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Renée Van Halm: Reverse Engineering

The practice of reverse engineering—the process of taking apart a mechanical device to analyze its inner workings—provides one point of departure for the study of modernist architecture in Netherlands-born, Vancouver-based artist Renée Van Halm’s most recent series of paintings, currently on view at Birch Libralato in Toronto. Van Halm, who has produced nearly three decades’ worth of canvases and installations, spent the past two years investigating common formal tropes in modernist buildings in Vancouver and Berlin. Spare teak bookcases, harsh cubes of fluorescent overhead lighting and oppressively ordered concrete windows populate the resulting paintings, which may function as vivid and unsettling inversions of the original buildings: collages of overlaid forms where interiors become flattened exteriors. Looking at Van Halm’s landscapes past and present, one could be anywhere–in front of a brutalist German government building, or gazing out the windows of a mid-century painting studio in Vancouver. In her unmoored images, the ubiquity of modernist, Bauhaus-inspired design, now separated from its initial social and political context, is amplified, pointing to the apparent interchangeability of place in a postmodern era. (129 Tecumseth St, Toronto ON)

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