Cartographies: Dionne Simpson

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    The Art Gallery of Peterborough

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    Dionne Simpson: Cartographies

    Printed in CanadaCopyright 2010

    The Art Gallery of Peterborough250 Crescent Street

    Peterborough, OntarioK9J 2G1Tel: (705) 743-9179Fax: (705) 743-8168Email: gallery@agp.on.cawww.agp.on.ca

    Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Art Gallery of PeterboroughMarch 12 May 2, 2010

    Curators: Pamela Edmonds and Sally Frater

    All rights reserved

    ISBN: 1-896809-56-1

    Printing: Captain PrintworksDesign: Tariq Sami @ HistrionicsPhotography: Wayne Eardley

    Under Construction #1 , 2010, delineated canvas, hair colour, ink, text, 40 x 40

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    Under Construction #1 (detail) , 2010, delineated canvas, hair colour, ink, text, 40 x 40

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    Urban Decay #1 (detail) Urban Decay #1 , 2009, mixed media, 20 x 20

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    O ver the past decade of her art practice, Dionne Simpsonhas continuously built on past histories to create new stories.The histories are not only her own experiences but theyreach into the distant past for technique as well as metaphor.Her work is very much about surface but we soon see that there is more behind the first reading. Layer upon layer of meaning exist in this work.

    Like reading a map, one can locate a particular fixed point of attention or one can choose to explore the topography,the paths and obstacles to truly understand the nature ofthe environment. It is this sense of way-finding that bothcurators of the exhibition respond to in their essays. Curator,Pam Edmonds refers to Simpsons work as conceptual mapping.

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    Guest curator, Sally Frater continues deeper in this concept in deciphering the use of the grid as applied to surface;systems of measuring and qualifying location and valueapply here.

    The exhibition and catalogue title Cartographies become,significantly appropriate when one considers the concepts it embraces and refers to, each meaning heavy with metaphorand context. It is a word rich with implicit intention and is a fitting descriptor for this body of work.

    There are many who have made this catalogue possible.We would like to thank the curators of the exhibition,Pam Edmonds and Sally Frater who brought this intriguing exhibition to the Art Gallery of Peterborough. Thanks goesto Tariq Sami for his sensitivity to the nature of Simpsonswork, which is reflected in his inspired catalogue design.Last, but not least, we thank artist, Dionne Simpson forher fine work and generous contribution to the success ofthe exhibition.

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    Maps are often thought of as tools for getting from here tothere. Maps reflect the world reduced to points, lines, and areas,using a variety of visual resources: size, shape, value, texture orpattern, colour, orientation, and shape. Cartography, the studyand practice of map-making-combining science, aesthetics andtechnique-builds on the premise that reality can be modeled inways that can communicate spatial information effectively.

    With the advent of new media/digital art, GIS and mobile tech-nologies, the concern with data collection and mapping has beenincreasingly pursued by contemporary artists with both fervourand criticality. It is little surprise that, in an era of globalizedpolitics, culture, and ecology, these projects utilize the map in a political and social dimension to produce new configurations of space, subjectivity and power. Here, the map can be viewed as a conceptual tool to experiment with a particular territory inspecific ways in order to reach unforeseen destinations. Mapping quite simply becomes a medium for expressing the artists ownobservations and reflections about the contemporary world.

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    Pamela Edmonds

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    This exhibition came together as a result of the mutual admira-tion of Simpsons oeuvre with Hamilton-based independent curator Sally Frater. As curators who are similarly interested incontemporary art that engages questions of modernity and iden-tity politics, Cartographies explores global modernity and identityas fluid and continually unfolding, bringing the post-colonial andpost-modern into dialogue. Simpsons multi-layered paintingsare conceptual maps to be deciphered and explored. The rewardis the infinitely varied journeys they take us on.

    Pamela Edmonds

    Art Gallery of Peterborough

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    For over a decade, artist Dionne Simpson has explored the sitesand spaces of cultural urbanization through her distinctive visualpractice. Employing the materiality of cotton canvas as a metaphor for the underlying fabric of Canadian society, Simpsonhas built an international career based on her unique workswhich are created through a painstaking process inspired by theWest African art of thread pulling-the removal of thread frommaterial in order to create patterns and images. Her latest seriesis highly personal form of Pointillism depicting anonymousurban landscapes as well as a series of self-portraits that pulsatebehind the exposed grids of the de-woven fabric. In these mixed-media paintings, Simpson applies an unorthodox assortment of materials such as wax, soil, ash, hair dye and liquid paper. Shefurther embeds a dizzying array of imagery and symbols sourcedfrom contemporary culture including corporate logos, images of media celebrities and icons, texts and numbers, which are strate-gically placed inside the hundreds of tiny windows formed withinthe unravelled canvas. Through this relational information,the artists work investigates the ways in which the architecturalmapping of cities converges upon sites of consumption,commerce and the ethno-cultural histories and class realities of the citys inhabitants. Through subtraction and addition, thework strikes an intriguing balance between the contemporaryand traditional as well as between abstraction and realism.Not only does Simpson construct and deconstruct her ownpersonal history and image in this work, on a broader level,she decodes the very foundations and structures of modernculture, from art and language to community.

    Under Construction #4 (detail) , 2010, delineated canvas, clothing dye, text, 40 x 40

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    Urban Decay #2 , 2009, mixed media: liquid paper, colouring dye, 20 x 20 Urban Decay #3 , 2009, mixed media, 20 x 20

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    Cartographies , installation view, Art Gallery of Peterborough, 2010

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    In Rosalind Kraus oft-cited essayThe Originality of the Avant- Garde (1985) she observes that within the practice of manyModernist artists, the visual trope of the grid functioned as a marker of artistic originality. Largely considered to be thevanguard of the avant-garde in Modern art, Kraus notes that thegrid-scored surface1 of the canvases of artists ranging from Josef Albers to Piet Mondrian and Agnes Martin marked the imageof an absolute beginning2 that simultaneously offered thepromise of autonomy.3 The grids existence as a cornerstone of non-representational art gave rise to the (fictitious) notion that this new kind of art was truly original (irrespective of the fact that this claims potency was diminished each time that it wasemployed by yet another artist or was used in succession withina particular artists practice). Positioned as it was the grids potencylay in the fact that due to the emphasis on what lay on itspictorial surface, a work of art could only be evaluated in termsof formal qualities. This meant there was no equivalent of thegridded canvas to be found in nature, no visual referent existedin the world at large and that there was no linguistic terminologythat could adequately describe it 4. As such, these works existedoutside of history. The discourse that was then created to discuss

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    Sally Frater

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    this type of painting insisted that these works be evaluated byformal qualities alone. This conclusion aided in cementing thenotion that this art primarily existed apart from the political andor sociological conditions that existed at the time of its produc-tion, and that these factors bore no influence on them as worksof art.

    In The Originality of the Avant-Garde (as well as in the earlier byless often cited essay Grids from 1976) Kraus refutes the gridsclaim to originality, pointing out in Grids how the employment of the grid in Modernist work was proceeded by the use of thegrid in symbolist art in the form of windows5 and that thesymbolist interest in windows clearly reaches back into the earlynineteenth century and romanticism.6 Therefore, if we are toconnect gridded Modernist paintings from the early twentiethcentury within the long trajectory of painted works that haveemployed the grid within them, then perhaps one would not beamiss in suggesting that these works do not exist outside of therealm of influence.

    Though artist Dionne Simpson is producing work at a much laterpoint in time that the reign of High Modernism in art, her prac-tice is, i

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