Bozica Radjenovic’s natural strivings at the April edition of RIA Artist Project Room

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Being Red
, performance, Bozica Radjenovic. Photos courtesy Svetlana Swinimer

The futility and danger of natural strivings

My impressions of Bozica Radjenovic’s performance Being Red at the RIA Artist Project Room, April 13, 2013





By Sherry Tompalski





The performer is clad in a shapeless woolen dress with her face completely covered, her vision restricted, her voice mute, with her hands gloved and her sense of touch diminished ... only her legs appear unfettered.


Paradoxically, she is in a bright red outfit cleverly underlining the conflict; the desire to be seen and the fear of being seen.


And so the performance begins. The performer safely hidden behind a mask with a reduced ability to navigate, but with legs unhindered starts to move. Is she motivated to leave something negative and/or move towards something positive? Or is she merely ... meandering?


Whatever initial meanings her attempts to move forward have, they result in her dress unraveling. She is coming undone, becoming vulnerable and possibly unsafe. Nonetheless, she continues to move forward, and slowly, cautiously she follows a circular path, ending up exactly where she began, albeit in a progressively more exposed condition. If she continues, she will be completely uncovered, and yet still in the same place. How dangerous and slightly ridiculous her efforts have been. Trying to make things better, to move forward, has a high price.


Alas the futility of ones' natural strivings! Better to remain stuck where one is, paralyzed, inactive but safe.


Furthermore, it seems the blood-red thread to her past is what is causing the unraveling. This thread, while without form and rather delicate, is not only unhelpful to her, but also seems to entangle and complicate life for those she comes into contact with. At moments shining and radiant, it is overall confining, binding, and restrictive.


A neighbor walks past but looks away, not really interested in the resulting entaglement of wool weaving around the trees and audience creating areas of confinement.


Perhaps it is all a metaphor for how the performer experiences her past. How she tries to hold it all in and still go forward, perhaps not really knowing what to do with it. And yet, somehow mysteriously her past materializes, tenuously sabotaging her efforts and the efforts of those around her to be fully realized.


This thought-provoking performance leaves me with the following questions: How does one become free from one's history? Does one's history have to encumber others?



Sherry Tompalski is an artist, psychiatrist, and Reiki master. Tompalski herself appears at the RIA Artist Project Room with Paintings from the Global Voices Project, 2008­–2012 and catalog launch, Saturday, May 11, 2013, by invitation only.





Canvas riverfront homes push boundaries with artful architecture

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

By Alisdair MacRae





When I think of a typical house around downtown Ottawa, 19th Century brick structures come to mind, with Arts and Craft-inspired woodworking and decorative elements. Given the city’s historical character, it comes as no surprise that the nation’s capital may not be known for avant-garde architecture. Although buildings such as the National Gallery of Canada or the Canadian Museum of Civilization offer more progressive designs, they are the work of architects working on an international basis.


A few local builders, however, are adding new ideas to Ottawa’s contemporary present—with an eye to the future and a healthy dash of artistry. Jakub Ulak is one of those few.


Having grown up in the area and influenced by his architectural degree from Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanisim, Ulak is well acquainted with the opportunities afforded in the region. And because he is also familiar with the difficulty of making a living solely as an architect, Ulak took on the role of developer when founding Surface Developments a few years back. After realizing a handful of projects around the capital, Ulak’s most recent and most ambitious creation is located at 32 Brighton Street in Old Ottawa South, adjacent to the Rideau River. The scenery is beautiful, as is the project design. Factor in the involvement of local artist Christopher Griffin and you can see that the project name is quite appropriate: Canvas.


This contemporary design infill project consists of two semi-detached buildings, providing four separate family-sized homes. The exteriors of the buildings are decidedly modern, given the emphasis on geometric forms and clean lines—but the vision is much more than something lifted from a slick architecture magazine.


With Canvas and other projects, Ulak says that the site and inspiring design ideas are given primary consideration over spending the least amount of money and building as quickly as possible. He approached the development on Brighton Avenue with sensitivity, given the proximity to neighbours and to the riverfront Brighton Beach Park.


Ulak negotiated with the City to allow a greater number of windows, where a plain wall would normally be built, on the façade facing the park. The agreement also indirectly protects a portion of parkland from future development and provided opportunity for Griffin to create one of his characteristic outdoor murals, offering a large work of art to the public on the exterior of a privately owned home.


Griffin described how he considers the neighbours when working with the exterior surface of a building and does not “compete with” the architect. Instead he uses materials and artistry to add a human element to the architecture, something he likens to the craftsmanship of Victorian homes.


The inside of each unit features the same clean and simple design principles seen on the exterior. In the unit I was shown, the limestone that makes up the façade is also used for the fireplace, and with all the glass and windows that take advantage of the sun’s position, the interior and exterior almost blend together.


The sunken living room features more art by Griffin—two original canvases are included in each unit, combining vibrant colour, formal abstraction and expressive illustrations. Using a process he developed over the last four years, the artist started each work by spreading asphalt on the sidewalk next to the property to make an imprint. The record of various cracks and shapes refers to the history of the location—a location that also inspired Griffin’s choice of subjects, including birds, fish and sunflowers.


Moving up to the second floor, the unit’s paintings are reproduced on sliding translucent panels that face the street side of the building, again included in each unit. The panels can be arranged to provide varying degrees of privacy for the deck areas where they are located, creating a stained glass effect that projects colour into the crisp interior and adds another beautiful exterior element for passers-by to admire.


Ulak’s project presents a bold vision that in some ways challenges the surrounding homes from a different era. While Ottawa’s colonial style homes were also once considered cutting edge, Ulak has avoided creating a nostalgic version of the past and has embraced concerns for the environment through contemporary design and artistic collaboration. While no one can be absolutely certain of what the future may look like, Canvas is an opportunity to consider the possibilities.


Photo credits

Photographer: Mauricio Ortiz and Andre Rozon

Model: Heather D (

Stylist: Asha Binti

Makeup Artist : Sommer Mbonu (

Photographer's Assistant: Conrad Moir





Deborah Margo's Topographies weave matter with memory

Saturday, March 16, 2013




Topographies: Matter and Memory


Exhibition essay by Randy Innes  /  Images by Tom Evans courtesy the artist




On show at Ottawa's Patrick Mikhail Gallery until March 23, Topographies is a series of six knitted works that consider the experience of place, the work of memory and remembrance, and the sensory potential of texture, colour and the hand-crafted object. These works are visual records of Margo’s recent travels through Europe.


Knitting occupies the hands; the material qualities of wool evoke the sense of touch and suggest the personal connection and care associated with the hand-made scarf or sweater. Margo turned to knitting during her travels both as a way of passing time and as a way of weaving time and experience together into a visual, material form. Time and touch are deposited into each stitch, establishing a connection between the viewer’s apprehension of the works, Margo’s experience of knitting, and the impressions and experiences that inspired this project. The desire to establish connections between materials, work and visual experience that we find in Topographies is central to Margo’s practice more broadly.


If the time and touch of the artist are deposited in these objects, so too are the places they reference. The name the artist has given to each piece is a place-holder, a toponym (i.e., a place name) that designates her presence and experience there. Topographies is, in this way, a visual journaling exercise, a graphic inscription and visual narration of Margo’s experience of place through knitting, a practice that, like writing and weaving, follows a linear unfolding in time and space.

Detail of Climbing Montjuic


The word text shares a connection with the word weave, and just as the written word invites us to negotiate text, reading and imagination, Topographies invites us into the play that occurs between the patterns of individual stitches, the impression of the finished object, and the work of reading and interpretation.


The works in Topographies are episodic impressions rather than precise records. At the Alhambra, Walking Prague’s Sidewalks, and Climbing Montjuic, for example, name specific locations and evoke specific events. Margo’s knitted works offer fragmentary impressions of place—impressions that arose first in the artist and that are transmitted now to the viewer through the colours and textures of wool and the patterns of stitches.


Each impression has the effect of a snapshot, establishing a connection with experience and place. Material is central to this snapshot: the wool used in Topographies was selected and purchased at the places named in the works. The geometrical patterns in At the Alhambra are made with wool bought in the Andalusian capital. The colours of Moorish tilework guide Margo’s choice of wool colour here, just as the aquamarines of Venice’s canals and the earth tones of Siena direct her selection in Italian Diamonds. And Walking Prague’s Sidewalks is a warm and inviting exploration of the colours and textures of old cobblestone walkways along which the artist collected these very materials.

At the Alhambra (left) and The Colour of Beginnings


Margo’s response to the material quality of these works extends beyond texture and colour to include a concern for how knitted wool might occupy space and produce an effect for the viewer. Knitted wools have their own properties, and different wools behave differently. In Topographies each piece hangs and unfolds according to the disposition of each stitch and in response to the wool Margo used. Curling, binding, and bunching contribute to the sense that these works are exploring the properties of wool. Yet Topographies also refers to the qualities of specific experiences and impressions. Margo’s use of materials is never relegated to the cold arguments of minimalism but remains tied to the intimacy of experience and the work of memory.


The Colour of Waiting marks a shift from works that initiate a dynamic evocation of place, to an experience of place as static or dull. Travel is often punctuated with a suspended or expanded sense of time. In this piece Margo gives life to the experience of a grey, drab international airport whose efficiency had been further encumbered by labour strikes. Warm grey wools mitigate the paralyzing experience of waiting on cold, hard airport chairs.

The Colour of Waiting


Like a loose end with a special significance, a gesture trails off from the end of The Colour of Waiting, a thread of memory or experience that remains tied to a stone that Margo collected on a Spanish beach. The memorial distinctness of this touchstone—the intervention of the specific in the general—along with the inviting textures of The Colour of Waiting remind us of the dependence that travel has on the dehumanizing experience of transportation. Similarly, in Climbing Montjuic the figurative evocation of this Catalonian landmark trails off into the indifferent potential of a rolled up ball of wool.


Topographies points to recent travels and personal experiences—and to an only slightly more distant European past that the artist remains concerned with and connected to. Yet the series also points forward, like an album of family photographs or a travel narrative, to the promise of a future time of recollection and legibility. Topographies weaves together the time of presence in place, the work of memory and remembrance, and the immediacy of experience, into an affective and evocative installation. It will take some work for us to get from here to there, and the experience of this journey is central to Margo’s Topographies.



Deborah Margo will deliver an artist talk at the gallery on Sunday, March 17 at 2 p.m.







Mitchell Burton takes centre stage in new SPAO show

 Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Ottawa Little Theatre

Story by Alisdair MacRae  /  Photos courtesy the artist

Typically, our experience of art places us as viewers in a position of relative authority over the work. We look onto a scene from our vantage point, mostly secure in our knowledge of what is depicted before us. In his recent work, however, photographer Mitchell Burton turns these tables by offering images of public viewing areas, presenting a subtle but telling analysis of how social forces shape, and are shaped by,
institutions of art, religion, and entertainment. In his current exhibition at the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa (SPAO), Burton shows us The Seats.


After moving from Calgary two years ago to pursue studies at SPAO, Burton is currently an artist in residence at the school. For his exhibition that opened March 4, he took photographs of empty seats from podiums, stages, or just in front of film projection screens—the areas upon which we are accustomed to focusing our attention. The title of the exhibition might sound mundane, however the resulting images are anything but. They show us what we might miss as we arrange ourselves comfortably in a given viewing space, and, perhaps out of stage fright, what we may be too timid to consider.


The eight large-format colour photographs depict the seats in various spaces including Ottawa Little Theatre, the de-sanctified St. Brigid’s church, and the large auditorium at the National Gallery of Canada. Burton uses a four-by-five negative and long exposure times, allowing him to capture a lot of detail and a particular stillness within the dim, voluminous spaces.


While the interiors range in architectural styling, all of the images have a strangeness to them. Burton admits that he began to feel anxious at times while standing in front of all those empty chairs, but the works do not induce that same feeling. For me, they invite closer inspection, and slowly, I begin to consider how and why we gather in these context-specific spaces. Thinking of human behaviour as performance makes Burton’s work that much more engaging.


In the image that looks towards the back of St. Brigid’s, we get a glimpse of the monstrous yet darkly lit pipe organ, looming up behind the pews. The same feeling of atmospheric gloom is gone, however, from Burton’s photo of the First Baptist Church basement, where stackable chairs lit by fluorescent lights are the setting for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The National Gallery of Canada auditorium, meanwhile, is massive in comparison yet fairly staid with its regular arrangement of seats and slate grey color scheme. The dark crimson interior of the Ottawa Little Theatre is warm and inviting: we gaze out from an intimate centre stage position from behind two chairs and a table.


Burton also took photos from inside some of Ottawa’s movie houses, both new and old. The interiors of the Bytown Cinema and Mayfair Theatre look palatial, given the grace and character of these purpose-built spaces. In sharp contrast, the Rainbow Cinema 1 and 5 offer a starkly modern cinematic experience. The day-glo purple seating in Cinema 5 reminds me of a late-night Rock-and-Bowl, while the photo of Cinema 1 features anonymously designed space with a pale grey floor and only a small strip of patterned carpet.


In all of Burton’s spaces, it is intriguing to see what we typically ignore or take for granted, especially given how we usually enter and depart these places in near or total darkness. The photographer readily admits to an interest in the sociological intersections and the resulting tensions found in the work. While high society has its own rigid codes of conduct for viewing spaces, I find such tensions most compelling in the temporary space arranged for the Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Burton intends to produce more work based on similar locales.

Bytowne Cinema

Mayfair Theatre

St. Brigid's Centre for the Arts

National Gallery of Canada Auditorium

First Baptist Church basement


Patrick Gordon Framing honoured for making Ottawa look and feel good

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Patrick Gordon, left, and staff members James Hare and Andrea Sutton like to keep things fun around the studio.



Post and photo by Tony Martins




There’s a beef that I share with Patrick Gordon concerning the habits of some Ottawa art galleries: their increasing willingness to exhibit artwork that is unframed. Sure, quality framing takes time and can present a considerable expense, but for purists like me and Patrick framing makes an indispensible difference to the presentation.


Gordon has a stake in the matter, of course, as owner of Patrick Gordon Framing, but it is his insistence on quality and his ability to make good art look great that led, in part, to the recent Business Contribution award from the Council for the Arts in Ottawa (CAO). The award was presented to Gordon at the COA’s annual Sweetheart for the Arts event on Tuesday, February 12.


Another key factor in the award: the studio’s varied contributions to the Ottawa art community in the form of fundraisers, hosted exhibitions, donations, and the continued offering of affordable-yet-professional framing.


Gordon was not aware that his business was in the running for the award, but was very happy when notified.


“I was very surprised and I thought it was an honor,” Gordon said. “It was good to feel recognized for our continuous support of the arts.”


That continuous support means there are no shortage of locals offering praise for Gordon and his almost 10-year-old studio, including noted collector Glen McInnes, who became interested in Canadian contemporary photography about five years ago and has done all his framing at Patrick Gordon.


“The frame ought to be an integral part of an artist’s work, and not of the décor in which it will be placed,” McInnes contends. “When there are no specific specifications from the artist, Patrick, as a result of all the framing he does directly for artists, can convey an artist’s sensibility to the choice of frame.”


McInnes also appreciates how Gordon’s studio acts as a cultural hub in Ottawa.


“In each of the last three decades there has always seemed to be an individual or place that through their generosity of spirit brought otherwise disparate and separate circles of artists together into one single larger circle,” notes McInnes. “Dennis Tourbin did that with Gallery 101 and Patrick and his wife Jennifer, and his staff at Patrick Gordon Framing, have done that over the last couple of years.”


What are the underlying principles for Patrick Gordon?


“Our studio is very unique in that it works almost completely with original art,” said the proprietor himself. “We work with a large percentage of Ottawa’s artists, as well as many big art collectors. We also work with galleries ranging from very small up to the National Gallery of Canada.”


Gordon feels that the studio success is owing in part to the character of his staff.


“All of the staff at the studio are artists,” Gordon notes. “They also have a long history in the picture framing business. Combined, I feel that we are able to offer the right way to look after art. We frame in a way to let the art stand on it's own.”


Accomplished local painter Heidi Conrod has participated in a number of group exhibitions at Patrick Gordon Framing over the past decade and points out how the shows are “always an event, attracting interesting and fun people from the Ottawa art scene.”


“Patrick is a key part of the Ottawa art community,” adds Conrod. “He connects people, supports emerging artists, throws great openings and has an honest business sense.”


Conrod and McInnes agree that professional integrity is ultimately the strength that makes Patrick Gordon Framing worthy of recognition such as the CAO award.


“Trust is Patrick Gordon Framing's principal attribute,” said Conrod. “You can trust Patrick to do a great job, to give you his best ideas, and to price his services honestly.”


Currently Patrick Gordon Framing is supporting events such as the Ottawa Celebrity and Media Photo Contest but there’s much more community involvement in store.

“This fall the studio turns ten,” said Gordon. “From now until that date, we will be hosting a variety of art related events and fundraisers. Stay tuned.”








SPAO artist Gaydos seeks silence amongst noise

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Text by Alisdair MacRae   /   Photos by Stephan Gaydos


After having lived in Ottawa for almost six years, for me the Great Lakes still conjure memories of sitting in a third grade classroom on Vancouver Island and learning geography while located about as far away from the centre of the country as anyone could be. As with many things first experienced from a distance as a young person, my mental image of the world’s largest bodies of fresh water became sordid as I grew, mainly due to the associated environmental pollution. Rather than think about swimming in or drinking from the once pristine waters of the lakes, I view the Great Lakes as a repository for plastic manufacturers, tanker traffic, and invasive species.


Stephan Gaydos engages in a similar memory exercise with “The Great Lakes Project,” an exhibition of several colour prints and one large black-and-white composition on display at the School of Photographic Arts Ottawa (SPAO) until January 30. The images recall past moments from Gaydos’ own coming of age in southern Ontario. The project grew out of his studies at SPAO, where he is currently the artist in residence.


Addressing the lakes and their current state as a hub for international commerce, the photos have a somewhat muted palette, due largely to Gaydos’ preference to shoot on cloudy days. In the works we see no particular differentiation between the built and natural environment through focus or composition. The artist has endeavored to make our experience of his photos as similar as possible to his experience of taking them. Gaydos does not sensationalize to guide our attention; instead somehow each work tends to shimmer as though projected onto aluminum.


There are no human figures in the compositions, leading me to think of the settings as abandoned, post-industrial landscapes—a reading that becomes even more credible when noticing that between the piers, enormous freighters and barges, the expanses of water are reduced to mere slivers. In competing for space with nature, the manufactured waterfronts appear to have crowded out these massive bodies of water. Despite the desolate feeling, the images do depict actively used ports that Gaydos located using Google Maps. Like Atget in 19th Century Paris, the photographer is drawn to his subject when it appears devoid of people. Gaydos’ interest in these bustling locales goes back to his childhood, growing up in Levack (north east of Sudbury, Ontario) amongst its various resource-intensive enterprises.


Gaydos describes his approach to photography simply as a means for finding silence amongst noise. Instead of escaping to the cottage, the spa, or simply sitting in front of the television to tune out daily life, the photographer seeks clamorous industrial sites as part of his retreat. Gaydos explained to me how looking at a scene through his camera makes everything else seem quiet.


Rather than attempt a Romantic or nostalgic view of the Great Lakes, Gaydos reveals them to be undeniably present. The large vessels moored in several of the compositions list to one side and might seem to easily move up and down on the waves if they did not also appear so immovable. In the photo titled Hamilton No. 1, a minivan parked next to what might be a cement manufacturing plant gives some sense of the scale of these interventions.


While Gaydos’ use of a Hasselblad gives viewers the feeling of actually standing at the scene, his approach differs from that of noted large format photographers such as Edward Burtynsky, whose compositions may overwhelm the viewer with their expanse and density of information. Similar to Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas, Gaydos does admit to digitally stitching together up to four or five shots to create his landscapes. But unlike these photographers, Gaydos is not after a perfect illusion that borders on the cinematic: telltale signs, such as instances of lens distortion, give away his process. What’s far more important to Gaydos is that the viewer might enter into the same sense of quiet that came upon him when he photographed the sites. Apart from his choosing a particular composition, he does not want to direct the outcome for viewers, which can be a personal and very private experience, perhaps rooted in memory.