Remembrance, reception & representation

Modern Fuel’s party tonight will take place outside the gallery walls, currently occupied by the engaging Reconnaissance

Complicating military history is a thread running through both artists’ work.
Complicating military history is a thread running through both artists’ work.

The days of baseboards, boots and briskly biting breezes are upon us in Kingston. Luckily, hand-in-hand with those chilly accompaniments come cozy ones, like tonight’s party celebrating the debut of Modern Fuel’s Kingston Artist Deck—54 playing cards featuring the work of local artists.

“We thought it was a great opportunity to showcase a large number of artists’ work in a very portable way,” the gallery’s artistic director Michael Davidge said. “We have 46 artists’ work available in the deck.”

Chances to connect with members of the arts community don’t often come in packages as pretty and personal as these.

“It’s a playful way of engaging with contemporary art while being accessible,” Davidge said. “Contemporary art is often seen as being very foreboding and forbidding. But not with these—you can play Crazy 8s with these.”

Crazy 8s, Old Maid, Bridge, Solitaire and both beginners and advanced Poker tables are some of the games that will undoubtedly invite attendees to try out the set of cards, rub elbows with local talent and provide the added option of taking a deck home for a mere $15, which will go towards supporting the Artist-Run Centre.

“We’re doing a bunch of different activities,” the Centre’s administrative director Bronwyn McLean said. “There’s going to be tarot readings with those cards, which is great fun and there’s some Kingston architects who are going to be doing a house of cards building competition.”

Modern Fuel’s penchant for parties never fails to top my list and I have a hunch this one will be no different. Last year’s Solid Gold party, featuring an hour-long masterfully mixed performance by sound artist Craig Leonard, had me hypnotized—and it wasn’t just those delicious gold-flake-filled drinks they were serving. Valentine’s Day brought the memorable balloon-filled fundraiser Slow Dance, where attendees swapped dance cards, corsages and grooved to Kingston DJs Haircut and Abdell Drums along with LK aka Laura Kelly, who will be making a triumphant return to the tables and the town, enveloping attendees at tonight’s highly anticipated party after moving to Toronto.

“We leapt at the opportunity to get her,” Davidge said.

The art card party is happening in The Atrium of Confederation Place rather than within the Queen St. walls of Modern Fuel, which is currently splashed with Reconnaissance, a show featuring the work of Kingston’s William MacDonnell and Bowmanville’s Todd Treemer. The engaging exhibit laces together the work of the two artists who commemorate military history and complicate its representation and reception in varying ways. After a visit to the gallery, I found Davidge’s accompanying exhibit text to be the most apt and helpful introduction to the work and its dealings with “heaving subject matter, military conflict and its representation, in a way that is not heavy-handed. The work raises many questions concerning technology, history, aesthetics and politics; to provide a pithy response is a challenge.”

The emotion in the pieces is palpable. Not only for the observed and imagined subject matter but also the grandiose size and sheer life, not to mention death, present in the pieces.

Two of MacDonnell’s monumental acrylic on canvas paintings, “On the Wilhemstrasse, Later in the Day” (1997) and “Ruin Upon Ruin (The King’s Palace)” (2010) sit on opposing walls of the gallery. This moving depiction of perceptions surrounding Hitler’s blasted Chancellery building and the war in Afghanistan during the artist’s recent deployment as an official War Artist beg to be taken in personally. Their effect simply cannot be adequately expressed in words. MacDonnell’s extensive experience-based work also encompasses far-traveled explorations as an unofficial war artist and interpretation of the conflict in the Balkans.

Engaging in military history in a different way, Tremeer’s watercolour work highlights the gaps, ambiguity and incomplete nature of some of its past representation. An official War Artist like MacDonnell, the white space, omissions and conjectures in Tremeer’s work speak what Davidge describes as, “the avant-garde language of abstraction.” “Detachment” (2010), his troop of tiny uniformly constructed paper doll soldiers caught my eye when I first walked into the gallery space and call to light both the glamorization of war and its trickling down into the public’s grasp through video games and simulated battle, turning destruction into something to be desired.

War undeniably evokes emotion in everyone, making MacDonnell and Tremeer’s work rewarding for viewers. Leaving Reconnaissance I felt dark, but not at all dire. Standing safely outside the subject matter of the paintings I was drawn in and found myself attempting to grasp the reality the artists encountered, which eventually inspired and comprised their work. This provocation is proof enough of their power.

Reconnaissance is showing at Modern Fuel until Dec. 18. The Artist Deck launch party is happening tonight at The Atrium in Confederation Place at 237 Ontario St. at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 if reserved through in advance, or $15 at the door. Artist Decks are available for $15.

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