May 2009, How Soon is Now @ The Vancouver Art Gallery

Kristi Malakoff, Target, 2005/8, crepe paper party streamers, courtesy of Vancouver Art Gallery.


How Soon is Now at the Vancouver Art Gallery
750 Hornby Street
Vancouver, BC, V6Z 2H7
February 7 through May 3, 2009

How Soon is Now features 34 artists in a survey of contemporary British Columbian art. The coherence of any large group show, and especially of one that has regional curatorial underpinnings, is inherently vulnerable. On a quick pass, How Soon is Now might seem a collection of disparate, loosely associated concepts, but there are some definitive theoretical resonances between many of the works. In this show, humour takes precedence over irony as the driving critical mechanism and communicative force. A vibrant, child-like sense of creative exploration is viscerally augmented by glimpses into the nether-regions of the sub-conscious, as well as by commentary on the deeply unsettled socioeconomic climate both within BC and internationally. Curator Kathleen Ritter states that immediacy is a central characteristic of the works. In this respect, her show illustrates the degree to which our present moments can be consumed by a keen awareness of the distance between what we are, personally and culturally, and what we might like to be.

The whimsically critical tone is introduced by a gigantic, jet-black black pom-pom (Kathy Slade, Black Pom-pom, 2009.) Comical yet somewhat dejected in appearance, it knits together the conceptual severity of minimalism and the voluptuous, tactile nature of fabric art, and in doing so riffs on familiar binary stereotypes of art versus craft and masculinity versus femininity. Several works poke fun at the austerity of the gallery space. Played from behind the gallery walls, Mark Soo's sound work Second Hand Story (Hell No We Won't Go) simulates the muffled thuds of club music heard from a distance, the auditory implication being that a less-than-austere dance party might be occurring elsewhere in the gallery. Nooks, by the collective Instant Coffee, offers visitors four lightly-disco-themed booths based on a 'typical' vancouver kitchen, in which they can sit, socialise and exchange ideas—our intimate social spaces now seemingly require re-enactment in an institution in order to remind us of their cultural value. Despite being ornamented with boisterous clusters of disco balls, Nooks is a heavy statement about isolation in contemporary cities. Using salvaged materials, The Office of Special Plans turns a section of the VAG into the ultimate DIY fort. It invites viewers to become climbers and reveals itself in full only to those who physically engage with the piece—a marked departure from stern warnings against leaning too close to the art. It is a fun inversion of bureaucracy, though a more disquieting interpretation is available in its structural parallels to a base for conflict engagement. 

Other pieces remain more cerebral in their negotiations with potential states of being. Paul Wong's video Perfect Day depicts the desperate yet camp and entertaining obsessions of a drug addict; it speaks to broad notions of desire. Whether comercial, romantic or social in nature, complete satisfaction is only fleetingly, if ever, obtained. Analogously, Wong's addict's feverish need to hear Lou Reed's Perfect Day is repeatedly thwarted by a scratched CD that kills the music just as he about to transcend into bliss. Basic editing filters are applied to reflect a fractured mind state. Apartment, an animation by Marlina Roy, delves with mesmerising fluidity into the convoluted maneuverings of the subconscious. Ornate rooms and a lush, watery, bird-infused soundtrack provide the back-drop for countless quiet acts of depravity: intense gluttony, public defecation, bestiality, death... As in dreams, the events are at once random and cyclical; the setting familiar, yet disturbingly bizarre. Viewers are seduced into contending with the darker elements of our collective psychology—the aspects we would probably wish to purge entirely. The paintings and drawings in Noah Becker's Realms Series present floating worlds in which Bosch-inspired figures demonstrate the grotesque reality of poverty and homelessness. The jewel-toned palette and depictions of riotous, generally inexplicable activities invoke a carnivalesque sensibility, establishing the works' transformative associations.

Cultural identity is as marked an issue in BC as it is anywhere else in Canada. Jackson 2Bears uses audiovisual performance to explore technology as a potential conduit through which indigenous Native cultures might find access to their spiritual heritage. Brendan Tang has crafted vases that reinterpret an act of reinterpretation. In the 18th century, the French ornamented imported Ming vases with gilded bronze—a technique called Ormolu; Tang ornaments Ming vases with decorative elements derived from Japanese Manga. In Sixty Seven Copper Cups, Sonny Assu uses copper, a material traditionally valued by native communities, to create replicas of the grande coffee cups that millions of people world-wide casually disposed of every day. Potlatch's were banned in BC for 67 years. Those who were caught had their potlatch gifts confiscated and often piled up to be triumphantly photographed—an act of cultural violation that is mirrored by Assu’s heap of copper cups.

Kristi Malakoff’s Target, with it’s almost hypnotic concentric circles, was chosen by the gallery as the key image for media and publicity. This is surely due in no small part to its vivid colours and simple, iconographic form. But it also reflects the nature of many of the pieces in How Soon is Now. Without going so far as to identify defined goals, the works here seem to aim for an artistic and social space that has greater interaction, greater participation, a more open sense of constructive play, and more freedom to simply be what one is, and what one is becoming.