Art Express (1981)

Art Express was a short-lived American art magazine (two issues only) that was comprised completely of reviews. I was the Toronto correspondent (or in the first the Ontario and then Canadian reviewer). Word count was limited to 150 words, which was an excellent exercise in making everything mean, even the punctuation.

“John Scott,” Art Express (New York), 1:1 (May 1981), p. 81.
“Janice Gurney,” Art Express, 1:1 (May 1981), p. 81.
“Eldon Garnet,” Art Express, 1:2 (September – October 1981), p. 65.
“Michael Snow: Presents,” Art Express, 1:2 (September – October 1981), p. 65.

Janice Gurney
YYZ (Toronto)

Janice Gurney’s painting-installation The Battle of the Somme includes a large three-panel painting and its generative support material, several small paintings and drawings, Uccello reproductions and a chart showing how to read the ensemble. All together her works demonstrate an enterprise of recovery in a personal history of making. The research and especially the long and laborious physical effort on a painting of this scale and complexity render the whole activity a context for perceiving correspondences and syntheses. Starting from the before-and-after scenes of two turn-of-the century hobby paintings by an ancestor of the artist, Gurney fills in the missing death-in-battle with a stylization of one panel from Uccello’s The Rout of San Romano. The overworked detail of her painting, accumulating a history of art in process, must not be seen as determining a formal unity. The painting reads from left to right as a story and in “depth”: it collapses auto-biography and history into each other, just as three wars are condensed, and just as the realistic figures of the hobby paintings are conflated in the side panels with Uccello’s monumental form. As a construction absorbed in history, this painting is a process that becomes history, a history and a fabrication of itself.

John Scott
Carmen Lamanna Gallery (Toronto)

John Scott’s large-scale drawings confront the rude facts and attendant information structure of advanced weaponry with contrary impulses and deceptive strategies. While these drawings, with their bellicose imagery, are metaphors for the self—some are labelled self-portraits—they replicate through word and image the system of inquiry that supports the development of war material. That is, the activity of scientists is not only technical, but “representational”: they investigate and represent perception in order to build its conditions into robotic missile and spy planes. Weapons are in fact a communications system strategically involved with information and perception or, rather, deception. So Scott’s activity is semiotic: he shows an abstract shape deflected to representation by a word— “carnivore”—or an associational detail—a cockpit. Natural and artificial boundaries are now less distinct: a plane takes on the natural and “evil” shape of a shark. In his concern with the (mis)representations of language and image, Scott’s activity at once parallels and investigates his subject.

Eldon Garnet: Cultural Connections
Canadian Centre of Photography (Toronto)

Cultural Connections examines the material context and alienated social relations that make up culture and individual identity. The figure-ground relationship of self-image and determining context is constructed through a narrative of photographic panels with accompanying text; Garnet composes an analytical fiction from fragments of the real. In the seven to nine panels of each of the five parts, Garnet presents the self-image of the young woman subject in double portraits and the context that determines or contradicts that identity. He develops a narrative from section to section while structurally reflecting the broader cultural analysis. Each part is a repetition with a difference, leading to a new departure and identity, and thus a typology of that particular identity is registered through the portrait, the home and work environment, relations to men, dreams and fears that repeat in each part.

Michael Snow: Presents
Funnel Experimental Film Theatre (Toronto)

The apparent vertical scratch in celluloid that opens Presents literally opens into a film within the film. When its figure awakens into a woman in a “real” set, the slapstick satire of structural film begins. It is not the camera that moves, but the whole set, in this first of three material “investigations” of camera movement. In the second, the camera literally invades the set; a plexiglass sheet in front of the dolly crushes everything in its sight as it zooms through space. Finally, this monster of formalism pushes through the wall of the set and the film cuts to a series of rapidly edited shots as the camera zig-zags over lines of force and moving fields of vision in an approximation of the eye in nature. Snow pushes us into acceptance of present moments of vision, but the single drumbeat that coincides with each edit in this elegiac section announces each moment of life’s irreversible disappearance.