Akimblog Jan 29, 2013: Cheryl Pagurek @ Patrick Mikhail Gallery

Cheryl Pagurek has been photographing water for a long time. It is a typical and perhaps clichéd photographic subject that can manifest as almost anything from sweeping images of seascapes to macro views of condensing droplets. But Pagurek uses water in a way that is far less ordinary, far less pedantic, and far from predictable. Her exhibition State of Flux at Patrick Mikhail Gallery offers a suite of large prints of surprisingly varied, colourful, tight, and oblique views of the surfaces of flowing water. Culled from numerous trips in and around waterways from across the country, the images represent an assembling of pictures from three bodies of work: State of Flux, River Suite, and Wave Patterns

Cheryl Pagurek, Wave Patterns (still), 2012. HD video loop

Pagurek is a deliberate and careful image-maker and thinker. Honed from thousands of images of water at the more placid end of the scale, the works collected at PMG are the end point of a considered process of observation and selection. The results are, at times, strangely unfamiliar. The super-saturated reflections available when Pagurek prefers to shoot (at twilight) would seem to have only a tenuous relationship to observable reality. We happily suspend our disbelief when we recognize the highly morphed and abstracted elements of the mirrored world out of frame.

There is also a video, titled Wave Patterns, which plays with the opposition of the chaotic nature of fluidity and the strictly regimented structure of the grid. Twelve videos fade in and out to create new potential and fleeting compositions through their adjacency. But there is far more than compositional play at work here: the accompanying audio track consists of sounds of construction, tools grinding, hammers pounding, and the inevitable advancement of building development. Pagurek stops short of proclaiming some sort of indirect argument for environmental causes, and the exhibition remains concerned with the building of pictures of unstable states. In her words: "the video creates a dynamic choreography of change over time, simultaneously exploring both fragmentation and unity." The same can be said of the exhibition as a whole.

Patrick Mikhail Gallery: http://www.patrickmikhailgallery.com/

Cheryl Pagurek: State of Flux continues until February 9.

Andrew Wright is an artist who has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally, with exhibitions at Presentation House, UC Berkeley, Oakville Galleries, Photo Miami, and ARCO Madrid, to name a few. He is the recipient of numerous grants and awards. Nominated six times for the Sobey Art Award he was a semi-finalist in 2007. In 2011 he won the inaugural BMW Exhibition Award at Contact Photography Festival in Toronto. He is an Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa and Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWrightArt


Akimblog Critic's Picks 2012: Top 3 Ottawa

1. The Vatican goes Reality TV in Christian Jankowski's Casting Jesus (at the National Gallery) whereby Italian priests and art critics scrutinize hopeful "Messiahs" as they put them through various scenarios designed to reveal which Jesus will be crowned (with thorns?) as the best and be cast in a never-to-be-produced show. Variously hilarious, earnest, absurd, and mesmerizing, this brilliant work is ultimately far more revelatory of the culture within which it had its birth.

2. The first Nuit Blanche Ottawa was met with much praise. As yet, entirely run at a grass-roots level, it remains to be seen whether or not it will grow into something larger and hopefully less reliant on the sheer will and determination of the artists themselves. It does seem strange that it took so long for Nuit Blanche to arrive in our national capital, but perhaps it isn't so surprising in a city that is practically beset with festivals and events already.

Allan Mackay displays a work he later destroyed on Parliament Hill

Allan Mackay displays a work he later destroyed on Parliament Hill

3. Artist Allan Harding Mackay jumped onto the national stage again this year with an impassioned protest against what he called Stephen Harper's systematic abuse of power and contraventions of Veterans' and First Nations' rights. On May 10, Mackay destroyed three works on Parliament Hill with national media looking on. His protest was drowned out almost entirely by a gathering of thousands of anti-abortion protesters occupying the Hill at the same time. Loudspeakers blasting unpleasant, tearful, and inappropriately gruesome testimonials from would-be mothers became the setting for an equally heartfelt but decidedly more heady protest by Mackay and provided for me the most surreal moment of 2012. Mackay's point is made far more clearly and effectively when he did the same thing on live national television on CBC's Power and Politics a few days before. Evan Solomon's shock seemed legitimate and made for some of the best real "reality TV" I've ever seen. To see the interview, click here.

Andrew Wright is an artist based in Ottawa and the Interim Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He has exhibited widely and is the recipient of numerous awards. He was recently elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent and can be followed @AndrewWrightArt on Twitter.

My latest Akimblog post: Expeditions @ OAG


There are few words in Canada that, when paired, are heavier than "Canadian" and "landscape". Perhaps "national" and "pastime" is another pair that is equally fraught... 

Instead of taking up the idea of landscape itself, Expeditions attempts to establish as its subject the awkward relationships artists can have when foraying into spaces that are, for lack of a better term, "landscape-like". While denying any overt references to nationalism, common artistic concerns, or zeitgeist, curator Ola Wlusek has nonetheless assembled a group of artists who have had "encounters with places they experienced between the Canadian coasts", and offers a democratic smattering representative of emerging and established categories.

As usual, the ghost of Tom Thomson is ever-present. Peter Michael Wilson isolated himself in a cabin in Algonquin Park in a deliberate attempt to conjure Thomson's spirit. The folly is the idea is superseded by the success of his glass plate positives that reflect the arduousness of his self-imposed wilderness experience. Their hand-made and belaboured quality and the directness of their placement on the wall heighten their reading as artifacts of both his experience and analog photography itself.

Thomson is summoned again in a cryptic yet eerily evocative video by Stockholm-based artist Celicia Nygren that moves back and forth between scenes of an androgynous figure paddling a canoe in Banff and shots of white and red horizontal bands—which turn out to be a squash court. The artist is shown occasionally peering through that little window into the court, possibly as a nod to the tight framing of the limited views of vast space we are offered. Ironically, its position in a hallway display case makes it easy to overlook.

Katie Bethune-Leaman's makeshift foam iceberg sculpture works far better as a photograph, where we see her wearing it as both a costume and protection against the cold in situ on Fogo Island, off the coast of Newfoundland. The title Iceberg for Fogo Island When There Are None masks a heartfelt yet futile gesture that is nonetheless powerful in its simplicity. It's no wonder, then, that this image gets taken up as the frontispiece of the exhibition. It also establishes expectations for the show that are difficultly met.

Katie Bethune-Leaman, Iceberg for Fogo Island When There are None

Penny McCann's Crashing Skies is a remarkably straightforward and engaging rumination on the use of inverted (negative) video. Southwestern Ontario's farmland bucolics are thoroughly turned upside-down. Daniel Young and Christian Giroux's monumental sculpture Mr. Smith is undeniably both impressive and satisfying, but it dominates the exhibition to the point where it appears as its own show. Except for the fact that it is vaguely reminiscent of a pair of icebergs, it too fits awkwardly into another stated premise of the show: "a musing on potential gaps in the current representations of the Canadian wilderness."

Ottawa Art Gallery: http://www.ottawaartgallery.ca/
Expeditions continues until January 13.

Andrew Wright is an artist based in Ottawa and the Interim Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He has exhibited widely and is the recipient of numerous awards. He was recently elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent.