Ola Wlusek, curator of a show called Expeditions at the Ottawa Art Gallery, watches over the installation of a piece by Daniel Young and Christian Giroux. The work, called Mr. Smith, is a variation on a piece that won Giroux and Young the Sobey Art Award last year. (Photograph by: Chris Mikula)


When: to Jan. 13

Where: Ottawa Art Gallery

More: See more images at ottawacitizen.com/bigbeat

OTTAWA — Did you feel that just now, that tremor in The Force? That ripple in The Matrix?

The disruption may be emanating from the Ottawa Art Gallery, where a large work by Christian Giroux and Daniel Young is trying to mess with the world around you – or at least how you perceive the world around you, and your place in it.

The piece is built of wooden struts and panels and aluminum joints, and it’s a variation on the work that won Giroux and Young the prestigious Sobey Art Award last year. It’s entitled Mr. Smith, which is a reference to the late American minimalist sculptor Tony Smith.

“He believed that there was a kind of underlying, spatial matrix that surrounded everyone, a kind of rational, coherent grid, and he thought of his sculptures as a kind of interruption in that grid,” Giroux says during an interview as he builds the piece at the gallery in Arts Court. Where Smith’s works were solid masses, Giroux says, “We’ve kind of broken it down into a system that we can reconfigure, depending on the volume of space that we’re working inside of. Ours is kind of endlessly adaptable, where his were kind of set in a particular configuration.”

Mr. Smith has been displayed in several Canadian galleries and changes to fit the size and shape of each space. Photographs of the artists’ website show the work expanded, contracted and generally bent into new shapes as needed.

It’s made of plain and practical materials. Giroux and Young prefer to work with ordinary parts and objects found at Home Depot or IKEA or other ubiquitous and utilitarian temples of consumerism. As a result, Mr. Smith looks rather like a backyard project gone curiously wrong, as if the builder misread the blueprints but continued undaunted in a spontaneous burst of abstraction.

The artists want to induce people to explore around the work and consider its relationship to its surroundings. “It’s about making the viewer a little bit more aware of their own body as they move around the work,” says Giroux. He says Mr. Smith is also intended to be fun. “It lends itself to a kind of imaginative play in one’s mind about how else it could be configured,” he says. “It’s not the final form itself which is as important as the possibility that it could take an endless number of forms.”

That invitation is intriguing. Often a viewer may have notions about how an artist could have made a piece differently, but how often do artists encourage us to do so? This pair of artists want you to not just consider what they have done but what they could have done, and how it reflects the matrix around us all. The answer is out there, Neo, and it’s looking for you, and it will find you if you want it to.

Elsewhere at OAG are the other works in Expeditions, the new exhibition curated by the gallery’s Ola Wlusek. “The works here focus on (the artists’) travels with-in Canada,” Wlusek says, “and by travels I mean very purposeful artistic residencies that they’ve undertaken in order to remove themselves from their current environment, such as their cities, and go explore.”

Katie Bethune-Leamen left her Toronto studio for residencies in Iceland, near a glacier that was calving icebergs, and later on Fogo Island, Newfoundland, where passing icebergs are a common sight in season.

Bethune-Leamen wasn’t on Fogo Island in season, so she built an iceberg out of foam board insulation, a practical and common material that, in this exhibition, provides a material link with Mr. Smith. The foam allows her to easily get an authentically jagged and rough exterior to the iceberg, and the tint is a realistic iceberg blue. I was compelled by the contrast between subject and material – an iceberg is huge and seemingly indestructible yet soon melts away, while foam board can be easily smashed to pieces yet will last thousands of years as garbage. Bethune-Leamen says that wasn’t her in-tent, but it’s the fate of artists to submit to the imagination of the individual viewer.

Expeditions also includes mysterious photographs on glass by Hamilton’s Peter Michael Wilson, who ventured to Rain Lake in Algonquin Park and a ranger cabin once inhabited by Tom Thompson. Sparse light from above reflects off the wall and through the slightly tilted panes of glass, and much is left to the viewer’s imagination. I wished for a little more light, but as Wilson explained the darker the images “the more creepy and scary” they are.

The other works in Expeditions are videos, including a dreamy clip by Penny McCann that, with its hand-processed film and textured ambient sounds, does an effective job of enveloping the viewer in the other-wise darkened room and transporting them to a distant, peaceful farmland.



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