Large screens on top of building playing video of woman kissing camera

This September saw the seventh edition of the now biennial CAFKA art and performance festival. The festival, created in 2001 by then Kitchener-Waterloo artist-in-residence Andrew Wright and an artist board, refocused a fading annual art-and-craft sale that took place on the Kitchener City Hall plaza. CAFKA is still artist-run. Its curator is Kitchener-Waterloo artist Rob Ring; its director, veteran curator Gordon Hatt; and its principal venue, as ever, Kitchener City Hall. This year’s festival locations included a number of regional municipal and university galleries, as well as other public and private sites. To facilitate getting around to view all 23 artworks, the festival helpfully provided visitors with rental bicycles.

The festival theme, Veracity, is played out in artwork that somehow addresses the current state of mischievous untruth brought about by digital delivery of just about everything. It may also, inadvertently, frame our thoughts on civic politics.  Zurich artist Pipilotti Rist’s entrancing video shorts are projected on two sides of the city-hall tower. In Open My Glade (Flatten) (2000), Rist repeatedly smunches her comely face against a sheet of glass, appearing to be unhappily trapped inside the building. Toronto’s Max Streicher has suspended his 30-foot inflatable Dung Beetle (2005) in the city hall rotunda; the beetle, made of recycled billboard vinyl, is immobilized on its back, and therefore unable to do its dung beetle job of processing dung. Municipal government: confinement and untreated sewage?

In behind the rotunda, is a prim-and-proper exhibition space that features Kitchener-Waterloo artist Stefan Rose’s stretched horizontal photographs of dry-cleaning establishments in Southwestern Ontario (2009): some of these cleaners occupy pretty discreet locations in strip malls, others have pride of place in a parking lot. Dry cleaners, and by extension truth itself the curator may be suggesting, are disappearing at a great rate in these office-casual times, and these seemingly antique, black-and-white silver prints — made from unaltered negatives — provide a perfect reminder.

A clunkier look at mimesis was proposed both in Tokyo artist Fujiwara Takahiro’s mesmerizing mechanical waterfall of rotating strings of coloured squares, Trance Veil (2009), and in UK artist Luke Hart’s tragicomic Walking With Synthetic Being Seven (Peg Leg) (2009), a performance prop made of synthetic flesh and wood that might be a cross between a turkey thigh and a table leg. Hart straps the device to one of his legs and hobbles around the city hall plaza in a bent and awkward position twice daily.

Yarmouth, Nova Scotia artist David Diviney’s Lodge (2009) is plonked down in middle of a public fountain near the town bus terminal. Diviney’s prodigious pile of beaver-hewn logs is in fact PVC pipe covered with beads of caulking that mimic wood grain. Just visible beneath the logs are a number of cheap white Styrofoam ice chests. This playful take on seasonal housing on a windy street corner suggests another less cheering truth, urban homelessness.

The Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery exhibition of London, UK-based Canadian artist Janice Kerbel’ s series of Remarkable posters nicely sums up the relative usefulness of truth in art and the imagination. Commissioned for the 2007 Frieze Art Fair and imitating the varied-for-dramatic-emphasis typography of 19th-century carnival posters, the advertisements promote incredulous acts of daring do by various female performers. Riddled with impossible superlatives and wickedly funny, the posters looked handsome indeed in their frames and gallery setting. How clever it would have been also to paste them onto hoardings throughout the city, much as they were originally presented in the art fair.

The eight-year run of CAFKA has been bracing, with the festival growing in scope and resolve at each outing. The festival’s two-week run is sadly short, but then again much longer than any single Nuit Blanche.

John Armstrong

This exhibition review first appeared on October 22, 2009 at


Oct 22, 2009


It now appears on Armstrong's personal site 

March 14, 2024

Other works in CAFKA.09