Shades of humour

Agnes Etherington’s Discontinued Colours shows the relevance of art

Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Fountainheads opens the Agnes Etherington’s Discontinued Colours.
Myfanwy MacLeod’s The Fountainheads opens the Agnes Etherington’s Discontinued Colours.
Credit: 
Supplied by Chris Miner

And this is why art matters.

I was having a down day — one of those days drowning in self-pity — before going to see the Agnes Etherington Art Centre’s Discontinued Colours. Layered with radical political activism and complex social commentary, the collection is a blip of contemporary art genius.

But looking at the works of the six artists, I couldn’t help but laugh.

Upon entering the gallery, the curator’s blurb for artist Myfanwy MacLeod explains a lot. Macleod’s large fibreglass frog is a hybrid of the work of Hieronymus Bosch — a 15th century Dutch painter — and the violent images produced by mass media. The frog is symbolic of the “degradation of nature” and the bullet holes that spew water translate “radical disenchantment with social ideals.” But, amphibian semiotics aside, the piece is undeniably kitschy and funny. The artist’s humour is brought to life through her ironically warped use of animation.

Luis Jacob’s Anarchist Free School Minutes is a standout piece in the show. The artist draws the viewer into a “reading station,” complete with a chair in the shape of a hand and a small table.

I hesitated for several minutes, wondering whether I was supposed to sit in the open palm. Go figure, the piece is about anarchy, and I’m worried about gallery decorum.

On the table is an assortment of pamphlets supporting causes with “flexible social principles” — titles like SWAG: Sex Worker Action Group of Kingston and the Surrounding Area and What to do When You’ve Been Called Out: A Brief Guide set the tone of the work.

A small sign on the table reads, “Please browse the anarchist literature at this reading station and remove items that are of interest to you.” I grabbed If I Can’t Dance Is It Still My Revolution? and Exposing the Lie.

Jacob delves into issues of accessibility and sexuality, among other typically stigmatized subjects. If I Can’t Dance Is It Still My Revolution? cites activist Krystalline Kraus’ call to disabled people saying, “They say: ‘Stay Home.’ You say: ‘Fuck off!’”

Jacob, a renowned contemporary artist, helped found the Anarchist Free School in Toronto, which applies DIY-style learning. Inspired by unconventional education, his hyperbolic humour extends beyond just headlines — some of the pamphlets are over 20 pages of text.

Many of the artists in the collaborative exhibit have strong roots set in Kingston: Jacob held an artist residency in Kingston in 2009; Dave Gordon, whose series of paintings from the early 2000s is on display, is a local artist and was a founding member of the artist-run centre Modern Fuel; and Adrian Göllner, whose work the exhibit was named after, is a Queen’s BFA alumnus.

Göllner, BFA ’87, was recently awarded with two commissions to create artwork for the new chancery building of the Canadian Embassy in Moscow. His installation, Discontinued Colours, highlights his pseudo-Modernist approach.

The series of rectangular-shaped canvases are painted with various colours that have been discontinued — what looks like black to me is actually a now-discontinued “Charcoal Grey.” Each encased in a black frame, the bright swatches seem to lament the death of the colours.

Whether it’s a lesson in environmentalism or human rights, or simply a cause for a good laugh, art touches people. Despite worldwide social relevance, it connects closer to home than we might think.

Discontinued Colours is at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre until April 15.

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