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Features / January 15, 2009

James Carl: Inner Space

James Carl “jalousie” 2008 Installation view Courtesy of Diaz Contemporary / photo Toni Hafkenscheid

Sculptor James Carl has been a busy fellow. Currently he has a three-venue mid-career survey exhibition, “do you know what,” on view at the University of Toronto’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery and openings this weekend at Cambridge Galleries and the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph. Which means there is ample opportunity for art audiences to take a full measure of Carl’s long-standing study of the materials of cultural detritus. From early cardboard facsimiles of garbage bins, bank machines and car tires to more recent stone-carved reproductions of fast food take-out containers and consumer electronics and his custom lexicon of wall-mounted graphic works, Carl has, with a wry twist, continually re-contextualized notions of the familiar into a sprawling inventory of conceptual object making.

But the linchpin of these multi-faceted survey exhibitions is a complementary solo show of new large-scale sculptures by Carl that wraps this weekend at Diaz Contemporary in Toronto. The exhibition title, “jalousie,” makes a pointed double play of Carl’s material of choice—Venetian blinds—and a seminal 1957 “new novel” by French writer Alain Robbe-Grillet. Meticulously constructed from multi-coloured blind slats woven into geometric and figurative shapes and set on low pedestals, Carl’s sculptures hold a commanding presence in the gallery that recalls the monumental legacy of modernist sculpture. The longer you consider the forms, though, the more palpable the negative space enclosed by these structures becomes. It’s this contrast between structural surface and inner volume—exemplified by Robbe-Grillet’s absent-present narrative voice—that gives Carl’s new sculptures their conceptually sharp and subtly weighted impact. (100 Niagara St, Toronto ON)