press release

Over the past few years there has been an explosion of interest among visual artists in the popular culture of music—its diverse, yet ubiquitous manifestations. Re-play explores the ways in which 18 established and emerging Canadian artists have taken up popular music, its forms of musical and visual expression, in such mediums as drawing, sculpture, video, performance and installation.

The artists in Re-play are concerned with the culture of pop music—mainstream and underground. They are attracted by its themes and sentiments, its versatile styles of communication and its powerful, generative effects. Some of the artists seek a more immediate contact with popular culture, immersing themselves within the circles of actual practitioners, collectors and fans. While none of them participate directly in the industrialized end of musical production—big sound studios, major label contracts, live-television concerts—they flirt with the idea. Yet, in the end all the artists share a more reflective approach to the culture of music. The works in the exhibition offer observant replays, emotional inhabitations, ironic appropriations and a skewed perspective on glamour, hero-worship and stardom. The replay of popular tunes and the mimicry of its styles are a means to enact and reflect on forms of identity, community, alienation and dissent. Popular music has become a particularly seductive means of experimenting with the limits and potential openness of cultural participation—of playing out the complexity of its passive and/or active manifestations.

In the work of some of the more established artists, certain links to the experimental ethos of earlier generations may be recognized—although with an altogether different emphasis. The works of Raymond Gervais, Ian Murray, Stan Douglas, and Holly Ward, for instance, focus on issues of dissemination, technical reproduction and the industrialization of music. Stan Douglas’ film installation Onomatopoeia is concerned with a Beethoven piano sonata that appears syncopated like jazz, especially when played back by the mechanics of a player piano. Represented in the exhibition by a photograph of the score and its transcription onto a player piano roll, Douglas’ work questions the traditional divide between classical music and Jazz, and its hierarchical implications for cultural politics (the status of European and African American traditions in art). Raymond Gervais’ simultaneous replay of early recordings of well-known Jazz bands makes reference to the “sing-offs” of the Jazz-craze. The competition for the ear of the audience in these competitions becomes a new, chance-inflected composition altogether. In Ian Murray’s Top Songs, the artist has recorded the first ten seconds of each of the top 100 pop songs from 1970 to create a 17 minute medley, while in contrast, Holly Ward’s soundtracks, compiled from found strips of cassette tape represent the more-or-less familiar debris and massive dissemination of contemporary music culture.

Vancouver artist Rodney Graham has gained fame for his incursions into the field of pop music. A founding member of thenow defunct band UJ3RK5, Graham uses music as conceptual overlay for film, video and slide projection installations, but also has become a solo recording artist—performing live and issuing albums. This influence and interest in enacting music is apparent in the work of many of the younger, Vancouver-based artists in the exhibition. The desire to perform or join a band is often initiated by the mimicry of existing sound tracks. It is also a strategy in a number of artists’ work to mark the diverse relations that exist within cultural productions. Vancouver artist Tim Lee performs the three voices of a song by the Beastie Boys and thereby deconstructs existing racial determinations of musical genres. Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay enacts a song-and-dance solo which is edited and multiplied onto one track. By way of four solo performances he becomes his own band. The work of Kevin Schmidt, who performs “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin in the sublime setting of Long Beach, BC, is about longing and ironic distance in ways not so far removed from Althea Thauberger’s work, which came about as a result of an open call for “songstresses” in Victoria, BC. The ironic resistance to the templates of popular culture is a central concern for Joanne Bristol, who re-enacts the androgynous rock performances of David Bowie from the 1970s. However, in the solo-performance of David Armstrong Six identification becomes a more open-ended creation.

Of equal interest to the artists in Re-play is the broad phenomenon of fan culture—its sometimes volatile mix of fantasy, projection and identification. Ron Terada has reproduced the neon sign from one of Big Star’s signature record albums. Pascal Grandmaison collects images of drum skins, themselves records of rehearsing and performing music; and Steven Shearer downloads photographs of men with their guitars from the internet which are made into a vast compilation of individual obsessions. A reflection of his own addictions as a music collector, Dave Dyment’s Pop Quiz simply presents us with a litany of questions that are culled from and query our literacy of pop music. Vancouver-based Shannon Oksanenobsessively collects and draws the album covers of the pop star Nana Mouskouri. Obsession, however, may also have more specific, culturally productive meanings. Zin Taylor records live performances of his favorite underground bands in Toronto that he passes on as bootleg CDs as means of “trying to make friends”—a fluid, indeterminate sharing of aesthetic convictions. Music becomes the lightning rod for socializing—a fact that is more overtly celebrated in the collaborations of Instant Coffee, represented in this exhibition by a “do-it-yourself” DJ station, which can be enacted at any point, thereby potentially producing and focusing a social event.

The exhibition highlights a new, emphatic concern with the social aspects of culture, such as the replication of genres, the creation of new musical codes, and the rites of passage between creators and performers. It also points to the ongoing struggles to transform hierarchical forms of cultural expression.

Barbara Fischer and Catherine Crowston

Re-play is the independent, contemporary component of a larger, multi-venue exhibition titled “soundtracks,” which was produced by the Edmonton Art Gallery in partnership with the Blackwood Gallery (UTM), the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and the Mackenzie Art Gallery. The exhibition was made with the financial support of The Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Department of Canadian Heritage through the Museums Assistance Program


Kuratoren: Barbara Fischer, Catherine Crowston

mit David Armstrong-Six, Joanne Bristol, Stan Douglas, Dave Dyment, Raymond Gervais, Rodney Graham, Pascal Grandmaison, Instant Coffee, Tim Lee, Ian Murray, Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, Shannon Oksanen, Kevin Schmidt, Steven Shearer, Zin Taylor, Ron Terada, Althea Thauberger, Holly Ward