By Paul Gessell
Come for the art; stay for the gossip. A vernissage at Gallery 101 is always worth the trip.
First the art, where the new exhibition at Ottawa’s artist-run centre is called Bureaucracy.
Most of the gallery’s single room is filled with Rene Price’s over-the-top, satirical paintings of bureaucrats engaged in useless work activities. Price knows personally that which he paints, having been a Parks Canada bureaucrat for 31 years in Cornwall. Retired, but never retiring, most of Price’s time is spent these days in Ottawa, with his wife, artist-curator Petra Halkes.
Another aspect of Bureaucracy at Gallery 101 was still under construction on opening night. Immony Men favours time-consuming art-labour of repetitive actions — in this case, a wall-sized mural made of thousands of yellow Post-It notes, carefully placed one at a time on the bare wall.
This Toronto artist seemed so engrossed in his Post-It construction, I didn’t feel comfortable interrupting him to discuss his work. Anyway, the project seemed to be as much about performance art as anything so it would have been inappropriate to disturb him. Would you ask an actor performing on stage at GCTC just what the heck he is trying to prove?
Price is even more of a puzzle. It is often difficult to determine whether he is poking fun at a particular subject or poking fun at us for coming to look at art that even he does not take very seriously. Like Men, he can be something of a performance artist. For opening night, he wore an ill-fitting suit and tie, masquerading as a bureaucrat. But was he also “performing” when he painted these pictures? In other words, was he “masquerading” as an artist? These questions are not meant to be unkind. After all, one of his many self-anointed nicknames is “Quirky Mockartist.”
My favourite painting in the show is called Sleeping Beauty. It shows a bureaucrat, a definite clock-watcher, with a clock for a head. Nearby is a small sculpture of a rather lazy looking man. It is titled Inaction Figure.
As I was talking to Price, Halkes, and others while watching Men build his mural, the conversation naturally turned to Karen Jordon, Ottawa’s most infamous obsessive compulsive creator of time-consuming, labour-intensive, repetitive-motion art.
Jordon’s next show, opening in February at Karsh-Masson Gallery, uses old cassette tapes as a medium. Jordon has carefully dissected thousands of cassette tapes and saved every bit, even the tiny screws used to hold the contraptions together. All these bits — the tape, the plastic containers, the screws and whatever else she could salvage — will be used to create sculptures for the show.
Halkes was also discussing a fascinating project she is organizing, an art exchange involving Ottawa’s Enriched Bread Artist collective and another group of artists called Quartair in the Dutch capital of The Hague. Both groups established studios in former bakeries in 1992. Halkes, who was born in The Hague, has no money for the project yet, but loads of enthusiasm and is confidently predicting the two artists’ groups will exchange exhibitions in 2013. Ottawa and The Hague were twinned many years ago. Maybe the two municipal governments could throw in some cash.
Speaking of money, Gallery 101 is feeling hard done by these days. It pays about $30,000 a year for its small commercial space on Bank St., whereas galleries such as SAW, Ottawa Art Gallery, and Karsh-Masson are either run by the city or pay heavily subsidized rent in city-controlled buildings.
Gallery 101 would like to be put on a more even playing field. It has asked to be given space in the new municipal Arts Court project. But, so far, no go. Negotiating one’s way through the municipal bureaucracy can be as frustrating as Price’s experience in the federal bureaucracy.
Bureaucracy. Until Feb. 18. Gallery 101, 3011/2 Bank St. www.g101.ca