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Canadian humor survives and thrives at Slought


The dry, geeky humor of Canadians is still up at Slought Foundation — until Oct. 29. Hurry hurry. The two artists, John Oswald and MIchael Snow, put me in mind of Rodney Graham–cool, cerebral, cosmic and silly.

John Oswald, Liaison, 2004, transparencies

The piece de resistance is Oswald’s Liaison, a nearly life-size pair of transparencies, one printed with a man’s front, the other with a man’s back, about 6 feet apart. The two bodies are wearing invisible clothes–well transparent clothes. And the magic here is that your point of view is critical. Are they looking at one another? Are they walking away from one another? Are they both staring at you? It all depends on where you place your own body–at either end or in the middle.

John Oswald, stillnessence, 2004- , 3-channel video projection, in which the clothes melt away

The two bodies belong to ordinary looking guys, a pair of dumb schmucks. Or maybe they are the same guy–one dumb schmuck. Either way, they are not eroticized in any way, even though the name of the piece is liaison (there’s that humor for you); the fade-away clothes make them rather foolish. Again I am struck by how Canadian this is. And also by how that Canadian point of view has permeated the current generation of younger artists who are unafraid to paint themselves as shlubs–an apotheosis of anti-heroics in the age of less.

Michael Snow, sheeploop, 2004, DVD (x4)

I also want to give props to Slought’s installation of Michael Snow’s loop video of sheep eating grass. It’s one of those watching-paint-dry experiences that the installation compensates for by installing it in four monitors placed around the gallery. So each time you pass a monitor, you see the progress of the sheep munching and looping across the field. This is entirely appropriate in that nothing much happens other than the bellwether leading the others, initiating the group’s circular path across the field. The influential Snow is about 25 years older than Oswald, but the pairing is terrific. Snow is about 80 but his recent work is fresh and lively, and Oswald is in his mid-50s. (Graham btw is just a few years older than Oswald).

Andrea mentioned this show in her recent coverage of notable International House events. There was a tie-in. The exhibit at Slought includes a number of playful videos and projections. The number of pieces is small enough to make navigating easy. For my taste the wall labels are a bit too clear and explanatory, depriving some of the works of the magic of discovery–and of humor.

Many Moving and Still Works by Two Torontonians
An exhibition of work by
Michael Snow and John Oswald
September 29 – October 29, 2010
Slought Foundation Exhibition