brandon Vickerd) was a show both humble and ostentatious. Taking inspiration from the Latin phrase meaning “remember your mortality” (a phrase oft-whispered into the ears of bragging Roman generals), the works collected for this exhibition either directly reference or actually use human or animal bones. Curiously, entering a space flush with icons of death (the use of the human skull is predominant here, no big surprise) was not at all as contrived as one might have expected. Instead, the artists capitalized on various methods of execution to create seductive sculptures, installations and photographs that manage to follow in a great tradition of Renaissance death imagery with great subtlety and discretion. From kitschy displays by Damien Hirst, Christoph Steinmeyer and Laura Kikauka to the referencing of ominous religious symbolism by Sarah Perry and Al Farrow, this exhibition provoked us to contemplate our dwindling interest in life after death in a manner that was neither didactic nor condescending; it hearkened, rather, through an intellectual and somewhat chilling glance inward.

3. Liam Crockard at O’Born Contemporary, Toronto

In August, Toronto-based OCAD alumnus Liam Crockard transformed the pristine interior of O’Born Contemporary in a delicately entropic craftsman’s studio. Seemingly obscure lengths of cedar pillars fused together and stained vibrant colours sat mysteriously amidst collages created from found scraps; the gallery was awash in pale pine shot through with hints of pastel imagery. At first glance, the works appeared to be unresolved, but a type of tension underscored the exhibition, and it was clear that a dialogue around labour and industry was being highlighted. A black-and-white photograph—from which the exhibition took its name, “Month of Sundays”—depicts a makeshift break-bench outside a factory in Crockard’s hometown of Kitchener. This image, with all its gesturing towards the nine-to-five routines of labourers, summarizes the notions that Crockard seems drawn to: the parallels between the blue-collar craftsman and the artist. With this theme informing the majority of the artist’s work, it is easy to see how he stresses the presence of the hand in every gesture, so that labour is fetishized. This is perhaps why the exhibition retained its own binary—both surreptitiously intimate and intellectual, “A Month of Sundays” managed to weave intrigue and vernacular critique in a way that placed Crockard solidly on the up-and-coming list.

Mariam Nader is an intern at Canadian Art.

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