The exhibition, Between Ice and Earth which took place last summer at Xpace Cultural Centre, celebrated a close-knit community of Indigenous OCAD students, transcended barriers, and vibrated with a palpable uneasiness. The showing by Ana Morningstar, Dehmin Osawamick Cleland, Megan Feheley, Laura St. Amant, Amanda Amour-Lynx, Ben Kicknosway, Kaya Joan, and Tom McLeod addressed frustrations about the expectations of Indigenous art and the pressure of being makers inheriting Indigenous and settler cultural legacies. The artists responded to the familiar theme of relating to the land and space of Tkaronto, but with a distinct anxiety about anthropogenic pollution, the climate apocalypse, and how the continually degrading health of the land affects Indigenous protocols, ceremonies, and material practices. This angst presupposed our current political climate, while offering an antidote of community solidarity—a fundamental element which should not be ignored.
“Science does not have a monopoly on empiricism,” historian David Topper once noted, arguing that empirical matters are, in fact, “germane to all visual imagery.” (1) Recognizing the role of visual images in the production of theoretical knowledge means understanding that their value extends beyond mute illustration to their unique capacity for discovering and articulating new information. An elegant case in point is trigonometric parallax—the “gold standard” of geometric measurements—first developed by Hipparchus (190-120 BCE), and still used by today’s astronomers for determining the moving edge of our expanding universe. (2) Whereas distance measures the spatial difference of two points, parallax derives distance through the mediation of a third: observing a distant object while alternating between two lines of sight, one can measure the apparent shift in an object’s location. Read More
In the early 2000’s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency under the United States Department of Defense working on social forms of Artificial Intelligence (AI), began to develop machine-learning agents that could cognitively engage with each other, their environment, and essentially ‘learn’ from their experiences in a simulation. During one simulation, two learning agents named Adam and Eve were programmed to know some things (how to eat), but not much else (what to eat). They were given an apple tree and were happy to eat the apples, but also made attempts to eat the entire tree. Another learning agent, Stan, was introduced and wanted to be affable, but eventually became the loner of the group. Given the natural development of the simulation—and a few bugs in the system—Adam and Eve began to associate Stan with food and one day took a bite out of him. Stan disappeared and thus became one of the first victims of virtual cannibalism. (1) Read More
At the opening of Muscled Rose, I didn’t get a proper look at Divya Mehra’s There are Greater Tragedies (2014). The same goes for my return visit, as the wind is blowing the large flag in a direction that makes the text on it difficult to read. I feel unfocused anyways—my mind is fixed on an argument I had with my parents about leaving home last year. I tell myself that I’ll see the flag on my way out and enter the gallery.
Pictures on the wall in Jennifer Murphy’s The Shadow of Sirius stand tall and still. In the gallery, jewel toned birds, moths, dragonflies, frogs and flora of human-scale have migrated from a dream-like state or have been grafted from the pages of a children’s storybook. Except—as in a Grimm’s fairy tale—prettiness tends to couple with death. Murphy’s exquisite creatures came to life within our new countdown: one in which our time-frame for saving the planet can be counted in months (131), not years. As an exhibit that was mounted in the autumn of 2019, a few weeks after Iceland held its first funeral for a glacier and a few months before Australia’s skies turned red from its burning shorelines, Murphy’s silent gathering of animals, insects and flowers—borne from love, anxiety and heartbreak—take on the power of a silent vigil. Read More
If you’ve spoken to me recently, I may have told you my (unresearched and unsubstantiated) theory about dreams and déjà vu. I usually proceed to explain that while I rarely remember my dreams, I am regularly struck with quietly disorienting bouts of déjà vu, something like once or twice a month. I like to speculate about these things as if they exist on a spectrum of cause and effect—the idea that sublimated dream imagery, while consciously inaccessible, bubbles up elsewhere in one’s perceptual life, grafted briefly onto shapes and colours and other structures of the world we move through. (1) That uncanny doubling, a sudden familiarity: it’s a sensation we all recognize, but one that quickly dissolves the very second you try to focus on it, let alone attempt to put it into language.
The mid-century modern across the street, now composed, perfectly centered within the window of the storm door, appeared angelic and fantastically distant in its miniature state. (1) Unassuming power poles and trees were mirrored in the wetness of the street, and they seemed to extend forever, piercing the top and bottom of the frame. Paralyzed there, like a moth under glass, the image of the house was a reality unto itself. All power lines and branches led back to its door, its half-open windows. “Thus, in minuscule, a narrow gate, [had] open[ed] up an entire world,” in which details were all that mattered. (2) The silhouette of a radio, a spider plant descending in pairs. This was all I could focus on as I came face to face with the Intruder. Read More
The day before visiting Cairo-born artist Nadia Gohar’s Mudstone at Erin Stump Projects, I read in the news that Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically-elected president of Egypt, had died in court—or rather, was forced into living in prison conditions that may have led to his early passing. Morsi had eventually betrayed the same democracy that brought him into power, and with it, the hope that many had following the events of the Arab Spring. As if in response to this symbolic event, though only a timely coincidence, Gohar’s exhibition uses material as an embodiment of democracy. Through this keen interest in objecthood, an environment is created where every being, every thing, is granted a voice, and the importance of each material radiates. It is through this material vibrancy that Mudstone gestures toward the role of humble objects: the exhibition is a call for democratized symbols, vernacular value. Read More
In the Right of Inspection, Jacques Derrida wrote of the medium of photography in these terms: “You could speak of…[a photograph] as of a thinking, as a pensiveness without a voice, whose only voice remains suspended.” I was reminded of this evocative description when I saw Sandra Brewster’s show Blur, on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario from July 24, 2019 to March 29, 2020. The association between Brewster’s work and Derrida’s thinking was brought on by those very final words in the latter’s statement—“…voice [remaining] suspended.” (1) In fact, suspension—or rather what it means to be suspended, to be seen in a seeming state of frozen arrest, both within the frame and, perhaps, beyond it—seems to be an apt way of understanding and talking about the artist’s new work. Read More
Before entering Arezu Salamzadeh’s Fortune Flavors the Bold you must take off your shoes. Sock-footed, you are greeted by glittering red foam installed over the floor of Xpace Cultural Centre’s Project Space. Dark teal walls enclose the gallery, framing crates and shelves of items for sale. Fresh mandarin oranges are available to purchase as snacks, there’s also ginger and colourful ceramic casts of salty fish inside large glass jars. Salamzadeh stands by the cash register (a children’s toy brightly coloured with large cartoonish buttons) tattooed with lucky cats, selling art and chatting with visitors. She wears gold which compliments the New Years pouches decorating the walls and plinths in large blocks of red. Behind her, a gold sign with small red lights reading FORTUNE hangs above a gumball machine. On the other side, a large lucky cat about the same size as the viewer squats beside, as if to snap a picture. Read More