Perhaps it’s Canada’s bone-chilling weather or its expansive geography, but Canadians often huddle together to form garrisons, or forts, which historically functioned to keep people warm. In many instances, these small pockets of community attract like-minded individuals—and in many cases, those pursuing the arts. Groups like the Royal Art Lodge in Winnipeg or the campuses of OCAD or NSCAD in Toronto and Halifax, respectively, provide support and encouragement. Even as these artists migrate, the garrison mentality remains. In New York, a tightly-knit trio of Canada-born artists with an international presence comes to mind: Elaine Cameron-Weir, Hugh Scott-Douglas, and Ben Schumacher.
Cameron-Weir, Scott-Douglas, and Schumacher were close friends before settling in New York, but despite their diverse practices and careers, maintain a close kinship. Schumacher and Cameron-Weir, who are a couple and once shared a studio, are usually dining with Scott-Douglas, his prairie-born wife, and other American artists like Egan Frantz, Luca Dellaverson, and Jason Lee. Usually nearby is Canadian dealer Tara Downs, who heads Tomorrow Gallery, a space first established in Toronto with Scott-Douglas and artist Aleksander Hardashnakov and now located in the Lower East Side. When they aren’t together socially, the three frequently exhibit and collaborate together. Scott-Douglas and Schumacher both show at Berlin’s Croy Nielsen, where they collaborated on “Greek” in 2012 (Schumacher was included this year in the gallery’s booth at Frieze London). Cameron-Weir, a native Albertan who exhibited this year with Galerie Rodolphe Janssen in Brussels and Ramiken Crucible in New York, and was included, along with Scott-Douglas, in an exhibition that Schumacher curated, titled “Bloomington: Mall of America, North Side Food Court, Across From Burger King & The Bank of Payphones That Don’t Take Incoming Calls”held at Bortolami’s pop-up space in May 2014. And although their practices largely vary from assemblage to formalism to neo-conceptualism, their affinity reveals slight overlaps.
For her exhibition “Venus Anadyomene,” at Ramiken Crucible last spring, Cameron-Weir scoured both eBay and flea markets looking for giant clamshells, which she illuminated with the simplest of neon fixtures. Whereas Duchamp completely removed “taste” from his selection of object, in Cameron-Weir’s readymades, she elevated the clamshell to its feminine fetish. The basins of each shell contained a pool of essential oils with a small light. The burning oils perfumed the space like part of a ritual. In “Medusa,” which she showed both in Brussels, Belgium, and in Cleveland, Ohio, this year, teetering gold art-deco palm trees were earthed out of chunks of concrete, like remnants of a gilded era. Her work harkens to the history of art and design, marrying, then negotiating its utilitarianism and obsolescence.
Scott-Douglas weaves photographic processes and found imagery into large-scale canvases. His earlier cyanotypes undulated in blues across a wall that upon closer inspection, revealed a fine grid lining the canvas. With the introduction of his laser cuts, the sun-colored fabrics and light-burned canvases were engaged in a romantic, yet mechanical, conversation. The apparently formally rigorous compositions are perverse, in that many of the optical effects of the imagery are created through the element of chance. In 2013, Scott-Douglas began a query into currency, exposing and enlarging the odd old-school images that act as watermarks in today’s dollar bills. Currently, his exhibition at Jessica Silverman Gallery in San Francisco includes new bodies of work with titles like “Economist” and “Amazon.com.”
In Schumacher’s 2013 exhibition at Bortolami, “DS+R & The Bar at the Orangerie,” large glass walls featuring printed architectural blueprints on their surfaces recalled the shattered glass imbued with drafts of impossible machinery of Duchamp’s The Large Glass (1915-1923). Schumacher, who studied architecture, will often engage a space beyond the typical gallery sightlines. A smaller three-dimensional print will appear at the base of a wall, while a sculpture of cables, microfiche and a lamp hangs from ceiling to ground in what Art in America aptly described as “digital-era bricolage.” Much like that of Cameron-Weir and Scott-Douglas, Schumacher’s work suggests an attempt at reconciling techno-modernism with a poetic past.