BY Rose Bouthillier in Reviews | 23 FEB 10

An Invitation to an Infiltration

An international group of artists comment on the competitive nature of group shows at Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver 

BY Rose Bouthillier in Reviews | 23 FEB 10

After a contracted assailant smashed Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee with a baton in January 1994, people started to pay attention to figure skating. Likewise, sensation and sabotage have been titillating aspects of institutional critique – revitalizing the ‘sport’ of contemporary art exhibitions. Both are present in mild doses at the Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG) in Vancouver for an exhibition titled ‘An Invitation to an Infiltration’, guest curated by Eric Fredericksen.

Dexter Sinister, Furniture/Props, 2010, shelf, sandwich board, street reader, twin lecterns. Courtesy: Contemporary Art Gallery. Vancouver

An international group of artists – Fia Backström (New York/Stockholm), Lucy Clout (London), Hadley+Maxwell (Berlin), Jonathan Middleton (Vancouver), Dexter Sinister (New York), Holly Ward (Vancouver) and Jordan Wolfson (Berlin/New York) – were invited to create works for Fredericksen’s self-proclaimed ‘curatorial stunt’. Against the backdrop of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, hosted in Vancouver, various interventions are being staged at the CAG, posing challenges to the institution while commenting on the competitive nature of group shows. The results are experimental, playful, sometimes ephemeral and often annoying.

Lucy Clout, Untitled (Eyebrows), 2008–10. Courtesy: Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver

Annoying is less a criticism than an acknowledgement – here it is what these artists aim to be. Jonathan Middleton is the most mischievous artist in the show: one of his efforts involves covertly changing the title of the exhibition, against the curator’s wishes, to ‘Strange, the First Time I’ve Known of a Piano with Four Legs (Hey! I Keep Fallin’ Down.)’ – an oblique reference to the 1950s British radio programme The Goon Show. This alternate title appears on the gallery wall, on a series of counterfeit posters stacked on the floor, and has inevitably found its way onto blogs and event calendars. Impediment is a common tactic throughout the exhibition. Lucy Clout’s Untitled (Eyebrows) (2008–10), a plank suspended from the ceiling, blocks eye contact with the gallery assistant, forcing viewers to hunch awkwardly. For Safe Assembly Area 2010 (2010), Holly Ward has installed construction fencing in the gallery’s narrow corridor, blocking easy access to the offices above. Hadley+Maxwell’s Zane: Cheater’s Monument (2010) lies in the middle of the gallery’s street entrance. The work refers to statues of Zeus erected as public apologies in ancient Greece by athletes found to have cheated. Standing empty, it could symbolize either a lack of accountability (as the 2010 Olympics go way over budget) or the expectation of disappointment.

Holly Ward, Operation Podium, 2010. Courtesy: Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver

Boxes of Pepsi stacked in the form of a medal podium make up Ward’s Operation Podium (2010), a wry gesture given that Coca-Cola is an official Olympic sponsor. It is tokenistic but defiant, as the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, one of the exhibition’s chief funders, has issued a clause prohibiting artists from making negative remarks about corporate sponsors. Visitors can consider this form of censorship while sipping sodas on Fia Backström’s Game – Set – Match (2010), a table set painted in United Nations Blue where a conversation on strategy between a game theorist and hockey coach will later take place.

Jordan Wolfson, Con Leche, 2009. Courtesy: Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver 

Jordan Wolfson chose to respond to Fredericksen’s invitation by sequestering his video work Con Leche (2009) in a viewing room. Animated bottles of Diet Coke march through urban wastelands, sloshing about a milky white liquid. They recall the multiplying broomsticks in Disney’s Fantasia (1940) – an unstoppable and ominous army. Off-screen, a woman’s voice – directed by Wolfson – recites a selection of found texts on topics including recycling, reincarnation, and the appropriate duration of mourning. The overall effect is one of anxiety. Most of the sculptural works in the gallery rely on connotation, context and back-story; if there is a competition underway, it is over who can create the most meaning with the least material. ‘An Invitation to An Infiltration’ offers this cleverness as a sort of comic relief – albeit a dark one – from both the art world and the Olympics.