We were very pleasantly surprised when we stumbled into the Or Gallery recently to catch After Finitude which is in its last couple of weeks on view. Vancouver is a city where painting often takes a backseat to other media, notably photography, so it’s always exciting for us to see a thoughtful group show locally that privileges strong contemporary examples in the media. After Finitude was curated by Vancouver-based artist Eli Bornowsky best known for his own painted explorations of abstraction and he approached this project in the same vein as he might create a painting, building a composition of sorts within the architecture of the space, playing with symmetry, and working through schematic drawings to explore the relationships between the artists on view. Uniting the abstract work of three contemporary painters Neil Campbell, Nicole Ondre and Cheyney Thompson, with the audio work of German conceptual artist Hanne Darboven who died in 2009, the show takes a welcome look at the possibilities latent within abstraction.
Three small, delicate line drawings by Cheyney Thompson greet the viewer by the title wall. All called Ten Metres, each consists of a line which sometimes meanders but mostly coils itself into an intricate mass, a tightly wound knot. A tinpoint, silverpoint and copperpoint, the title of each work refers to the length of the line should it be straightened out. Each drawing achieves its direction and form from computer generated software, the visual result of a pre-determined system of codes and rules; Thompson has removed his hand from what at first glance seems like the most intimate of drawings. The show also features five paintings by the artist – small and punchy canvases, dense with layered colour which bear long and winding titles like RP31.55-G31.55-y1.31-b1.31-yr1.31-pb1.31(65.72ml). These titles refer to the pigments used in the work’s production and the ratio in which they were applied; again, Thompson has devised a system which cedes decision-making authority regarding the paint’s distribution. These are conceptual paintings which owe their form as much to a calculated ratio as to the artist’s own hand.
The show is decidedly anchored by Ondre and Campbell’s monumental works. Ondre’s Cadmium Yellow Window which consists of two parts – oil paint applied directly on the south wall, and an oil paint on paper monoprint pinned to the north wall – is as much an installation as a painting. The work relates closely to the architecture of the space, occupying the entire height of the wall, but it also evokes the language of its material with a bold and painterly application that emphasizes the material qualities of the media itself. Campbell’s U-shaped vinyl works Probe and Hangdown are mounted directly on the east and west walls. While these works respond to the parametres of the space they occupy, here the artist has chosen to work with vinyl thereby eliminating any textural variation in the work’s surface. As is the case with much of Campbell’s work we’ve seen over the years, the graphic presence of these examples is arresting – his work is not so much seen as experienced. Commanding in their physical presence, Ondre and Campbell’s pieces speak to the slightly askew mirror image that faces them and their doppelgängers act to balance the room. The symmetry of the installation offers an equilibrium to the space that serves it well.
Hanne Darboven’s musical composition acts as a finishing layer which floats above the visual; known for her minimalist installations consisting of sequences of numbers and tables, Darboven once stated “my systems are numeric concepts that work according to the laws of progression and/or reduction in the manner of a musical theme with variations” explaining the translation of her drawings into music. The inclusion of her work is an unexpected and thoughtful touch which quietly reinforces the visual art in the show and adds a deeper dimension to the visitor’s experience of the abstraction on view.
Borownsky’s curatorial essay for After Finitude states his purpose quite directly: “I wanted to exploit one of the great tensions in art: that tension between the intellectual and sensual.” These have always been polarizing elements, particularly in Vancouver, a city dominated for years by conceptualism where it seems the sensory and the corporeal have been subdued in favour of the rational. Somehow in bringing the works of these artists together, these factions no longer seem quite so at odds with one another. The title of the exhibition, After Finitude, evokes a time that is post-finite, a state beyond the quantifiable or rational; uniting these works – some conceptual, some more physical in their presence –creates just this sort of state.