Schedule About Exhibitions Press Submission Links Contact Semai Gallery

Uptown Magazine, May 31, 2007

Art Seen
Should art be a mirror or a hammer?

Exhibit in conjunction with MayWorks Festival examines relationship between work and art

By Stacey Abramson

The politics of labour and art are on view in an energizing exhibition at the Semai Gallery.

The MayWorks 2007 festival has seen a slew of events bring art and labour together, and ...not a mirror, but a hammer... is another show running in conjunction with the festival.

This touring show features walls full of Artist Trading Cards (ATCs). An artist named M. Vanci Stirnemann came up the ATC concept in Switzerland. The idea is that artists can only receive a card if they make one of their own.

Although many of these ATCs come from around the globe (Denmark, Serbia, Germany), most are from Canada. The works have been organized in threes, with some artists offering three identical works while others make complementary yet different pieces. Each of the cards is hung in a generic clear bags after the fashion of sports collectors. The presentation makes it look as if the works are specimens to be studied.

All the works approach some aspect of artist as worker and vice versa, and the various approaches to this theme make for a fascinating exhibit. Many artists approached the burdens and problems of labour and its relationship to art.

The work that struck me most was by Alana Wood. Her collage pieces repeat the phrase "Be an Artist. Make $10-50 a week."

This, more than anything, delves into the real world of art-making. The romantic ideal of the artistic genius is stripped away and the viewer is left with the harsh reality in which many art-school grads find themselves.

Collage is a constant in the exhibition. The work Ed Varney harkens back to the pop esthetic of Richard Hamilton. Other artists have chosen everything from mono-toned silkscreens to puffed-up, gilded political statements to carefully constructed bits of scrap. In each piece the artist relates his or her take on work and art. Many are incredibly poetic and striking.

It's fitting that the exhibit is at a DIY space such as Semai Gallery. Director Takashi Iwasaki has taken this unused basement hallway and transformed it into a workable, affordable and community-oriented exhibition space.