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Review by Pan Wendt

Arranged throughout two floors of the Confederation Centre Gallery’s east wing, Curb Appeal, organized by curator Shauna McCabe, is a grab bag of artistic reflections on contemporary urban experience. From found sounds, slide shows and large-scale photographs, to abstract paintings and works in coloured pencil, the diverse works in the show all revolve around mapping, perhaps the postmodern trope par excellence. Here mapping is generally envisioned as a highly subjective way of reorganizing experience, of staking a claim to one’s own way of observing, walking through, understanding, or perhaps just coping with the city. Many works offer focused glimpses of the most ordinary, but often overlooked aspects of urban life. Germaine Koh’s video installation “Side Piece” follows the activities and conversations of people around a sidewalk bench. The bird’s eye viewpoint of the surveillance camera is coopted by the artist as a means to a kind of ethnographic exploration of social interactions. In the slide show installation “Sleepers II,” by Mexican artist Francis Alys, small images documenting Alys’s wanderings through Mexico City are humbly projected at ground level in a corner of the gallery. And even the lowly pavement itself is mined for its imaginary potential in Evan Lee’s “C-prints” of the abstract patterns made by oil and other stains on the street.

As might be expected in a show containing the work of around two dozen artists, employing a great variety of mediums, and focusing on meandering, selective experience, the work is fairly uneven, and most viewers will come away with their own favourite moments. For me, most of the highlights were on the first floor, which featured quite a bit of work in traditional 2-dimensional formats. I loved the crude narrative maps of Canadian artist Jason McLean, which catalogue the movements of a semi-fantastic night subculture, seen through the eyes of the artist, and Chris Johanson’s wonderfully-titled conglomerate, “thanks for looking at this contemporary cityscape 2d installation, I hope it affects you in a way that you are comfortable with.” Other favourites of mine were Jon Rubin’s monochrome coloured pencil works, which describe various interior and exterior settings linked together fantastically through the artist’s concentrated line and attention to the play of ornament, and Ingrid Calame’s layering of found patterns that resembled actual maps more than any other works in the show.

Curb Appeal is sometimes chaotic and contradictory, but in general the chaos works to the show’s advantage, tying into its overall theme. Some works offer complex and mysterious byways into forgotten corners of the city, while the more obvious pieces make sense within the show as a whole. Overall, the exhibition offers a convincing picture of contemporary artists’ continual search for spaces of freedom in the urban landscape. For a local example that might prove the point, keep your eye out this summer for the tiny gallery called The Zetetic Elbowroom hidden in the bowels of the Confederation Court Mall.

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