Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Save and Retrieve, "Arlene Stamp: 1983+30 " reviewed

Detail of:  Arlene Stamp, Now Won’t You Listen Dearie, 1998, woven laminated inkjet prints
58.4 x 58.4 cm, Collection of Nickle Galleries, gift of the artist, photo: John Hails
Arlene Stamp 1983 + 30
18 October, 2013 - 4 January, 2014
Organized from the collection of the Nickle Galleries,
curated by Christine Sowiak with assistance from Katie Green and catalogue essay by Chris Cran.
Nickle Galleries Floor, Taylor Family Digital Library, University of Calgary

Save and Retrieve, "Arlene Stamp: 1983+30 "

Arlene Stamp, painter (b at London, Ont 4 June 1938). Stamp studied art at the Alberta College of Art and Design (1974-76) and the UNIVERSITY OF CALGARY (BFA, 1979, and post-graduate studies from 1979-80). Previously she had studied mathematics at the UNIVERSITY OF WESTERN ONTARIO (BA, 1960). *1

While people that know Calgary based Arlene Stamp's work would argue that it has nothing to do with textiles they would be ignoring the obvious in her body of woven strips of laminated InkJet prints not to mention her manipulation of the grid. With “Arlene Stamp 1983 + 30” the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary has organized a retrospective of this artist work that, while inclusive of the different approaches to materials and methods of creating as is representative of their collection, for me this exhibition provides a small glimpse into her wide reaching conceptual thinking. Stamp came of age as an artist when there were many shifts in attitudes towards and in art making. It was an exciting, volatile and confusing time. Feminism was gaining ground. Many female artist were claiming that handicrafts : such as needle work, china painting and other “Decorative” arts along with weaving and quilting which were assumed /assigned to be woman's work, whether it was traditionally or not as an avenue of explorations. Just as many female artist where rejecting these handicrafts /mediums and expanding ways of approaching the pictorial surface and codify painting in order to reassert its position in a new hierarchy where conceptual work held primacy. Arlene Stamp's work is concerned with that pictorial plane/ surface.

Arlene Stamp, Plaza, 1991, vinyl tile on Masonite, 365.76 x 731.52 cm
Collection of Nickle Galleries, gift of the artist, photo: courtesy of Arlene Stamp
 I first came across Arlene Stamps work in Toronto's corridor of power in one of the bank towers at Bay and King.Binary Frieze (Squeeze)” and “Bianary Frieze (Stretch)” are 1993 pieces installed in the Ernst & Young Lobby, Toronto Dominion Centre, Toronto, Ontario. They are made of  vinyl tile on aluminum. While many of the bank towers in this neighbourhood have had tapestries hanging in their lobbies (as was the fashion of the era in which these buildings where constructed), following the postwar “modern” architectural movement which followed La Corbusier’s clarion call for “tapestries to decorate the walls of the new architecture” (*2)  Not wanting to be thought none modern Toronto designers followed suit. Unfortunately with the renovations which  the buildings in this neighbourhood  have had in recent years many of the  emblematic modern era tapestries have disappeared from street level, public view including Binary Frieze (Stretch and Squeeze). The retrospective includes two pieces constructed with vinyl tiles: JumpShift 1993, (wall piece) 152.76 X 248.92, vinyl tile, mahogany veneer, gator board and aluminum stripping, and “Plaza” 1991, a floor piece 365.76 X 731.52, Vinyl tile on Masonite which Stamp describes as

“ This series represents my first attempts to picture a non-periodic pattern using real materials, in this case a line of standard vinyl floor tiles. Two overlapping grids of tile patterns were set at an angle of 13 degrees with respect to one another. Because this angle cuts the grids into shapes with sides of an irrational * length, I thought the resulting pattern could never repeat. While it does create a a complex and interesting pattern, I now think I was wrong about it being non-periodic. (* an irrational number in mathematics is represented by a decimal that goes on forever) “ (*3)

Arlene Stamp, Plato and My Garden II, 1990
oil and egg medium acryloid and graphite on canvas
24 panels each 45.7 x 45.7 cm
Collection of Nickle Galleries, gift of the artist
photo: John Hails
Her interest in mathematics naturally/organically led to working with digital technologies however there is work in the show that explores none fine art reproduction technologies such as carbon paper, photo copies and early/simple computerized graphic design software. These explorations seem to be used in a counter intuitive manner which is very interesting. Chris Cran in his catalogue essay writes about her use of Xeroxes “...as a way of removing herself from the choices that a painter might always be confronted with: subject matter, composition, colour etc. In this process these formal components would be predetermined.” (*4)  I see more going on then just what Chris Cran describes above as these exploration continued  over time and will look at what I see as her attempts to remove herself from the making process., while still having her work occur. The “Gladys M Johnson” series which is based of Xerox images of a collection of paintings Chris Cran own are copied in paint onto canvas by Stamp in the early 1980s  In the beginning of 2000 she is revisiting these images in the “lost Paintings” series by using a scanned slide of the early work. In the first series I see her attempting to remove her hand (unsuccessfully) from the making of these drawings and paintings as well as the decision making process, in the latter series which were presented as “Paint By Number” kits enabling/ allowing others to complete the works and possibly secede in removing her hand from the finishing of what she calls “Impossible Paintings.” 

Interestingly in following this line of investigation she was the curator of a show called “Painting Machines” (5*) for the New Gallery in Calgary in 1997 where she presented the work a number of younger artist who were making paintings through automated processes. They had each created or modified machinery that place paint on the surface through the means of a brush or spray. I had the luck to see the show and attend a panel discussion during which they discussed their processes and the reasons behind them.

Arlene Stamp,
left,:Now Won’t You Listen Dearie, 1998, woven laminated inkjet prints, 58.4 x 58.4 cm.,
right:“A” You’re Adorable, 1998,woven laminated inkjet prints,58.4 x 58.4 cm
Collection of Nickle Galleries, gift of the artist,photo: John Hails
This way of using reproduction or information storage technologies led to another thread of work which situated the hand implicitly into the digital process. In some ways it is a very simplistic process where she has transcribed interviews from audio tape, set the text over a multicoloured background and then printed these texts with an inkjet printer, laminated them, cut them into strips, and then wove them in plain weave structure. “The Mum Tapes” 1998 are part a body of work build on the relationship between her mother and herself. The source material is archival (old home movies and photographs) and collaboratively created audio recordings of her mother reminiscences . Thinking about “The Mum Tapes” and its various components and iterations the processes become part of the works, not in an obvious way but in a subtle ways in which the deterioration of stored materials not retrieved invalidate or perhaps fictionalize the information making it more accessible.  As her mother's voice is recorded and played back the tapes themselves distort. The flow of the lamented printed text ( Now You Won't Listen Dearie” and “A' You'er adorable” are in the exhibition) is interrupted/ distorted by the interlacing of these strips. The film strip “Real Life 58 Frames”  an enlarged 8 mm “home movies” backed with a electroluminescent light are safely presented while the originals have suffered deterioration by being shown and, like the audio tapes, will crumble. The web presentation of this material along with images of lyrics of songs popular in her mother's youth in the work “Modern Mother” (*6), all the original materials have been digitized / stored in a “binary” format that is retrievable by current computer technologies but their security depends on this technology which will be obsolete one day.

These steps through different storage and retrieval systems are in many ways constantly in play throughout out all her works as is the fact of this exhibition:
·                 . As photocopies of source material (the Gladys Johnson Series) and computer graphic design system enabled
·                 the CMYK colour layers (The Red Paintings and Plato and My Garden) removed decisions making from her painting process,
·                 and audio visual recording and website creation provided a way of  moving captured/ created information (memory and object) from a physical to a “non-physical” space.
·                 And as lost photocopies led to the Impossible Paintings series this exhibition is a result of accessing/ retrieving a whole body of stored work. 

Having stopped her studio practice in 2003,  the organizing/ creating an inventory of her entire body of work is a major achievement, as is finding a home (Storage and Retrieval mechanism) for it through donating it to  three  institutions in Alberta: the Nickle Galleries at the University of Calgary, ( where Arlene Stamp 1983 +30 is on display)The Glenbow Museum in Calgary and  the Art Gallery of Alberta. In so doing, she has “created” a  final work in which she has successfully removed her hand from the creation process. Like the “impossible Painting" series,  it is some on else who has completed the work.  In this case, it is , curator Christine Sowiak with assistance from Katie Green.

Joe Lewis January 5 2014

*2 “who Made That : a question about Public (Textile) Art in Canada? By joe Lewis FQ Volume 3, Issue 1/ Winter 2007  and “Time and Line: brief history of Modern Tapestry “ by Joe Lewis fQ Volume 5 Issue 3/ Fall 2009
*3 “Arlene Stamp 1983 +30' catalogue p.13
*4  “Arlene Stamp” Chris Cran, “Arlene Stamp 1983 +30' catalogue p.4
*5 Painting Machine” New Gallery, Calgary Alberta 1997, Heather Raymont, Jason Dufresne, Roy Meuwissen, Chris Bennett, Brian White, Ayad Sinawi, John Eisler

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