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Roland Brener at the Olga Korper Gallery

By Robert Amos February 17, 2003

} Roland Brener Olga Korper GalleryToronto, Ontariountil March 5, 2003. Endsville is a village of tiny cardboard buildings, illuminated from within and wired with an interactive soundscape. Walking into the gallery is a bit like coming upon a lilliputian suburb at night. A similar installation, Capital Z, was installed at (and subsequently purchased by) Canada's National Gallery. Roland Brener retired from teaching at University of Victoria three years ago. Then, with his wife Dama, Brener took his sailboat, Reality, out for a two-year cruise. Last year he took a break and left the boat, flying from Cuba to Tokyo . There, in collaboration with Yoko Takashima, a former student from Victoria, Brener installed Endsville at the NTT InterCommunication Centre in Tokyo Opera City Tower. Now he's back and just about to ship his three latest sculptures to the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto (with whom he has shown since 1988). I dropped by Brener's Fairfield home to see them before they went. Starr, a sculpture by Roland Brener, wood and ceramic, to be shown at the Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto until March 5, 2003. Roland Brener was born in South Africa in 1942. After studying at St. Martin's School of Art in London, he taught at the University of Victoria. In 1988 Brener represented Canada at the Venice Biennale. 'During the time I was living on my boat,' Brener told me, 'my computer was my laboratory. And I was listening to the BBC news, and responding to things of the moment. Cloning was in the news, and Siamese twins.' Using an elementary figure drawing program called Poser, Brener created Starr, two interpenetrating figures with a common head. The two/one are as big as a large child, and perch on a green rail, like some monstrous parrot. 'Olga Korper said OYuck!', Brener noted. 'I never know what's taboo. The issues were offensive. But when I put my own face on it, she had to accept it'. Beside Starr is Until Soon, a larger-than-life chair whose back is penetrated by a huge breast. Facing it stand little models of Brener, naked at 7 years old and, dressed in a suit, at 21. They stand on the edge of the chair like divers about to do a backward half gainer. 'I wanted their footing insecure,' Brener added. 'The idea of memory and yearning for what's gone, the mother who's gone.' These mannikins are carved of solid wood, with face and hands of ceramic. All is softly painted. 'I was very careful to paint this,' Brener explained. 'I wanted a dreamy, ethereal quality. I had trouble with the eyes - I must have done them 50 times!'. It seemed remarkable to me that Brener is more and more becoming a figurative sculptor, even to the point of hand-painting doll-sized models of himself as a naked seven year old. 'You can do that stuff when you¹re older,' he averred. 'My vanity has diminished to the point where I can deal with myself without looking like a movie star or a hero.' It surprised me when I thought back on the figurative aspects of his sculptural career. According to Brener, his whole training has been figurative at its basis. Anthony Caro, his mentor and teacher in Britain, was dedicated to a totally abstract modernism yet took his students to study the Parthenon Freize at the British Museum. Anwyay, Brener feels no particular allegiance to any school. 'I'm loose enough now,' he commented, 'not aligned with modernism or any other -ism. I am letting go.' At this point we were joined by Grant Watson, another former student of Brener's. Watson has been his been fabricating the ideas for some years and, increasingly, is also Brener¹s collaborator. The two were packing the new work for shipping to Toronto. Once a shipwright and an artist in his own right, Watson has just the skills to complement Brener. And though he appeared mild-mannered to me, Brener calls him 'a wild animal!'. With the experience of a lifetime, Brener finds he can now 'preconcieve' his sculptures before he begins. He then designs them on his computer and prints them out for Watson to build. Watson, for his part, has never touched a computer or even received an e-mail. He makes an effort to cut down unnecessary communications in his life. 'If I don¹t get any Christmas cards,' he quipped, 'I am a happy guy.' Together these two refine the ideas as they become manifest. At the moment, they are at work on a half-million dollar sculptural commission in Toronto. This commission will inhabit the centre plaza between two 26-storey high-rises, in the Radio City Project beside the National Ballet School. Looking down from your office tower, you¹ll see a cluster of 59 little houses, each one of seven different designs. Within, the lights are on at all tmes. From above they have shapes reminiscent of letters of the alphabet. The little buildings are stainless steel, with rounded edges and and fluorescent lighting. Some are stacked, all are positioned imaginatively, and they will be exactly seat height. 'They make very nice benches,' Brener commented, 'and they are nice to transit through.' The units are being made in Victoria by Specific Mechanical, whose main work is actually making custom brewing tanks. 'Every city in the world's going to have one!' Brener effused. 'Helsinki, Siberia...'. And he just might be right. He's just one of a number of world-famed artists who build their artworks in Victoria and make their reputations elsewhere. __________________________________________________ Copyright © 2002 Robert Amos Robert Amos is an artist and art writer who lives in Victoria, B. C.. He can be contacted by e-mail and you can view his paintings at www.robertamos.com