these may (not) be places VERNISSAGE: JUNE 30, 2016 (6 - 9 PM) EXHIBITION: JUNE 30 - AUGUST 27 2016 these may (not) be...
these may (not) be places
VERNISSAGE: JUNE 30, 2016 (6 - 9 PM)
EXHIBITION: JUNE 30 - AUGUST 27 2016
these may (not) be places explores the depictions and abstractions of what place might be – and what its absence could look like. The exhibition invokes responses from artists working in mixed media, including etching, illustration, painting, and pyrography.
Place may be structure, expressed in the character of architecture or the clear textures of geography. But it is also, always, distant – the first idea of space, its memory, its secretive nature. The landscape is the point of departure for Toronto-based artist Laura Bydlowska, replicating the idea of nature through pyrography. Pyrography mimics the techniques of illustration, as the artist draws lines into the wood with heat. The grain of the wood remains visible, enhanced by transparent ink, or by carving texture into the wood. By burning and carving away at wood, and creating collages out of fragments of her etchings, Bydlowska depicts the earth, nature as the first place. Caverns and escarpments are tinted by shadowy palettes reminiscent of dusk, damp soil, granite, and exposed fragments of jasper or malachite. The textures of Bydlowska’s scenes mimic geological patterns – reflecting the slow, natural processes of the spaces she depicts. The landscape is imagined not as a static scene, but as an active, changing and tumultuous act of place in a process of becoming – devoid of the human hand.
In direct contrast to Bydlowska’s landscapes, Alex Thompson’s engravings capture sites of human presence and making. Thompson’s renders these urban scenes with the voyeuristic eye of a photographer, reconfiguring the focus as in the tilted perspective of Vertigo. Thompson shows buildings in construction, elements of the urban landscape that are often on the periphery—raised platforms, cables, construction workers. Space-in-construction is then re-imagined out of its intermediary stage, into a point of focus in itself.
Thompson examines the architectural character depicted through a study of ubiquitous geometries –buildings and their shapes that are resilient in time. Ancient and contemporary structural forms are juxtaposed in his studies Parthenon II and Aqueduct, where the monolithic shape of ancient infrastructures is translated into new contexts in the contemporary city. The aqueduct was crucial to the formation of early civilisations — influencing, and determining, the shape of a city. This urban infrastructure modeled itself on the naturally occurring forms of land – a suspended, artificial river that had its own ebbs and flows. Bridges are intermediary spaces, indicating and ferrying people toward possible destinations. In a similar manner, the contemporary city relies on the fluidity and speed of movement along roadways, connecting arterial lines between the heart of a city and its farther-removed enclaves. And as water has become interchangeable with ever-expanding trade of resources – an endless flow, networks of roads growing more distant, more interconnected – so the transportation of resources have become synonymous with the movement of people.
The making of place by people is also addressed in Guillermo Trejo’s flags from nowhere, mocking the grandeur of imagined geopolitical identities – artificial places that are made out of borders. Trejo’s flags for non-existent states challenge the way a nation exists as both idea and land. The emotional appeal of nationalism to some imagined or embodied connection to a particular parcel of earth is, nonetheless, the dominant framework by which we define a relationship to the places we live in. The way we treat land and the way we treat other beings, these are shaped by limits placed on movement, creativity, communication – limits that exist in words, and are often kept alive by the distancing of people. flags from nowhere is a sketch of the iconographic role objects have in rallying societies around these ideas of place, even though these places are crude abstractions of living through the land.
Relating to this intangibility, Kathryn Shriver’s delicate and surreal illustrations tell narratives of mental space, as it occurs through the passage of time, the interiority of ritual, and the terms of recollection. The illustrations are intricate depictions of spaces in turmoil, in formation, or in a state of decay. Shriver’s work is largely narrative, with her more recent excerpts from The Myth of the Phrasemaker’s Parrot borrowing parsed phrases and sketches from her journals, unravelling an intimate and poetic text. As a collected series, these illustrations not only reflect the conceptual processes of relating to space, but the materials that make a world. Here there are small encounters with windows and wooden beams, beaded drapery and palm fronds.
Meditations on time are given form: in her illustrations, they take on the highly symbolic shape of braids, ropes, knots – while Shriver’s beaded works refer to another element of her practice. In her multimedia installation This is not forever, Shriver works with beaded sculpture and performance – the simple act of threading beads associating with meditation, the performance of costume and clothing, and possibly to the enactment of femininity. While the small wooden pieces are excerpts from this body of work, Shriver’s larger installations put into material form this metaphorical weight. Thousands of tiny beads are interconnected on fragile strings to make heavy, draping sheets.
Joani Tremblay deconstructs place into graphic elements, explicitly mocking the trends of commercial art markets and the academic exploitation of naïve art. Tremblay’s practice is skillfully refined in large-scale illustrations, her expressive gestures evoking scenes of minimalist calligraphic art, shorthand writing, and classical landscape compositions. Tremblay’s current series is a more condensed, but obsessive portraiture of plants – mall-tropics and office-plant installation trends sending off echoes of Los Angeles and the disillusionment of young MFA graduates searching for life in barren, white wastelands. The deceptive naivety of her illustrations conceals a critique of the celebratory plastic kitsch of popular culture, within a collage of candycoated satire.
The influence of graphic design – its colour-blocked divisions of space and accents of simple geometric shapes – is exemplified in Prioritizing Connoisseurship Of The Mainstream, where space must be filled by all means, must be balanced with an appealing correctness and approachability of experimentation. In the absence of abrupt gestures, tiny graphite scribbles or bright IKEA-friendly colours frame each neat plant portrait with prettiness and safeness. This commercial accessibility – after all, the neutrality of Tremblay’s illustrations would perfectly accent any interior space with minimal intrusion and maximum compatibility – is seeped into the artist’s choice of paint. Gouache is similar to acrylic in its opacity and the vibrance of its colours, so when it dries, it can do so without leaving the impression of depth. Gouache is often marketed as a children’s paint – cheap and simple. Where art is product, optimized for the consumer, the artist can forego the elite materials of art-making, displacing value from the object and into its friendly, relatable nature.
Curatorial text by Lital Khaikin.