Akimblog – Toronto
March 17, 2016


by Terence Dick


In an age of relentless content updates, when one is rarely at a loss for something to occupy their attention (that is, unless the Wi-Fi goes down), concision is something to be celebrated as a gift, if not a necessity. Curator Ben Portis has made a virtue of restraint (though the confined space of Pari Nadimi Gallery might have something to do with it) in his gathering of four generous works by five Canadian artists in the sculptural (even when it’s not) group exhibition Baleful.

The impetus for Portis’ curation is also the hook that made me make my way down to the gallery in a miserable March rainstorm. Jennifer Stillwell’s Packs are from the same era as her 2002 YYZ exhibition and dominate the space in both occupying most of the floor and demanding the most attention. The seven roughly dismantled easy chairs have been gathered up in kits that resemble backpacks created by an anal-retentive demolition crew. They set the tone for an exhibition of objects that exorcise the nostalgia from refuse and invite viewers to recreate the narratives tied to the things that occupy and then exit our lives.

Nikki Woolsey’s wall-hung assemblage fails to reach the escape velocity junk art needs to transcend its everyday identity, but, by falling short of transformation, it provides a handy reference for what the other works leave behind. Jimmy Limit makes a better effort at turning the everyday into something out of the ordinary. Usually his work strikes me as a play on commodity fetishism but his one photo in this unique context raises his still life to the level of metaphor and renders its random stack of stuff an absurd grace.

The malignance implied by the exhibition title is most evident in Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky’s tar dripping reclamation of a university student’s dorm room decorations. The unknown undergraduate’s conflicted and pathetic attempts at claiming an identity (overlapping revolutionary heroes with consumer culture and personal affects) is recreated in blackened purple and sickly pink as if it was all that remained after a horror movie house fire. There’s violence in Stillwell’s Packs as well, with nails sticking out in thorny bursts and the soft contents bound, gagged, and ready to be dragged away. I keep coming back to them (as you should too) because they hold secrets and tell stories. They aren’t, in fact, concise so much as compressed (literally) and expand in significance once you imagine them free of their restraints.

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