“Man’s greatness is always to recreate his life, to recreate what is given to him, to fashion that very thing which he undergoes. Through work he produces his own natural existence. Through science he recreates the universe by means of symbols. Through art he recreates the alliance between his body and his soul.” – Simone Weil, The Mysticism of Work, Gravity and Grace (1947)
Late-capitalist mediascapes require the attention of the broader visual world that existed before workers encountered an economic and hygienic reordering due to mass death and unemployment, such as the affordance to some for working remotely. This social and biological decline is making it difficult—at most times, unsafe—to show up in traditional ways for provocation, or a mundane office job. Labour can only benefit from collective reflection, particularly on culture (abstraction, ornament, material, narrative) coming out of charged social and material conditions. Artist Michael Lachman grips onto the strength of fiction and satire as sculptural strategies in his solo exhibition, Let Me Introduce Myself, at CSA Space in Vancouver. Lachman transforms the gallery into a dreamlike office space riddled with stylized artifacts, producing a comedic story told by objects. Technical changes to the gallery space, such as dropping the ceiling height and lining the floor with blue modular carpet, reduced the standing posture for viewers and added to the satirical landscape of “the office.” The exhibition encapsulates the methodical rituals of the nine-to-five workday using comedy, as Lachman steers gallery visitors towards cultural mores, overdetermined ideas of professionalism, and the absurdities of manhood.
It’s a familiar scene used in countless films: the slow drift of bright car headlights shoot through a window, casting diagonally shifting patterns across a dark interior wall. This haunting cinematic moment was replicated in Chris Foster’s solo exhibition, Structures for the Expanded Plane, at YYZ Artists’ Outlet in Toronto in January 2020. The darkened gallery was lit by a single, waist-high spotlight that rotated with a steady mechanical whir in the centre of the room. There was something strangely familiar, yet unrecognizable, in both the piece’s scale and motion—simultaneously a sun, a clock, a searchlight, a lighthouse, a panopticon—a mechanism for both illuminating and revealing.
Tie-Dye for Germans is an intimate and intensely radiant exhibition of paintings by Janine Miedzik in the Project Space at Angell Gallery. These new works have emerged by bringing together the ways Miedzik has previously approached materials, including a dialogue between her painterly and sculptural approaches to making work. Her combination of painting and sculpture in a spirited, perhaps even comical way, further materializes in the reciprocity between two different methods of working, and ways of seeing.
If the trajectory of our contemporary era is one of environmental destruction, how will this legacy be felt by people 10,000, or even 100,000 years from now? What will these future humans know about us?—that is, if our species manages to survive its own self-annihilating habits at all. One possible way to ensure we will be remembered is through shrines. Across time, shrines have codified and communicated the values of their makers, immortalizing the time and place of their creation by distilling what is considered sacred.
I am surrounded by two hundred and twenty-two plaster polyps cast in place along the perimeter of Sibling’s gallery floor. The forms, which make up Robert Anthony O’Halloran’s installation Ursula’s Garden, are nippled, bellied and creased, with a rare few still stretching the condoms in which they were cast. Pushed up against the wall or slumped onto the floor, collapsing, tired and erect, the castings demarcate a lively zone within the gallery. There is humour to O’Halloran’s installation, and it hits like a scrap of itinerant latex flung, forgotten and rediscovered in a faraway corner of my bedroom the morning after a low-consequence fuck. O’Halloran’s garden is not the underwater Disney hell that the show’s title references, but neither does it realize a place of oceanic, post-coital peace. Instead, each one of its castings strikes an irreplicable pose, hardened or perhaps exhausted by its once-living desires.
This essay is the final instalment in a three-part series on culinary fermentation practices and their recent associations in the art world. “Fermentation for the Spirit” considers the rise in popularity of sourdough bread baking during the start of the pandemic, while theorizing on the larger social, political, and cultural potentials of fermentation.
LF: Half a year before the pandemic began, I was aware of a growing trend of sourdough and bread-based practices in contemporary Canadian art—especially art made by late-emerging and early to mid-career women and queer artists, many of whom were white settlers. As boules in art proliferated across a range of gallery spaces, I was curious about what prompted this development. Why were so many white women artists making bread art, and what are the discernible meanings of this shared theme within their disparate practices? Sourdough and bread art can be seen in recent work by artists Andrea Creamer, Bridget Moser, Zoë Schneider, Terri Fidelak, and Lexie Owen, to name a few. There are precursors to this art in work by another artist, Chloe Wise, who began her series of bread bags in 2013, melding challah (braided Jewish bread eaten on ceremonial occasions such as Shabbat and major Jewish holidays), bagels, and pancakes with luxury goods.
This essay is the second in a three-part series on culinary fermentation practices and their recent associations in the art world. “Fermentation for the Spirit” considers the rise in popularity of sourdough bread baking during the start of the pandemic, while theorizing on the larger social, political, and cultural potentials of fermentation.
GH: The winter I started making sourdough, I also kept a fermentation diary as documentation for a conceptual art class I took with Amish Morrell at OCAD University. The diary was intended to function as a how-to for sourdough bread, inspired by instructional works from conceptual artists like Yoko Ono, Lee Lozano, and John Cage. It chronicles the origins of my sourdough starter, its multiple deaths, the many flat loaves of bread I ate with various soups, my relative hunger and fullness, the smells and tastes of my domestic surroundings. It was an attempt to present the document of a material process as a final artistic product—a tactic used by conceptual artists when materials were scarce and materiality was deemed overwrought and commodified. While writing the diaries, I meditated on the possibility of decentering materiality in a contemporary sense, perhaps held in the potential of writing.
This essay is the first in a three-part series on culinary fermentation practices and their recent associations in the art world. “Fermentation for the Spirit” considers the rise in popularity of sourdough bread baking during the start of the pandemic, while theorizing on the larger social, political, and cultural potentials of fermentation.
As more artists make work that exists between art and food, is there space for art writers to also be food writers? In the early days of the pandemic, we were struck by the importance of food and fermentation to us as writers and artists, but first and foremost, as humans who were hungry. We found ourselves asking: Do I care about food and fermented materials more than I care about art or the work of criticism (and by extension, language, research, and articulation)? Do these have to be kept separate? Why not mix them together and let them autolyze? What would it mean to expand the task of the art writer or critic to include the work of baking, gardening, activism, community organizing, planting native species and pollinator gardens, preserving and sharing those seeds, composting, telling stories, building libraries, building homes, tending to microbiomes—both within and around us? Can the work of art writing and criticism include all the work that nourishes a community, that feeds us physically, affectively, and spiritually, as writers and as people with guts?
The poignance of an exhibition is often measured by its ability to distil a historical moment, letting it hang in the air like luminous vapour. Amongst the media art exhibitions of the last year, perhaps none were more poignant than the eight-part artist video series, fractured horizon — a view from the body, which circulated during the weeks of protest that followed the killing of George Floyd. Curated by Toronto-based curator and editor Yaniya Lee as the culmination of her research residency at Vtape, Canada’s largest video art distributor, an impressive range of works by BIPOC women artists from Canada and the United States were sent out to Vtape subscribers’ inboxes like supplements; weekly injections of perspective and affirmation for all those in the arts community already feeling disheartened amidst the first wave of a global pandemic, and one now imbued with the urgent politics of fighting anti-Black racism and revealing white privilege. Like a shot in the arm, every Friday between June 5th and July 24th, 2020, a new piece would go up on Vtape.org, sometimes elegiac in tone, sometimes documentarian, but all of them anchored in their conjuring of the body politic. Pieces by Buseje Bailey, Richelle Bear Hat, Hannah Black, Deanna Bowen, Thirza Cuthand, Cheryl Dunye, Donna James and ariella tai each, in their own way, worked to reaffirm the vital connection between the social and material factors that constitute a “body” in the contemporary moment and, more specifically, to interrogate the strategies of representation that keep existing power structures in place.
I step slowly into a long corridor of vertically aligned PVC pipes in two straight lines, the synthetic material contrasting with the forest surrounding it. With the view around me obscured by the structure, which grows incrementally taller as I walk through it, I direct my gaze up toward the sky and become attuned to the sounds of twigs breaking beneath my feet and wind whirring through leaves. The path leads to a larger clearing of space – although walls of PVC pipes still surround it – and I join others who had taken the same meditative stroll moments before me. I linger, beholding the canopy of trees above and letting the soundscape of nature envelope me. I exit and find myself back in the forest, but with a different sensibility. Calm and at ease, I take pleasure in having encountered nature through an innovative sensory lens.