If you like art, there are some exhibits worth seeing in Winnipeg over the holidays. Alison Gillmor reviews three of them.

Toxicity: A collaboration among Video Pool, INCUBATOR (a hybrid science-art lab in Windsor, Ont.) and Plug In ICA, this mind-blowing group show brings together artists from Winnipeg, the United States and Australia to examine issues at the contested intersection of biology, technology and politics.

'Vancouver artist David Khang offers a two-channel video that features volunteer actors who recite Shakespearean soliloquies before and after receiving Botox injections' - Alison Gillmor CBC Reviewer

These artists aren’t just playing with ideas about biotech. In some cases, they are actively collaborating with medical professionals, working in laboratory environments and using microbiological specimens as materials. (“Live cultures but not pathogens!” one artist told me, reassuringly.) The results are— variously— spooky, funny, fascinating and disquieting.

Vancouver artist David Khang offers a two-channel video that features volunteer actors who recite Shakespearean soliloquies before and after receiving Botox injections. (Botox is basically a muscle-paralyzing toxin.)

The comparisons are instructive: Our cultural obsession with physical perfection has led to performers who look flawless on the red carpet but are increasingly unable to act.

Amanda White

Toronto artist Amanda White (Amanda White)

Toronto’s Amanda White challenges our disembodied and distanced relation to our food system with a multimedia work in which she eats store-bought cherry tomatoes that, uh, pass through her digestive system (just as seeds are spread by plant-eating animals in the wild).

The seeds are planted and are currently growing in a greenhouse that has been installed right in the middle of the gallery. The whole process is illustrated by rather charming pen and paper works that resemble Victorian botanical drawings.

There is a lot more very cool stuff, from hacked robotic dogs that are engineered to sniff out environmental pollutants to Petri dishes containing stills from movies about killer plagues, which suggest that our cultural fear of contagion and contamination operates in the same way as a virus.

Math + Art: In high school, the mathletes and the artsy kids are usually two completely separate subcultures. One activity is seen as logical and rational, the other as creative and emotional. In fact, art has had a long and passionate affair with mathematics, as suggested by this small show gathered from the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s permanent collection.

This is not art by the numbers but art with numbers — more than 30 sculptures, prints and paintings, mostly from the 20th century.

Math and Art

Claude Tousignant - Canadian, b. 1932 (Winnipeg Art Gallery)

There are abstractionists like Claude Tousignant and Tony Tascona, exploring the beauty of pure objective forms, and Bertram Brooker, getting a little trippy with the fourth dimension.

There is conceptual artist Gerald Ferguson obsessively demonstrating what a quarter-mile of clothesline looks like (probably smaller than you think).

Given recent news that Manitoba students have been scoring below average on math proficiency, there are a number of math-related activities associated with this exhibition. Bring your pencil.

Portal: This new exhibition is set in an average house on an average North End street. Owned by Winnipeg artist and curator Theo Sims, the home has been opened up to Alex Poruchnyk, a veteran Winnipeg video and installation artist who has been influential in the city as an artist, a founding member of Video Pool, and a long-time teacher.

Working within this domestic environment, Poruchnyk creates an audiovisual installation work that leads you up a staircase and through a series of rooms, making you intensely aware of how you experience space and sound.

Alex Poruchnyk

Alex Poruchnyk, PORTAL, 2013 Installation detail (Photo courtesy of the Lewyc Institute of Contemporary Art)

In one small bedroom, a wall is transformed into a turbulent lake. Another screen shows 3D images of street scenes, becoming a video “window” between inside and outside. In the bathroom, the shower curtain has been replaced by a video showing what might possibly be happening in the tub. As you react to Poruchnyk’s layered soundscapes and immersive visuals, your sensory readings can be alternately sharpened or disoriented.

Sims calls his home-based gallery the Lewyc Institute of Contemporary Art, in honour of Walter Lewyc, a legendary presence in the Winnipeg art scene who died in 2006.

Lewyc was a long-time supporter of Plug In, but he also felt that art needed to be found outside the official gallery system — in parties and after-hours clubs and junk shops and cafes and homes.

Toxicity: Plug In ICA, until February 8, 2014.
Math + Art, WAG, until April 27, 2014.
Portal: 78 Lusted Avenue, Saturdays and Sundays, noon-5:00 until December 29. Or contact Theo (theo.sims@gmail.com, 204.942.6242) for an appointment.