Review by Kyle Monda
Step into Re:Calculations at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) and you’ll be confronted by seemingly everyday objects that have been transformed in surprising ways: everything from doors to tables and even construction materials.
Front and centre is the most Instagram-worthy piece, “Tableaux” by Gordon Ferguson, a mind-bending sculptural work that collides two folding tables. The flawless construction of the tables looks like Photoshop in real life, and calls into question whether you can really trust what you see.
In the era of image manipulation, fake news, and deep-fried memes, the piece is equally absurdist as it is unsettling. As social media continues to affect real-life events and warp perceptions of reality, challenging art like this is more important than ever.
Re:Calculations at the AGA is an exhibit of contemporary works from the collections of the AGA. The exhibit focuses on process, or how the artists generated art, as many of the pieces were created through unusual means. This included assemblages of found objects and pieces that were generated using math.
This challenges what viewers may consider art, and the pieces take many forms from sculptures to photography. Regular visitors to the AGA may notice some familiar pieces: since all the pieces belong to the gallery, a few have been shown before.
The contemporary focus of the exhibition provides makes the pieces accessible and relatable for visitors. The oldest piece in the exhibit is from the 90s, so works are easily connected to viewers lives. “Weight Drawing” by Micah Lexier chronicles the artist’s journey to achieve weight loss on a grand scale by rendering the handwritten records of his daily weigh-ins in aluminum. Contrary to popularized before and after shots of bodies used in advertising, the work highlights the haphazard nature of weight loss. The fluctuating numbers and the handwriting let the viewer read the emotional impact of the journey in between the lines. Turning the casual notes of weigh-ins into art fits the unusual process many artists in the exhibition went through.
The large space of Re:Calculations gives each work plenty of room to breathe, and it’s worth taking the time to view each piece from multiple vantage points to really experience the physicality of the 3D materials. Even the understated photography work by Robyn Collyer is captivating, removing all text from product packaging a drug store, highlighting the subtle cues of visual communication design that influence our choices. It reminded me of scenes from the Handmaid’s Tale on TV, which envisions a world where grocery stores are devoid of text because women are forbidden to read.
Gallery attendants are friendly and welcoming,and even just chat about your interpretation of a piece. I attended an On The Spot talk, an informal 10-minute conversation with the guide about a work in the gallery they select. This talk focused on “Shape Shifter” by Allora & Calzadilla, a duo from Puerto Rico who have previously been featured in a solo exhibition at the AGA.
The large canvas features sandpaper Allora collected from building sites by her father’s construction company. Every sheet of sandpaper is worn differently, and some even feature remnants of different colours from the materials they were used on. Up close, the piece confronts viewers about labour and it’s role in the production of art. From farther away, the sandpaper loses individual detail, and they grey grid was reminiscent of Edmonton’s many weather-worn Modernist office towers from the 80s oil boom.
The AGA has done a fantastic job curating works for Re:Calculations that are relevant to Edmonton and our province’s culture, highlighting the labour required for production and life in the 21st Century. I really enjoyed the variety of mediums on display, and the varied life experiences each of the pieces spoke to.
While the On The Spot talks are great and the provided written information is comprehensive, I wish there were more complete tours of the gallery available for visitors who want to dive deeper into the collections. But when admission is so affordably priced (or often free), it isn’t a major fault when staff are happy to answer questions at any time. Re:Calculations rounds out an already stellar lineup of exhibitions at the AGA, and Edmontonians shouldn’t miss it.