In Habitat, Toni Hafkenscheid uses the tilt-shift technique to create a diorama effect. Photo By Toni Hafkenscheid
ANDY PATTON AND TONI HAFKENSCHEID at Birch Libralato (129 Tecumseth), to April 27. 416-365-3003. Rating: NNNN
Birch Libralato features the text paintings of Andy Patton and Toni Hafkenscheid's photography in an excellently curated show.
Patton's works are decidedly restrained and austere, partially owing to their genesis in classical Chinese poetry.
Through his collaborative writing collective Pain Not Bread, Patton (together with authors Roo Borson and Kim Maltman) creates remarkably fluid and contemporary translations of Chinese Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei. The resulting book of poetry, Introduction To The Introduction To Wang Wei, serves as a touchstone for the paintings, which riff further on the already allusive translations.
It makes sense that each painting radiates both a formalist serenity and a sense of playful invention. As a writer, academic and painter, Patton is intrigued by the artistic transmission of symbols and gestures.
Each painting is a field of colour whose culled words are painted in different degrees of opacity on and beneath the surface in floating fields of text. As with much classical Chinese calligraphy, the time spent in front of each canvas yields hints and glimmers of vigour and visual novelty, like koi spotted suddenly under the murky surface of a pond.
In the back room, Toni Hafkenscheid again photographs large landscapes so they resemble dioramas using of a soft middle-focus camera in a technique called tilt-shift. The effect, as always, is enchanting and disconcerting.
His photographs demonstrate to what extent scale is intimately linked to our ideas of time, place and visual concreteness. Because the restricted middle field of focus shrinks each landscape's sense of scale, large landmarks (like Montreal's Habitat 67) appear so tiny as to invite us to reach inside the pictures and pick them up.
When contemporary landscapes are made to resemble a train set, the resulting image awakens a repressed sense of wonder and novelty.
The staid and the imposing become magical and slightly unreal. It's a visual magic trick that keeps on giving.