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Out of Nowhere: Winnipeg Wonders

A strong sense of place and a tendency towards self-examination mark this group show of Winnipeg artists at New York’s Julie Saul Gallery.

Inspired by Marshall McLuhan (who grew up in Winnipeg) and curated by gallery artist Sarah Anne Johnson and Border Crossings editor Meeka Walsh, “Out of Nowhere” explores a range of mediums and some interesting, if ambiguous, messages.

With some exceptions—most notably Royal Art Lodge co-founder Neil Farber—many of these young artists are showing for the first time in the US. Several were part of the acclaimed “My Winnipeg” exhibition that premiered at La maison rouge in Paris this summer and is currently on at the Musée international des arts modestes in Sète, France.

In New York, where images of “Canadian-ness” range from Québécois farmers selling Christmas trees on street corners to Robert Lepage directing operas at the Met, “Out of Nowhere” offers a fresh perspective on the Canadian aesthetic.

Fittingly, it begins with new work by artist Simon Hughes. His watercolour and gouache triptych Exurbia Borealis offers a mid-century sensibility and a playful approach to that very Canadian conundrum: how to reconcile the vastness of nature with the smallness of suburbia. His northern lights, rendered in greens and pinks that evoke the early 1960s, hover over tiny suburban tract houses; it’s a composition that recalls the Robertson Davies line “I see Canada as a country torn between a very northern, rather extraordinary, mystical spirit which it fears and its desire to present itself to the world as a Scotch banker.”

Lisa Wood’s oil on canvas work Interior Dialogue and print series Twin Reflections both offer striking self-portraits in sequences of mirror images that fit nicely with our national-identity obsession.

Farber’s mixed media on panel work The Republic of Forgiveness is an ambitious yet successful tableau combining human and animal figures with a variety of textures, layers and collage. Figures ranging from cartoonish animals to Adam and Eve generate a Sesame-Street-meets-Hieronymus-Bosch feel.

Ted Barker, one of the youngest artists in the show, demonstrates great drawing ability with an untitled graphite on paper work of a vaguely shamanistic half-human, half-animal figure. His oil painting of identical, snowshoeing figures locked in an embrace is also memorable.

Elaine Stocki’s intense black and white portraits of gymnasts read like chiaroscuro photography, while in Steve Ackerman’s photos of rural landscapes populated by nocturnal figures at a folk festival, a combination of long exposures and glow sticks creates a kind of aurora borealis—straight out of a Neil Young song—that possesses a lovely sense of Technicolor naïveté.

But it is the video work that really shines in this show. Erica Eyres’ two videos combine perversion and parochialism with a particularly creepy claustrophobic sensibility. Her 2006 work Destiny Green tells the story of a young beauty-pageant queen who has her face surgically removed, to the delight of her fans, while her 2008 work Imaginary Girlfriend offers Freudian teenage angst amidst Day-Glo high-school backdrops and suburban interiors.

Perched next to Paul Robles’ intricate cut-paper moth and peacock made from pornographic magazines, Lasha Mowchun and Rachel Schappert’s Cadmium Red Deep offers a surrealist-tinged exploration of the creative process. Also referencing Hungarian artist László Moholy-Nagy’s practice of dictating paintings over the phone, their video work focuses on a young Winnipeg artist desperate for meaning and self-definition. Rolling around naked in snowdrifts, walking over the midtown bridge, even drinking cool blue mouthwash while screaming, “it’s cold on the inside,” the protagonist of this piece somehow epitomizes Winnipeg’s cultural impetus: fighting against “the white erasure of snow,” as Robert Kroetsch called it, compelling the creation of meaningful work that exudes identity, even “out of nowhere.”

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