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Dig your Roots 

New MSVU Gallery exhibition Roots and Shoots delivers a cross-section of the local art scene. Sue Carter Flinn gets the details.

During Bill Clinton’s Metro Centre visit last week, he lounged in front of a starry backdrop, speaking about unavoidable—negative and positive—global interdependence. Clinton’s relationship model could also be applied to Halifax’s visual arts community: they work together, socialize together and yes, some even sleep together.

An exhibition at Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery, Roots and Shoots, offers a microcosmic examination of the city’s contemporary art scene through some of its most valuable players. Inspired by an exhibition in Kingston, Ontario, MSVU director and curator Ingrid Jenkner began the process by selecting eight artists—a task which proved difficult in a city rich with talent.

“I tried to have a group of artists, not all of whom are connected with NSCAD. That proved to be just about impossible,” she says, laughing. “I tried for a wide representation of art-making media, artists who specialized in a particular form of expression. I was trying for gender balance and…generation—having more senior, established artists and younger artists.”

The eight nominated artists were each asked to select an artist. Nominated artists selected a work by their nominees, and each wrote an essay for the catalogue. Some names are familiar, such as Mathew Reichertz, Peter Dykhuis and Susan McEachern, whose equine portraits are stunning (don’t miss her show at the AGNS).

“I was petrified. How do you choose among so many important influences as a sculptor, or as an artist practicing out of the NSCAD tradition?” asks Gerard Choy. It’s a surprising admission, considering his stone sculptures exude such precise confidence. “Take Out One Ton” consists of 114 take-out food containers created from marble quarried in China, the same type of stone that was used in the 1400s to build the Imperial Palace. Arranged on the floor in a taut grid, the visual impact is both theatrical and disturbing in its uniformity.

Choy deliberated, and while fellow sculptor Thierry Delva was an obvious choice, he eventually picked video artist Jan Peacock. Her “One Same, Same Thing,” housed in a tiny, dark closet, is a viscerally disturbing video of a hand being dragged down a gravel path, while the sound of flesh gliding over rocks rains from overhead. Not an obvious pick, until Choy explains how he admires the architectural construction of Peacock’s video—in her handling of time and space, “you begin to see these images as really solid frames.” Both use repetition in interesting ways: the hand repeatedly returns to the rocks and Choy’s neat little containers feel confining in their sameness.

Leah Garnett’s “Personal Planetarium” offers a brief cosmological respite from this world. Selected by Robert Zingone, it’s a homemade tent constructed out of bedsheets, blackout fabric and inviting floor pillows on which to lie. Pinpricks on the tent walls form constellations derived from the flowered pattern on the sheets, although the impulse is to seek out the Big Dipper.

Garnett and Zingone took Roots and Shoots as a belated opportunity to look at each other’s slides and talk about their work. “There were some, not obvious, connections,” she says. “Probably because we’re friends, we’ve known each other for a long time, and we have similar interests or sensibilities.”

Zingone’s installation is comprised of two parts—a PVC duck blind floating outside in an adjacent pond, and three digital photographs of a yogic flyer hovering over the Bedford Basin, perhaps an illusionary perspective from inside the blind. On the surface, Garnett suggests there’s a shared aesthetic and architectural construction, but really, she says, “It’s very much about how we perceive the world and how we construct notions of cosmology.” (Coincidently, artists Dan O’Neill and Frances Dorsey share similar visual themes.)

Think of Roots and Shoots as a sampler of Halifax art. Filled with humour, political outrage, pain and joy, its emotional resonance demonstrates how connected we all are.

Roots and Shoots, until October 1, MSVU Art Gallery, 166 Bedford Highway.

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