Canadian Art - - Reviews -

While the rest of Canada marks its sesqui­cen­ten­nial, in Mon­treal, this an­niver­sary has been over­shad­owed by the city’s 375th birth­day and, more poignantly, the 50th an­niver­sary of Expo 67. For Mon­treal­ers, Expo rep­re­sents a lost utopian mo­ment of pros­per­ity and op­ti­mism for Que­bec and their city in par­tic­u­lar. Its rel­e­vance is also broader: Expo stands for all the utopian pos­si­bil­i­ties of the 1960s, the high point of Mar­shall Mcluhan’s “global vil­lage” and a mo­ment when youth coun­ter­cul­ture, tech­no­log­i­cal op­ti­mism and a uniquely Cana­dian brand of pa­ter­nal­is­tic hu­man­ism, spon­sored by cor­po­ra­tions and the state, could all co­ex­ist with­out ap­par­ent con­tra­dic­tion.

While the Mc­cord Mu­seum, Stew­art Mu­seum, Cen­tre de de­sign de L’UQAM and the Biosphère (at the site of Buck­min­ster Fuller’s orig­i­nal dome for the US Pav­il­ion at Expo) are pre­sent­ing his­tor­i­cal dis­plays, the Musée d’art con­tem­po­rain de Mon­tréal’s “In Search of Expo 67” is com­posed en­tirely of works by con­tem­po­rary artists, most com­mis­sioned for the oc­ca­sion, that re­con­sider the sig­nif­i­cance of the event from the van­tage point of to­day.

Some of the in­cluded works ex­press muted crit­i­cism of the na­tion­al­ist project that in­formed Expo’s fu­tur­ism, as well as the sex­ism that went along with it, but the sen­ti­ments on dis­play are pre­dom­i­nantly wist­ful, melan­cholic and nos­tal­gic. Ch­eryl Sim’s Un Jour, One Day (2017) is a retro-elec­tronic mu­sic video cover of Expo 67’s theme, per­formed by the artist in a blue jump­suit in­spired by

Expo’s host­ess uni­forms and ac­com­pa­nied by snap­shots from her par­ents’ hon­ey­moon at the event. David K. Ross’s large-scale video pro­jec­tion, As Sov­er­eign as Love (2017), uses a drone cam­era to fol­low the path of Expo’s now-de­mol­ished mono­rail, pass­ing through mostly derelict spa­ces ab­sent of the avant-garde architecture and throng­ing crowds they once held.

Most im­pres­sive is the re­cre­ation of Graeme Fer­gu­son’s Po­lar Life, orig­i­nally pre­sented over 11 screens in Expo’s Man the Ex­plorer Pav­il­ion. Dig­i­tally re­stored for three screens and a static viewer (the orig­i­nal au­di­ence sat on a ro­tat­ing stage), Po­lar Life has the side ef­fect of em­pha­siz­ing the strik­ing dis­par­ity of sup­port for cre­ative free­dom be­tween 1967 and now. Expo’s artists were given carte blanche for ex­trav­a­gant projects; the artists of “In Search of Expo 67” were handed their sub­ject mat­ter as an as­sign­ment. Of course, many of the in­cluded artists were al­ready do­ing re­search-based work on archival ma­te­ri­als. Some pieces, like Jacque­line Hoàng Nguyê˜n’s ex­cel­lent 1967: A Peo­ple Kind of Place (2012), were even look­ing at Expo 67 in ad­vance of this cu­ra­to­rial brief.

The down­side to a show of con­tem­po­rary works based on archival ma­te­ri­als is the nag­ging sense that orig­i­nal ar­ti­facts and doc­u­men­ta­tion would be more re­ward­ing than new art. And, in gen­eral, the art here in­volves less his­tor­i­cal con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion than one would ex­pect. As if to make up for it, Charles Stankievech’s in­stal­la­tion, Un­til Fi­nally O Be­came Just a Dot (2017) con­denses a mu­seum’s worth of Expo-re­lated ephemera into one room. Deeply ab­sorb­ing, Stankievech’s con­nect-the-dots be­tween the Whole Earth Cat­a­log, LSD, NASA, Fuller, Mcluhan, Pink Floyd and more demon­strates how con­tem­po­rary artists win back their au­ton­omy by as­sum­ing cu­ra­to­rial meth­ods, though I was left wish­ing that the di­dac­tic ma­te­rial was more evenly dis­trib­uted.

Ul­ti­mately, “In Search of Expo 67” re­flects on the loss of a utopian hori­zon in cul­ture, the im­pos­si­bil­ity of be­liev­ing, as Cana­di­ans once ap­par­ently did, that things are get­ting bet­ter. As such, it is dis­ap­point­ing that the show doesn’t of­fer more to hope for. Where the fed­eral govern­ment once bankrolled coun­ter­cul­tural dis­si­dence, artists are now sub­ject to the bu­reau­cracy of of­fi­cial cu­ra­to­ri­al­ism. Cul­tural work­ers can crit­i­cize #Canada150, but we’ll still ap­ply for the grants. —SAELAN TWERDY

Ch­eryl Sim Un jour, One Day (still) 2017 Three-chan­nel dig­i­tal video in­stal­la­tion 5 min 27 sec

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