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YOUNG WINNIPEG ARTISTS
Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, 14 March to 31 May 2003
Curated by Cliff Eyland and Carol Phillips

[First published in a 2003 brochure for Winnipeg's Plug In I.C.A.]

YWA is a multi-media exhibition of work by up-and-coming visual artists -- all Winnipeg-based -- who range in age from early twenties to mid-thirties. YWA builds on Plug In ICA's past successes in bringing attention to important new art.

The exhibition includes painting by Roger Crait, Simon Hughes, Jake Kosciuk, Shaun Morin, Melanie Rocan, and Lisa Wood; installation art by KC Adams, Risa Horowitz, and Erika Lincoln; photo-based work by Dominique Rey, Les Newman, Chris MacDonald and Veronica Preweda; and mixed media work by Parminder Obhi and Cyrus Smith.

Many worthy Winnipeg artists have not been included in this exhibition. YWA constitutes a curatorial best guess, not a conclusive case, like all group shows of young artists. Some artists turned us down and others were rejected; yet others contacted us too late (we'll save them for the next show). In any case, no apologies for exclusion will be made and I hope none are expected; other shows will happen, life goes on.

This exhibition is important, a rare opportunity to take stock, and it happens at an exciting moment. YWA coincides with the recent and unprecedented recognition of young Winnipeg artists in New York city and other capitals of the art world.

Winnipeg's Royal Art Lodge collective and independent artists such as Tim Gardner, none of whom are yet thirty years old (Holly Dzama is eighteen!), have become internationally-known artists, and Plug In ICA has been instrumental in their careers. Three years ago the New York-based journal Artforum's "Best of the Year" issue of 2000 included both Tim Gardner and Marcel Dzama, artists who got their undergraduate degrees in Winnipeg in the mid-1990s. Notices about Winnipeg artists in major art journals are now common: for example, the Winter 2002 issue of Modern Painters, a British art magazine, calls Winnipeg "a volcano of creativity...." (p.153)

Holland Cotter's New York Times overview of the year, called "10 Moments in Art" (New York Times 31 December 2002), characterizes the methodology of many of today's young artists: "Every few decades, young artists take to working in collaborative or communal groups. Several European collectives were in Documenta 11, and the emergence of digitally savvy but low-tech multimedia groups like Forcefield, Royal Art Lodge, Beige, Milhaus, Paperad and Dearraindrop is by far the most interesting development in new art."

Cotter sees collectives as the current rage, but a cautionary note must be sounded: as the artists in a collective get older, they tend to split up, and one or two members rise to the top. Clans start to disband. Although Shaun Morin, Cyrus Smith, Roger Crait  and Melanie Rocan are associated with the "26" (pronounced "two six") collective, one of many contemporary Winnipeg artist groups (Parminder Obhi and Roger Crait, for example, are also part of a group called the "Orange Lab"), the artists in YWA work and show independently whenever they can. The new tribalism may have had more to do with the construction of a career and the transition from youth to adult culture than with any desire to stick together. (The Royal Art Lodge has existed since 1996, with most of its members nearing thirty, so I may be wrong.)

When viewing YWA, the best strategy is to look for distinctions and not commonalities, because the most likely future for these artists is as lone voices. Art production in Winnipeg is most often a private struggle and individualistic activity. Despite the burgeoning of collectives, most YWA artists work through the long Winnipeg winter alone.

The last important overview of new artists in Winnipeg was produced at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1999 by curator Shirley Madill. Sit(E)ings: Trajectories for a Future included work by Blair Marten, Paul Butler, Jake Kosciuk, Lori Rogers, Daniel Dueck, Christina Kirouac, jake moore, Marcel Dzama, Kevin Waugh, Jean Klimack and Harry Symons. (One of these artists -- Jake Kosciuk -- is also in YWA.)

Madill set the scene with a quotation from philosopher Mark Kingwell that is still apt:  "I was living in Winnipeg, Manitoba [says Kingwell of his teenage years] -- a place I've come to think of as Plague City. Winnipeg makes an effective backdrop for a personal struggle to understand how a benevolent God could have created such a hostile universe. It seems to me the most afflicted city in North America, maybe the world." -- Mark Kingwell, Dreams of Millennium: Report from a Culture on the Brink, [Toronto: Penguin Books Canada, 1996, 331] quoted in Madill, Sit(E)ings: Trajectories for a Future [Winnipeg: The Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1999, 11]. Kingwell, writes Madill "...goes on to describe the brutally cold Manitoba winters, the annual spring floods, the brief summer with the annual tent caterpillar invasion, voracious mosquitoes bearing the deadly encephalitis virus, spectacular and sometimes dangerous thunderstorms, hailstorms, drought...." [Madill 11]. Winnipeg's environment has not changed much since 1999, and Winnipeg artists still revel in the harsh backdrop.

My Sit(E)ings essay asserted the importance of Winnipeg as a city state that dominates its province to a degree that no other Canadian city can claim -- that's worth reiterating. I also noted that before I moved to the Winnipeg in 1994, I had identified it with artists like Wanda Koop, Bev Pike, Diane Whitehouse  and Eleanor Bond, who make large, landscape-based works as absent from the Sit(E)ings show as the current YWA exhibition. I noted the importance of Value Village second-hand stores and Winnipeg's low rents and living costs to local artists, and I hinted at a "pan-aboriginal" art future, a vision of a new tribalism that was already being tested in groups such as the Royal Art Lodge.

The work in YWA will not look completely unfamiliar to art world insiders, because variations in this work can be seen elsewhere.  One should note that Winnipeg art success, at least since the emergence of figures like Wanda Koop and Eleanor Bond, has been based on an entrepreneurial not academic model that persists. Having an exhibition amongst friends in Winnipeg's galleries is one thing, but to have an exhibition in New York, Italy or even Regina, an artist has to figure out for themselves how they are going to get the news about their work out. That breeds a competitiveness here that is seldom remarked. A Winnipeg artist may begin with collective effort, but most tend to mature toward a singular vision.

-- Cliff Eyland
 

NOTES ON THE YWA ARTISTS:

KC Adams is a Winnipeg artist who combines diverse media such as clay, found objects, electronics, and computer interfaces to create physical and virtual installations.  Since graduating from Concordia University, Adams has had numerous solo and group exhibitions including the upcoming The Language of Intercession at The Art Gallery of Hamilton, and You Gotta Move at The Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba. She has created an interactive installation piece for YWA.

Roger Crait is an expressionistic painter who, often with satire and social commentary, paints his urban aboriginal life and apocalyptic fantasies. In one of his thickly-painted works, a space shuttle hurtles toward a city of towers and tepees. Sometimes text intrudes, as in his series of word paintings in which he coins words like aboriginatives. Crait has exhibited his work in Australia and most recently on Plug In's Osborne Street billboard.

Risa Horowitz completed her MFA in Saskatoon and recently moved to Winnipeg, where she works at aceartinc. Horowitz describes her work in YWA: "melitzah [the Hebrew word meaning utterance] is comprised of an audio recording of my voice reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, and a visual archive containing the waveforms for the words of the dictionary. I am curious about the waveforms as visual representations of the auditory, which are linguistic representations of the cognitive."

Simon Hughes makes architectural renderings of fanciful Canadian scenarios, one of which was recently reproduced on the cover of the Toronto art magazine Lola.  In one of his coloured drawings it snows inside such that indoor winter wear is a must.  Recently one of Hughes' video tapes was included in the Walker Art Center/Video Pool/Plug In touring show Magnetic North. His contribution to YWA consists of a large Winnipeg-based architectural fantasy.

Jake Kosciuk just graduated from the University of Manitoba's School of Fine Art, but before that was precocious enough to have shown at Plug In when he was just out of high school. In a short career Kosciuk has moved from graffiti-inspired art to recent abstract painting which, although at a smaller scale, hearkens back to post-painterly abstraction and formalist collage.

Erika Lincoln has a technical focus which she applies to the construction of machines which perform her art. Lincoln's kinetic objects have a home-made character. Most recently she has shown a tree-like structure (at aceartinc) that moves its branches mechanically triggering an audible network throughout the gallery.

Chris MacDonald creates abstract ghost worlds in his photographs and recent paintings which examine relationships between light and space. He strives to transform ordinary light into something existing just beyond the familiarity of our immediate experience.  He recently graduated from the University of Manitoba School of Art.

Shaun Morin counts as one of his influences the Canadian-born American painter Philip Guston. Known on the streets of Winnipeg as graffiti artist Slomo, Morin is among the most prolific painters in Winnipeg. Morin will graduate from the University of Manitoba while the YWA exhibition is in progress.

Les Newman studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design. He became known a few years ago for paintings that dealt with his experiences as a telephone market researcher. Since then he has made computer drawings and graphics, re-photographing them so that the finished work is at several removes from its digital source. Newman has a solo exhibition upcoming at aceartinc.

Parminder Obhi, born and raised in Selkirk, Manitoba, was influenced early on by the American funk artist Red Grooms. Occasionally exhibiting with the collective "Orange Lab" Obhi makes large coloured papier-mâché works humorously depicting her social anxieties.

Veronica Preweda sets up colour photograph tableaux of Biblical scenes that include Gumby, Lego, Pez dispensers, and Fischer Price figures. Her "Last Supper" is based on Leonardo's famed painting, and her "Stations...." diorama is based on imagery she has studied in various churches. Preweda is a Roman Catholic but not a churchgoer. "My parents got divorced and my Dad got an annulment with cash. I have certain issues with that, but I am not trying to make a political statement."

Dominique Rey is a Franco-Manitoban painter and photographer who studied at the Yale summer program as well as the University of Manitoba School of Art. She recently showed her "Bathers" series in a solo exhibition at Winnipeg's Gallery One One One. Rey has taken other photographs over the last few years in Winnipeg, New York, Moncton and New Haven.

Melanie Rocan is a Franco-Manitoban who is in her final year of undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba School of Art. Despite her youth, Rocan has already had a solo exhibition at Winnipeg's Franco-Manitoban Cultural Centre. She is a natural painter with an eye for colour and a love of decorative play. Sometimes she incorporates fabric into her paintings. In the YWA exhibition she shows a lush, abstract expressionist-looking work.

Cyrus Smith is a multi-media artist whose work ranges from the hand-made painter's brushes that he is showing in YWA to sculptures made from materials he finds in his favourite Winnipeg dumpsters. He is due to graduate from the University of Manitoba School of Art next year. Recently, Smith created two interactive booths (Drunk and Sober) for one of Plug In's salon evenings.

Lisa Wood works at Art City in Winnipeg's core. Her self-portrait paintings in oil involve a slow and meticulous technique reminiscent of an historical artist like Gwen John.  She is about to enter graduate school in the United States.

-- artist biographical notes compiled by Cliff Eyland and Hope Peterson

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