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Art and Drinks: Oswald’s Oasis

Since its opening in September, Art and Drinks in west-end Toronto has come to represent a fascinating hybrid that’s equal parts café, bar, art gallery and general intellectual hangout spot. Like much of the artwork shown there, the place exists between conventional forms, but with a specific orientation toward the presentation of non-narrative video art works. Under the guidance of artist and musician John Oswald, the intention was to create a place that invited people to “sit and talk” as they viewed the art, and the space—answering the collective prayers of art-opening attendees everywhere—is filled with couches, chairs and café tables.

The main work on view is part of Oswald’s Stillnessence series, where figures of people fade in and out of existence and states of dress and undress, giving the viewer the sense of seeing a portrait of humankind. Behind the bar one finds a connection to Oswald’s extraordinary website with a screen showing a video, Frank’s Last Turn, that depicts the death struggles of a fish. In another piece, The World’s Smallest IMAX Presentation, Oswald has taken hundreds of frames from a Stan Brakhage film and reordered them to make a new work by digitally remixing the original chemically manipulated film frames. Another Oswald piece called Ground has the viewer nosing through a forest floor of leaves, as though seeing through the eyes of some inquisitive small mammal.

Other artists make engaging contributions too. Max Dean, David Rokeby, Laurel MacDonald, Renée Lear, Bettina Hoffman and Michael Snow (full disclosure: the latter artist is my father) all offer works to watch and consider in tandem with a quiet accompaniment of ambient music that makes a subtle aural counterpoint to the visual works in the space. There is outside allure too. The storefront’s facade has been converted into a screen where projected works can be seen by those inside and by passersby.

Art and Drinks, due to stay open until mid-December, is located at the corner of Palmerston Avenue and Dundas Street West, and its hours run Tuesday to Saturday from sunset to 11pm.

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