Saturday, 21 June 2008 to Monday, 1 September 2008

Work by Cora Cluett, Daniel Bowers Hutchinson, Marion Wagschal, Mathew Reichertz, Graeme Patterson, Colleen Wolstenholme, Jaclyn Shoub, Eric Edson, Althea Thauberger, David Askevold, Greg Forrest, Thierry Delva, Lucie Chan, Annie Pootoogook, Jean-Pierre Gauthier, Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg.

An immediate sense of danger and violence slaps you as you enter Gallery 1: an abandoned bicycle lies in ruin, two young men wrestle at the foot of a bed, and an ongoing fight scene in some of Halifax’s touristy sites dominate the first part of the Gallery.

Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg’s carved polystyrene bike, Bully, sits on its bit of sidewalk: chain off the cog, spokes missing, and rims bent. Marion Wagschal’s painted scene of domestic violence, Spill, brings two brothers to the foreground, wrestling, while their father lies in bed, reading. In Mathew Reichertz’s massive seven part epic, The Fight, a seeming melee dominates an entire wall.

The everyday violence of the city is imprinted on us- it is in the newspapers and online, all around us, even in art. It is part of our vocabulary, part of our lives. What could be oppressive violence here, however, is undercut by a sense of humor that makes it bearable and somehow more familiar.

Bully resonates with us: a familiar sight to those living in the city- we’ve walked by a bike like this, chained to a light post or no-parking sign, on our walk to work. Here, the artists have used polystyrene, a super fragile material that would never hold up to the imagined beating this bike must have taken. The carefully sculpted bicycle has been lovingly crafted to look broken.

Wagschal’s Spill, evokes almost fond memories of daily skirmishes with siblings, bruised shins, noogies, and all. Mathew Reichertz’s paintings of two figures engaged in an extended grudge match take us from one end of the city to the other, bloodied and battered. Except… that dog, and those smiles. The scene is cartoonlike: the seven panels seem to mimic the structure of the comic book taking on the guise of the comic strip. The use of perspective and careful painterly style elevate the scenes, giving the battles grandeur. But the violence is still staged: the figures reappear all over the place, and are seen giggling, while the dog cavorts alongside. This is the violence media feeds us, a funny, Gameboy violence where nobody gets hurt.

This supersized violence on view is in line with the supersized obsession with pharmacology portrayed in Valium, by Colleen Wolstenholme. Her giant pill physically demonstrates our amped up attitudes towards drugs.

From the empty, haunting urbanscape by Jaclyn Shoub, Double View #3, to Annie Pootoogook’s drawings of everyday life in Cape Dorset, a Canadian sensitivity runs through the work. The pull between urban and rural worlds is felt- Lucie Chan, Althea Thauberger and Graeme Patterson explore otherness and isolation. Delva, Gauthier and Forrest each wrestle with technology, transition and the artist’s place that conversation in his own work.

Laying the groundwork for generations of video artists to come, David Askevold’s first video work, Fill, is comfortably at home amongst these ‘contemporaries.” This piece is an exploration of space and time – layer upon layer of aluminum foil is wrapped around a microphone at the center of the screen, filling the frame as well as filling the time the viewer spends watching it.

The pair of paintings Act 1 by recent NSCAD MFA graduate Daniel Hutchinson hang next to Cora Cluett’s work Scavenger’s Daughter. This conversation on abstract art in Nova Scotia draws you in: delicious, painterly, yet tightly ordered these works feel serious and academic.

The idea of contemporary- now, current- is everywhere in this exhibition: the violence, obsession with technology, the quest for beauty, and questions of identity permeate the work on view. Through his seven years as curator at the AGNS, now Director, Ray Cronin has had his finger on the contemporary pulse. The Gallery’s collection grew significantly in those years. This exhibition gives a taste of what, at this time and place, is considered contemporary.