Travel, Terminology and The Not Cooking Show: An Interview with Ayo Tsalithaba

 

_MG_6107
Ayo Tsalithaba, Portrait by Kezia Chapman.

Questions by Adi Berardini

Ayo Tsalithaba’s primary mediums include digital art, film photography and digital filmmaking. Largely influenced by music and travel, transporting the viewer everywhere from a dreamy alpaca farm to the village of Cheshee, their films address identity and the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality. Ayo is also the founder of The Bacon Berry Card Co., a small company specializing in cute greeting cards, stickers, prints and more.

Ayo has been featured in Huffington Post Canada, The Kit, TFO, the University of Toronto magazine and Munch Magazine. Additionally, they have screened their films and appeared on panels at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, University of Toronto, George Brown, the Revue Cinema, Xpace Cultural Centre, among others. Ayo is currently specializing in Women and Gender Studies and minoring in Linguistics at the University of Toronto. They hope to continue learning, taking risks, sparking conversations and above all else, advocating for positive social change.

Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.39.02 PM
A KIKI WITH BOBBY BOWEN –  direction, camera operating, editing, cinematography by Ayo Tsalithaba
  1. One of your films interviews Bobby Bowen and discusses queer terminology specific to the African/Caribbean/Black community. I was wondering if you could further discuss this work?

The film that I made with Bobby was actually a final project for a class I took in my second year. We were supposed to work on a project that “produces knowledge” and to be honest, I didn’t really know what that meant. Instead, I wanted to turn to knowledge that is often overlooked and decided to blend what I was learning about linguistics and women and gender studies with my interest in film and make a short doc about queer terminology. I was also just getting into archiving and documenting Black queer histories, so this project was perfect. It’s stuff like this that keeps me going through school because I know that I can take what I’ve learned, strip it of pretentious (and unnecessary) gate-keeping academic jargon and put it on a screen. I know Bobby through my siblings and from admiring his work as a stylist, so I sent him an Instagram DM and we worked together. I just love this project because it was the first interview that I shot after my feature documentary and I felt like I got to apply what I’d learned to something short, sweet, educational and queer.

gb3
GOODBYES by TiKA, DESIIRE, and CASEY MQ– direction, camera operating, editing, cinematography by Ayo Tsalithaba
  1. I noticed that you often collaborate with musicians. What is your process for creating films for music?

I spend a lot of time listening to music and imagining what I would do with a song if I were given a budget and permission to make a visual for it. I would like to think that I’m constantly practicing music video filmmaking in my head whenever I listen to music, which makes it easier when an opportunity arises to be in the right frame of mind to come up with a concept. I usually start by listening to whatever song I am working with and jotting down ideas. Then I show them to the artist and see what they think and go from there. I like having a plan, but I also like letting go of it to some degree during the shoot. I make sure we have all the shots we need and then I like to play around and try out new things. After the shoot, I like taking a look at the videos and then I have to take some space before I start editing (unless I’m super excited to edit – in which case I could probably finish the video in a few hours).

_MG_5398 (1)
TiKA ft. HLMT All Day All Night – direction, camera operating, editing, cinematography, casting, concept by Ayo Tsalithaba
  1. You mention on your site how travel first influenced your discovery of documentary filmmaking. Can you explain this further? In what other ways does travel inspire you?

I was very lucky to be able to travel a lot as a kid because whenever my dad was going on a trip and I didn’t have school, my mom and I would go with him. However, the first time I remember making a good travel film was when my parents and I went to visit my aunt in Mauritius. I spent the whole trip filming our journey across the island. I think that my [documentary] work was influenced by my travels because I remember just wanting to document everything I saw – whether it was through film or photos – and that would allow me to keep taking it all in long after I had returned home. It’s become a bit of a tradition for me to make a film on every trip that I go on, and if I don’t have the time for a film, I make sure to take as many photos as I can. It’s funny because now I don’t travel nearly as much anymore because of school, because I’m trying to save up and also because I hate flying. I would still love to shoot a documentary that allows me to travel, but for now, I just have a list of places I want to visit.

  1. Do you think that photography and film can be used as a tool for social change? If so, how do you think it contributes to change?

Oh yes, absolutely a hundred times yes! I think my life’s work resides in art for social change – I’m so committed to it. I love making things look, sound, and feel beautiful, and to mix that with an important message is the best harmony there could be. I want to broaden photography and film to art, in general, to answer this question, because art has always been so important in championing change and artists have played an instrumental role in such. I can’t help but think of Nina Simone and how strongly some of her songs pushed for dreaming about Black liberation. I think art contributes to change by allowing people to sink into a struggle and see, hear, or feel something that was made with love and care. I want my art to be something that allows people to experience a shared struggle remotely. In a lot of my films, I try to make space for fear, anger, sadness, outrage, happiness, jubilation, love, hate and more emotions that I have felt while I was alone. In a lot of cases, I wish I had one of my films to watch and cry to or laugh to or just be angry about the current state of affairs to. One of the little ways I try and contribute to social change is making art for it. Eventually, when people trust me enough to give me a bunch of money to make things, it’ll be about bringing people who haven’t had access to funded art together and paying them. And then it’ll be about putting money and opportunities back into communities that need them.

  1. Who are some artists that influence you?

I know I’m going to forget people and this list is in no particular order, but: my whole family, Nina Simone, Kara Walker, Mickalene Thomas, Tika, Miriam Makeba, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, Noor Khan, Sean Brown, Twysted Miyake Mugler, Syrus Marcus Ware, Solange Knowles, Vivek Shraya, Ruth E. Carter, Morgan Sears-Williams, Sean Leon, Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, Elisha Lim, Barry Jenkins, Sydney Allen-Ash, Tegan and Sara, Ava Duvernay, Nayani Thiyagarajah and so many more that I know I’m forgetting!

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 2.09.45 PM
Hallmark of Tolerance film by Ayo Tsalithaba

 

  1. You are multi-talented—you work as a digital artist/photographer/filmmaker and you have a greeting card business, Bacon Berry Card Co. What are you interested in exploring next?

I am very interested in cooking! I absolutely love cooking and eating. I have a food Instagram account (@notcookingshow) that I’m trying to turn into a cooking show because I know that I’d be a great cooking show host. Other than that, I see myself designing clothing because I struggle to find clothes that fit me and don’t give me dysphoria and I know there are other people who feel the same. Ultimately with all of the things that I’m interested in, I just want to help provide and spread opportunities, experiences and stories that aren’t out there. And also make money and give it to people who need it and help create programming and services that cater to underserved communities.

Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark by Genevieve Robertson

Access Gallery –  January 12 to February 23, 2019

By Caitlin Almond

Access_Robertson_carbon_study-1
Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Installation, 2019. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography.

Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark is the result of Genevieve Robertson’s recent residency at the artist-run centre Access Gallery, curated by Access’s director and curator, Katie Belcher. Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark invites the viewer to enter Robertson’s captivating microcosm of monochromatic drawings of organic forms delicately oscillating between figuration and abstraction. The exhibition is a continuation of Genevieve Robertson’s current drawing practice, which taxonomically explores ephemeral materiality and organic forms of carboniferous flora and fauna, as a means to interrogate British Columbia’s exploitative landscape economy. In Access Gallery’s small space, Robertson deftly navigates the challenges of creating politically charged works without sacrificing any aesthetic sensibility.

Gr Access 2
Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Detail, 2019. Photo by Caitlin Almond.
Access_Robertson_carbon_study-5
Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Installation, 2019. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography.

The curation of the space very effectively guides the viewer through the gallery space. Upon entering the gallery, the viewer is directed to the right of the gallery where the three large focal works are situated, a large drawing of a horizontal leaf fragmented onto four pieces of paper, a grid composed of several smaller bituminous abstract drawings, and a large amorphous drawing of a lichen. The viewer is then slowly guided out of the space by six smaller works unified by scale and composition which are comfortably spaced throughout the rest of the gallery.

Access_Robertson_carbon_study-4
Genevieve Robertson, Carbon Study Installation, 2019. Photo by Rachel Topham Photography.

The drawings, have a distinctly monochromatic palette of white, black and gray, appearing simultaneously crisp and soft on the ever so slightly warped and unframed white paper, asserting the ephemeral materiality of the medium itself. Robertson’s large-scale drawings on paper are made with coal, charcoal, and graphite – foraged by the artist herself during walks through British Columbia’s fire-ravaged landscape (a process which informed the title of this exhibition). This use of carbon-based materials in Robertson’s work is a provocative effort by the artist to create an elemental sense of life through inherently decayed materials, teasing the viewer with a simultaneous experience of both construction and destruction.

Although, Robertson’s works are self-contained, marketable objects, they share a commonality with earthworks and land art in that they are conceived and created as “Fully engaged elements of their respective environments that asserted new conditions, […] They were (among other things) expressions of a dialectic in nature – the opposing forces of creation and destruction.” (Beardsley 1). While the simplistic figure-ground relationship employed in all the drawings, does initially serve the artist and curators intention for the works to read as taxonomic botanical drawings – it very quickly becomes repetitious and overly contrived in the gallery’s small space. This serial repetition of the minimalistic figure-ground relationship causes the work to appear less like a taxonomic study and more like a predictable sampling of slides from a Rorschach inkblot test.  The strength of Robertson’s work in Carbon Study: Walking in the Dark rests in the materiality and physicality of her handmade pigments. The crystalline texture of her foraged graphite glimmers on the paper’s surface, creating a startling texture to her drawings which disrupts the viewer’s expectation of the medium itself.

Works Cited

Beardsley, John. “Traditional Aspects of New Land Art.” Art Journal, vol. 42, no. 3, 1982, pp. 226–232. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/776583.

SPRING/BREAK Art Show: Spiritual Art Advisory

Installation
Spiritual Art Advisory, photo via Samuel Morgan Photography

By Chloe Hyman

On March 5, SPRING/BREAK Art Show descended upon 866 United Nations Plaza, where it will remain in all its tangible, technicolor glory until Monday, March 11. Held annually during Armory Week in New York City, the show challenges the exclusivity of the art fair, providing no-cost exhibition space to emerging and established artists and curators. Its transformation of corporate and government space— this time at the United Nations, the dictionary definition of ‘government space’— is a sharp commentary on the underlying societal institutions that support an exclusionary art world.

IMG_6892 (1)
Sarah Potter and Caroline Larsen, Photo by Christos Katsiaouni

Experimental art and curatorial practices always abound at SPRING/BREAK, but one particular exhibit caught my eye this year— the divinely opulent “Spiritual Art Advisory,” curated by Sarah Potter and Caroline Larsen. The 22 featured artists in this exhibition have all contributed a work inspired by the Tarot’s Major Arcana, and their responses vary in medium and tone. Equally present in the space are the curators, Potter and Larsen, whose roles are not so easy to define. They are both exhibition conceptualizers and spiritual guides, inviting the viewer to engage spiritually with the works and to question Tarot’s magical potential. I spoke to them about their unique curatorial approach. Below are excerpts from our conversation:

Chloe Hyman: Sarah, tell me about your journey into magic(k) and your experience in the art world. What is your background as a curator?

Sarah Potter: Since I was a child, art and magic(k) have always been a part of my life. I have tried to run away from it but it always pulls me back in… I honestly cannot even imagine my life without these two important elements in it every day! I have a background in gallery work and event planning, so as the art world has evolved I have enjoyed evolving my business with it. I love curating experiences for visitors, connecting collectors to artwork that thrills them, and creating ephemeral experiences that last a moment but stay with a visitor forever. 

CH: And Caroline, What is your background in the art world and your connection to Tarot?

Caroline Larsen: I am a painter and I also love to curate exhibitions! I am attracted to Tarot because of the beauty of the decks. Each deck that I looked at [while] doing research for the show was so beautiful that I wanted to make my own card and invite artists whose work I love and admire to make their own as well.

CH: How did you select the artists for this exhibition?

CL: Sarah and I worked on the list together. Some of the exhibiting artists have a tarot practice and others do not, but their work lends itself to the theme. It was really interesting to see how abstract artists interpreted the cards.

CH: How do you see the individual works as existing in dialogue with one another?

CL: Each artist picked a piece of work from the Major Arcana so we hung the exhibition based off of the order of the cards in the deck. All the work in the exhibition is so strong and so different that each work can stand on its own, but they work so lovely as a set too! 

SP: Every artist really brought it, and I am so incredibly proud of how it all came together. Group shows can sometimes be chaotic or challenging, but this feels really harmonious and balanced.

CH: And are the artists all femme-identifying?

SP: There is a diverse mix of artist perspectives here. We didn’t set out to do an all women show, we just wanted to show the highest quality work for our curation. I do not believe in curating all women shows, [as] it feels a bit reductive, but I am drawn to a woman’s perspective and it’s important to me to provide a platform for women, now more than ever. I am not going to exclude men from my curatorial conversation in order to heighten the work of women-identifying artists. I honestly do not see how that is helping anyone. I just want to show the best quality of work!

CH: I realize my assumption that your exhibition centered femme artists comes from the fact that I only know womxn who practice magic(k). Why do you think womxn are so drawn to magic(k)?

SP: Witchcraft is intuitively guided, and I think women naturally tap into that energy more easily because of our societal constructs.

SP: Lala Abaddon really flipped the script on gender with her portrayal of the emperor, the card that embodies masculine energy. She chose to depict her emperor through a nude self-portrait! It’s a very powerful piece. 

Emperor
The Emperor by Lala Abaddon

CH: I love the way Abbadon’s Emperor is hung between Langdon Grave’s Empress and the wall. What might originally have been a feminine/masculine dichotomy is muddied, the latter taking ‘masculine’ blue as its central hue but centering the female form. What emerges from that new relationship feels really pure, like the essence of each card has been removed from the gendered hands of history. 

The relationship between these two works points to the exhibition’s strong curatorial presence. In many shows, the curation is felt rather than seen. The casual viewer may pass through and focus exclusively on the artwork itself, not considering the impact of space on the exhibition as a whole. But you are using the work of these artists to engage with visitors regarding their own spiritual needs. Your voices as ‘curator-healers’ are very noticeable in this relationship. Would you agree with this interpretation?

SP: I do agree! Thank you, you nailed it. I feel like the curator is almost the narrator of the story, curating the space and directing the flow of energy in the room through the selection and arrangement of the work. Each piece should enhance the overall story and add to the visual dialogue with a strong point of view.

caroline_larsen___-1552178889810
The Empress by Langdon Graves

CH: Is visitor participation often a key element of your curatorial practices?

SP: Being an artist can be very solitary, [with] long days in the studio laboring alone. The work needs other eyes on it—it needs to be displayed and experienced by others. Once viewers can experience the work, the circle is completed and the work and its intentions is fully realized.

 

CH: Participatory art is definitely a strong theme here. What do you like about SPRING/BREAK? Have you ever exhibited or curated an exhibition here before?

CL: SPRING/BREAK is a pretty dynamic fair! It’s always moving to new locations and you never know what you’re going to get. I have shown work there as an artist twice, once at the post office location and once at Times Square. I have curated twice, once at Times Square and now at the UN Office.

SP: I love SPRING/BREAK! This is my third time curating an exhibition for this fair and it keeps getting better and better each year. I love that the [emphasis] is placed on curatorial concepts and radical vision. You feel it throughout the entire space. Ambre and Andrew have done an incredible job fostering such a creative environment—that authenticity is felt. My clients always tell me it is their favorite fair to collect work from and visit every year. Of course, that makes me happy to hear, too.

CH: What do you hope viewers will take away from the exhibition emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually?

SP: I hope viewers enjoy contemplating the imagery and symbolism of each card’s archetype and the way the artists interpreted each card. Playing with the fair’s curatorial theme of “Fact and Fiction,” I hope that viewers question the role of the Tarot and consider whether it has the divinatory ability to transcend realms and offer a magical peek into their own future. 

* * *

Inspired by my conversation with Potter and Larsen, I decided to embark on my own spiritual journey within the exhibit. I chose four works that really spoke to me as if I’d drawn them from the deck myself. Then I spoke to each artist and allowed their words to inform my…potential destiny.

caroline_larsen___-1552178903306
Justice by Kate Klingbeil

I started with Kate Klingbeil’s interpretation of Justice, which utilizes black sand, acrylic, watercolor, and vinyl to depict a winged Justice presiding over the people. Her body language is contradictory; while her left-hand rests gently on her breast, her right clenches an anthropomorphic sword. Tiny naked human figures dangle from the scales of justice, falling to the murky violet depths below. All the while she looks on peacefully, her eyes downcast, a small smile on her lips. Her serenity is opposed by an ominous eye, the whites of which are tinged a sickly pink, that ensnares the viewer’s gaze.

“I chose the justice card because it offered me a chance to meditate on balance and truth,” Klingbeil says. The artist based her depiction off the imagery in the Serravalle-Sesia Tarot—a late 19th-century Italian deck—but the swarm of tiny people climbing Justice are her own addition. They heighten the significance of the deity’s serene expression. “She remains unphased,” Klingbeil explains. Because she remains calm despite the tumultuous scene below her, “we have to believe that truth will prevail.”

caroline_larsen___-1552178913750
The Star by Margot Bird

 Next I pulled the Star, interpreted by Margot Bird with acrylic paint, epoxy putty, and gold leaf. I was drawn to its kitsch factor, the way aliens, poodles, and pastel hues could someway come together to create something that registers as divine. I fully believed in the existence of these poodle-human hybrid creatures, and I acknowledged that they danced beside the sun, pouring stars to the whirlpool below. Perhaps the sheer abundance of pastel hues created a strange cohesion that rendered itself supernaturally Other.

Or maybe Bird has translated the essence of the truly divine Star into something comprehensible for the human mind. “I feel like [The Star] represents bursts of creativity, inspiration, and optimism,” says Bird. She emphasized anything that passed through her mind that felt new and untouched, like “those feelings of sudden inspiration and positivity.” The inclusion of aliens speaks to her strong desire to share, and so these creatures receive cups of star water, receiving the creativity and happiness she feels inside.

Hibapng
Strength by Hiba Schahbaz

Third I chose Strength, depicted with grace by Hiba Schahbaz. In this mixed-media work, crafted with gouache, watercolor, gold leaf, and tea, a woman sits nose-to-nose with a lion, naked as he. The serenity of both creatures feels a bit ambiguous. Perhaps the woman shows strength to sit so calmly with a predatory carnivore. Or maybe the harmony of the two beings engenders a different kind of strength, a power not measured through action or brute force, but through connection and understanding and taking the time to find peace and resolve differences.

“I love the harmony between the lion and the lady,” says Schahbaz. “It gives me a feeling of being connected to my best self. There is no fear, just perfection.” The artist’s words suggest the lion as a kind of self-portrait, a reflection of the inner self as a powerful lion, strong yet never impulsive. “A sense of protection, perseverance, grace, and love,” she adds.

Jen Dwyer Temperance _5
Temperance by Jen Dwyer

Lastly, I come to Temperance, sculpted by Jen Dwyer, whose ceramic contribution to the deck exhibits similar dichotomies of darkness and lightness. Her ornamented black vases are humanoid, black hands emerging from the clay to tighten around their necks. Or are they resting gently in a soft embrace? The presence of rope winding its way around the bodies of the vases suggests the former, but there is something very meditative about them nonetheless that suggests peace.

“The temperance card is all about balance, which I interpreted as a form of self-care,” Dwyer explains. “I’ve been thinking about the Audre Lorde quote, ‘Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.’” The artist’s words reinforce the presence of both tension and peace in her work. What strikes me is the agency the hand represents in deciding whether it will be used for self-harm or self-care. “I’m definitely pointing the finger at myself,” she says. “I could get a lot better at taking some space from the studio.”

SPRING/BREAK is open through Monday, March 11th. Stop by E25 to ponder your own future. Sarah Potter and Caroline Larsen will be close by if you need a spiritual guide.

Photography, Collage and Nostalgia: An Interview with Foxtrapped

Collage 2
Foxtrapped, Untitled Collage 01 (That Photo I Stared At Every Time). 2018. Archival Inkjet Prints and Found Photographs on Masonite.

Questions by Adi Berardini

When I first saw two large-scale collages by Brittany Moore-Shirley, otherwise known as Foxtrapped, I felt nostalgic for moments I’m not even sure exist. The collages, pieced with pastel colours and childhood photos, made me feel a sense of freedom like driving down a highway with my hair tumbling in all directions. I remembered the time I should have kissed someone in a parking lot with slick streets from recent rain. These nostalgic feelings are too often related to temporary freedom or pangs of sadness and regret.

Foxtrapped is a young emerging artist from London, Ontario, currently undergoing studies at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, pursuing a BFA in interdisciplinary studies. Brittany’s process has grown quickly into an interdisciplinary (post-medium) practice that relies heavily on elements of photography, collage, and installation, alongside sculpture and ceramics. They came out of the closet when they were 17 and have since utilized their position as a visual artist to encourage a dialogue about narratives and lived experiences that are often overshadowed and overpowered by louder more dominant voices. They hope to provide an opportunity for the audience to allow themselves to empathize with these voices and narratives that are often ignored and are commonly scraped from history.

  1. I find that your work is rooted in nostalgia and some pieces seem tied to childhood memories. Can you further explain the influence of nostalgia on your work?

While I do consider nostalgia to be a part of the conversation surrounding my work, it’s never what I think the conversation is primarily about. Nostalgia, this longing for a return to something, is an exploration mostly through the media; it has a very direct relationship with nostalgia. This is because I’m attempting to document my own history (whether that be personal family history or the history of the various aspects of my identity). The usage of these traditionally nostalgic items is more to analyze than to convey a homesickness or a sentimental yearning for that which was. The items I’m using are done so to displace nostalgia and displace the associations we have with items and memories from our past rather than yearn for them. I want to create a conversation that places those of us with a past we find difficult to navigate, at the forefront. Susan Sontag has this quote from As Consciousness Is Harnessed to Flesh in which she writes: “My loyalty to the past – my most dangerous trait, the one that has cost me most”. To me, nostalgia seems neither good or bad but rather a very delicate and potentially volatile idea. We frequently assume a nostalgia for childhoods or our pasts and I find myself wanting to create from an analytical position that challenges this.

Additional Image 3
Foxtrapped, Still from Home (Searching), 3:03, 2018. Experimental Film, Found Footage.
  1. In your work Queer Ephemerality, you address the fact that home is not a queer concept but one rooted in patriarchy. I found this work incredibly moving, especially since a large percentage of homeless youth are queer. Can you further explain this piece?

Queer people have this very interesting relationship with the idea of home and I started realizing that a lot of queer media centres around that exploration. Of course, the obvious queer relationship to home is one that shifts and may possibly fracture when we start coming to terms with our identities and whether we decide to come out or stay closeted – it’s so much more complex than that. The environment we’ve created wherein queer people have to come out, also means that we’ve created a society where queer people don’t frequently have the privilege of aspiring towards home, both in the classical idea of that term (a nuclear family) and the comforts it brings (security, love, safety, support, etc.). In so many ways, we are exempt from this possibility and we function in this state of homelessness. So, even if our trauma isn’t strictly related to being kicked out of or escaping from a family home, home is still really difficult to navigate as people who exist outside of the patriarchal, heteronormative, and cisnormative ideas of this ‘happy ending’: bury your gays tropes, lack of meaningful representation, the closet, and inadequate legal systems all contribute to this homelessness. Queer people routinely seek alternative homes, places that tend to be temporary. We find these in other people, in community centres, in spaces that are set aside for being queer, or in any possible narrative that presents happiness as a queer option.

My hope is to present queer people (specifically queer youth) with the various possibilities of home – so that while we’re mending the harm caused by the patriarchy and cis/heteronormativity we can still find comfort, safety, security, and love in our own ways.

Childhood Inastalled 1
Foxtrapped, A Childhood in Pixels: The Place On My Mother’s Sweater Where I Rest My Head. Scanned Analog Photographs, Archival Inkjet Prints, Acrylic on Wood. 2018.

 

  1. In your work A Childhood in Pixels, you use abstracted childhood photos that are reduced to pixels with subtle variations of colour. Can you further explain this work?

This is a good example of my attempts at documenting and deconstructing my own history. Family photo albums are these amazing objects — almost everyone has family photos and so they’re this incredibly accessible object. They often hold so much importance to us as individuals but they mean nothing if they’re not yours. The clarity of the image becomes pointless. At no point in these pixelated photographs does it matter if you can see my father and I’s feet in the sand when I tell you that’s what the photo is of. [Consequently], you are asked to bring your own experiences and relationship to symbolism to the work. Each print is part of a photo from my childhood, I’ve isolated the parts of the photo that sticks out to me – the punctum. I further this by asking the viewers to hold the voxels (a 3D pixel) placed on plinths in front of the photographs in their hands. Each voxel is painted to match a pixel within the print, making the photograph physical and pairing that with the trust of asking my audience to hold something that is so ephemeral and fragile in its relationship to myself.

Just a Photograph
Foxtrapped, Fatigued Nurse. Found Imagery, Photo Collage, 2018.
  1. Your work addresses queer (in)visibility and the lack of empathy towards the queer community. What first inspired your series, Look Who’s Really in Pain, about the lack of empathy and objectification of HIV/AIDS patients?

Three months before I was born my Uncle Steve took his life after a lifetime of abuse from our family – I’ve slowly started uncovering his life and collecting the few remaining pieces of him – the horrendous obituary and the only photo of him I could find. I want to protect him. I feel the same regarding those who were directly and indirectly impacted by the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s.

There’s this huge gap in queer history, you can read so much on how we practically lost an entire generation of people and AIDS survivor syndrome has altered the rest. Yet so many of us don’t know this history —and certainly not as well as we ought to. This generational gap is scary because it means we have less ownership of our history and history in our current world comes with a sense of belonging and the right to our identities. Somewhere along the lines older queer people and younger queer people stopped communicating. We, as a community, survived the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s because we fought for and with our lives. Their deaths are the reason I have the privileges I have today, yet so much of that history suffers from being rewritten with a hetero/cisnormative bias. Now it frequently serves to give fame to the straight and cisgender people who were empathetic to us. These pieces largely stem from that frustration. I am extremely protective of our history. These people who had so much taken from them: if their stories aren’t being told truthfully, they are being used as pawns to sell this completely false narrative about how painful the AIDS crisis was for straight people – I want to undo this. Disrupting the imagery serves to relieve them of their indebtedness to this false history. In the end, drawing direct attention to a washed over history, protecting them from these lies, and stitching queer narratives back together.

  1. Who are some artists you find influential?

I have had the privilege of being surrounded by artists I truly admire and gain inspiration from so I’d like to mention some of them as well as those I’ve come to know through research, so in no particular order and from no particular time: Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Kiam Marcelo Junio, Robert Mapplethorpe, Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, Annie Leibovitz, Claude Cahun, Hank Willis Thomas, Lynn Park, Brooke Tomlinson, Brody Weaver, Monica Joy Peeff, Madison Powers, Jeffrey Heene, Julian Miholics.

  1. Where do you see your art practice going in the future?

So much of my work depends on an understanding of contemporary assumptions that we make, I look forward to the day when the work I’m making now becomes contingent on its history and setting. There will be a day when people look back and have to remind themselves of the assumptions we used to make because we’re no longer making them. That will mean things have changed for the better, and I can move on to critiquing some other system in place and helping these changes continue to grow.

Sorry, I’m Busy: The Meticulous Art of Capricorns

Support Project Space

December 22 – January 19th, 2019

51251539_302907963697536_1885132111959031808_n
Sorry, I’m Busy, 2019. Installation shot courtesy of Support.

By Adi Berardini

If you’re a Capricorn, chances are we’re compatible—both Earth signs, something about our qualities match up well. As a Virgo, I am analytical, practical, and dare I say, I have an unruly habit of worrying about everything and working non-stop. Perhaps we get along well based on our shared anxieties.

Sorry, I’m busy is an exhibition of Capricorn artists that looks at the relationship between artistic connections and work ethic. Curated by Tegan Moore and Liza Eurich, they shared the challenge of curating a show so seemingly random since the main commonality is based on the time of year the artists were born. However, the string that ties the work together is the shared qualities that Capricorns are said to possess—ambition, practicality, wisdom and pessimism, to name a few. There are also a few recurring themes such as the use of fruit as a subject matter, humour, memory and the imagery of a page turning. The exhibition seems paired down since it consists of smaller works, but its strength lies within the context of the work and how it demonstrates the artists’ personalities as distinctly Capricorn.

IMG_9312
Sorry, I’m Busy, 2019. Installation shot courtesy of Support.

Pessimism and Humour

The collage work Flip Off (2018) by Maryse Larivière is comprised of two main elements—a middle finger and a lovebird against a millennial pink background. It could be interpreted that the work is giving the middle finger to London, Ontario.  Just walking to this exhibition, I was surrounded by decrepit buildings and salt-stained winter roads. Flipping the bird to London is totally understandable. Further on, haphazardly placed at the top of the stairwell, Water for America (2018) by Anna Madelska consists of a white fur patch and a crumpled poster. Madelska references the distribution of wheat-pasted posters used for political propaganda or advertising. This piece is quite cheeky as well since the cliffscape poster appears to look like two legs spreading—the placement seems to allude to looking up a skirt. She is also flipping off someone in a metaphorical way.

The sculptural work KFC by Kotama Bouabane displays this sense of Capricorn humour—the sculpture reads as a pile of materials stacked on the tile floor. The neon reflection on the black and white materials evokes a piece of technology with its streamlined rectangles; I immediately read it as an Ipad. However, at a second glance (and perhaps by reading the name KFC), one can infer that there’s a plaster cast piece of deep-fried chicken sitting on top. What appears to be a lime green painted piece of wood is, in fact, a stack of napkins.

IMG_9314
Polvos, Susanna Browne,2017-2018. Installation shot courtesy of Support.

Need for Control

A quality distinct to Capricorns, so I am told, is a need for control in long-term relationships. In the inkjet print from the series Polvos, Susanna Browne uses the imagery of a chameleon on a horseshoe from a label on a Mexican love potion that gives you the power to control your man. Sounds pretty useful in all honesty. I propose that another Capricorn quality is resourcefulness.

Control also seems conveyed by the second work by Kotama Bouabane, with Stereo Quality Photo Finishers. 1989. Hong Kong (2018), the print of a fruit still-life pinned to the wall with a jet-black chopstick. At the bottom, the illusion of the flipped page reads “Kodak.” I read this piece as re-establishing representation when it comes to the typically euro-centric painting trope of a fruit bowl. This particular fruit bowl image originated from a book produced in Hong Kong. Reflecting on the means of production, Bouabane is interested in the production of the paper used for printing. He explained that he visited different paper manufacturers in Japan and Germany: the Japanese factory being more traditional, whereas the German factory driven by man-made machinery. The idea of copying and circulating imagery and the importance of cultural context as it relates to reproduction is explored.

IMG_9294
Sorry, I’m Busy, 2019. Installation shot courtesy of Support.

Wisdom

The Capricorn is said to be the wise sign of the zodiac. This wisdom is demonstrated through the sound work by Niloufar Salimi, how she remembers it (2018). Both poetic and wise, this haunting work transformed the space. In the audio Salimi explains an early memory described to her of a grandmother singing to calm a two-month-old baby’s crying. On the small shuffle iPod, a voice singing a lullaby in Farsi is heard travelling through the listener’s eardrums. The lack of accuracy and subjectiveness of memory is addressed since later on, the story that was explained to her was denied by the same person. The painting hung on the door by Kim Neudorf also addresses the theme of memory—the neutral, earth-tone colours bleed together alluding to a figure. The sensibility that it’s painted in seems like a foggy memory itself, like trying to recognize someone from a dream without being able to pinpoint them.

Additionally, the piece by Shane Krepakevich seems to look towards a higher power for wisdom— the print The Book of Sand, p. 19, 022 (2018) addresses space and philosophy, the name referencing a short story by Jorge Luis Borges about the protagonist getting lost in a seemingly infinite “Holy Writ” book and attempting to escape impending infinity. The work parallels the similarities between light, space and the beating of the blood in one’s arteries. Whether or not you believe in astrology, it’s nice to think of constellations like threads binding us together by our shared qualities.

The loneliness factor (2016), a film by Aryen Hoekstra, also draws a parallel to space and the extra-terrestrial. The black galaxy background is like an ink void spilling endlessly, the planets are blips of light shining through. Suddenly, a metal oscillating calendar appears in the corner resembling a spinning globe. The hypnotizing video reflects on post-war space exploration that attempts to search for the unknown, trying to determine if there’s potential for more life out there. Analyzing the positioning of the globe in correlation to the rest of the galaxy, it projects what life could be like in the future when there are only remnants of humankind. Even on a planet of over seven billion, we’re still surrounded by the vastness of it all. 

Parallel to the video in the basement, Loadout (2018) by Jonathan Onyschuk has a curious texture and materiality. The work consists of a table formed of thin aluminium that appears to be made of painted crumpled paper. Formed from WW1 barbed-wire and named after a shooter game, it references a similar post-war theme to Hoekstra’s film. Placed on the table, two melted silicone spines lie inside a styrofoam pit. It seems to allude to the collective trauma of war and violence embedded in identity, although the reception of this piece showed that its meaning got a bit muddled. Sometimes you have to embrace the unknown.

IMG_9276
Maquette for Unrealized Monument, Trevor Mahovsky, 2013. Installation shot courtesy of Support.

Meticulousness

The Capricorn is known for being meticulous, which is portrayed in the work Maquette for Unrealized Monument by Trevor Mahovsky. The work is a maquette for a brushed-bronze apple with a detail-oriented rendering of a bee resting on top. The sculpture has an environmental undertone, creating elevated importance towards bees as pollinators. Whenever I see a bee, I associate how their hard work as pollinators is diminished; their population dwindling. Like the bee, the Capricorn is also hard-working. The attention to detail in the bee at this minuscule scale displays their meticulous effort—always down to the last detail.

I believe in horoscopes since, at least for me so far, they have yet to be proven wrong. Sure, maybe I just see the truth in what I want to believe, or they are obscurely written, or maybe I refuse to live in a universe that is completely random. A dice game will demonstrate that there is some predictability behind probability. After all, there must be similarities between us somehow. It’s poetic and comforting to think that we’re more alike than different based on a common factor. The beauty of Sorry, I’m Busy is uniting through art to celebrate Capricorns and their distinct qualities. This is wonderful because if they are anything like their fellow Earth sign, the Virgo, they’ll forget to celebrate their accomplishments, too busy looking towards their next goal.

Speaking into Existence: Sophia Al-Maria’s BCE at Whitechapel Gallery

By Kit Edwards

Sophia-Al-Maria-Portrait (1)
Sophia Al-Maria, Portrait. Whitechapel Gallery 2019.

January 12, 2018 – April 28, 2019

 Galleries 5&6, Free Entry

 “For me, this text is a bag.

It will be a weeping receptacle, a sort of spittoon for projectile tears, a sling for carrying bad blood.

When it is full up I will study this swill of sadness and the history of heartbreak it tells.”

Sophia Al-Maria, We Share the Same Tears (2018)

 

“Still there are seeds to be gathered, and room in the bag of stars”

Ursula K Le Guin, The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction, 1986

 

Seeing Sophia Al-Maria and Victoria Sin’s BCE was one of those rare, soul-feeding encounters with art where your reaction is so visceral and complete, that it’s almost frustrating — what is there to critique? How can I share my thoughts on this work which does so much for itself and gives so generously to the audience? Visually, aurally and textually, Al-Maria’s two short films are so vivid and stimulating despite their stillness; their sounds and images caress you into an understanding of inherited narratives and queer futures.

Al-Maria is an internationally exhibited Qatari-American artist, writer and filmmaker whose work explores feminism, gender, race, nationality and capitalism. Curated by Jane Scarth, BCE is the final piece of work in Al-Maria’s yearlong collaboration with the Whitechapel Gallery as Writer in Residence and consists of two short films which tell two divergent creation myths; one ancient and one new. Projected in adjacent rooms, the films loop in a constant dialogue that mimics the oral traditions of religion, storytelling and shared histories.

Sophia Al Maria_The Magical State, 2017_Single-channel video, 6min9sec_still
Sophia Al-Maria, The Magical State. Film still 2017.

‘Wayuu Creation Myth’ (2018) is told by Ziruma Jayut, a member of the native Colombian Wayuu tribe. She stands on a hill of salt, wind whipping her hair and tells the story of Wolunca, the first Wayuu woman, who has vagina dentata. Against an epic backdrop of fluorescent, pastel mountains, Ziruma appears as a kind of prophet, but there’s a tender normality to her performance— she stands before us in modern clothes, and glances away from the lens for reassurance. In the story, Wolunca, conceived of earth (Má) and rain (Huyá, feminine), is attacked by Huyá’s sons who try to remove her vagina dentata by shooting her with an arrow. Huyá, furious at their attempts to ‘interfere’ with her first and only daughter, pursues them ferociously and arrives at their hiding place ‘like a maraca, with rains, with winds’ before turning them both to stone. The tale communicates the indomitable power of feminine rage as well as critiquing colonialism via the son’s attempts at disarming the female body, a dual symbol of woman and land. In its re-telling, we are confronted by the modern descendent of this abused ‘first woman’ who excavates the site of trauma and performs the process of inherited narratives, here though, stood on the land of her ancestors, she is in control of the story.

Bernice Mulenga BCE_2019_1
Victoria Sin and Sophia Al-Maria, BCE 2019, Photograph by Bernice Mulenga.

As the Wayuu Creation Myth ends, the ‘new’ myth groans to life in the next room. This specially commissioned work is a collaboration between Al-Maria and London-based artist, writer and drag performer Victoria Sin. In this magnetizing film, Sin is centered in space, radiating with gender-defying omniscience; prosthetic breasts, crystals and the silhouette of thick false lashes blinking in the glow. Sin looks out upon us mere mortals and softly, commandingly, interrogates the arbitrary and oppressive inception of the patriarchy; a world where ‘All we could do was […] pick our bodies apart and pick our beliefs apart and create a hierarchy of both and insist there was not one at all.’ In a moment of intense lucidity, Sin suggests an alternative reality:

‘And gxd is infinite

And so how could gxd’s creation be any less than

Infinite

As if I am not within me infinite versions of myself

As if one person could only be one thing

For the rest of their many lives.

 

As if gxd themself had not given us the ability to stand

On two legs and look up

As if gxd themself had not given us the ability to look

Away from the ground and up at the infinite sky and

Wonder

How many stars

How many worlds

How many ways of being alive?’

Bernice Mulenga BCE_2019_4 (1)
Victoria Sin and Sophia Al-Maria, BCE 2019 Behind the scenes, Photograph by Bernice Mulenga.

Sin speaks of a generous ‘gxd’ (a word that glitches as they speak) who deals in more than binaries and asks us to look beyond the small patch of earth we stand on, beyond the narratives and structures we’ve inherited (or are exposed to) speaking into existence an infinite way of being. This is incredibly relevant and important in a world where identities that divert from heteronormative, cis-gender ideals are denied and oppressed constantly. Here lies the simple belief in both self-identification and the freedom to change, grow and exist as more than one thing. Moments later the black star painted on Sin’s face flashes and their mouth becomes a gaping black hole ready to consume the universe; oblivion meets birth as Sin bares their teeth in an image that recalls Wolunca’s vagina dentata.

 

‘Oh. I want to look at you

So I can pick your body apart and pick your beliefs apart

open you up and open myself up push our wounds together and create ourselves […]

like that feeling when you’re fucking me real slow when I’m about to come

 

Like that.

but there’s no climax, we just keep rising’

The language is violent and sensual, exquisitely delivered by Sin who steadily tears apart the false dichotomies of pleasure, morality, sexuality, and gender that define our collective history. The film ends with Sin stood above us obscured by the throbbing glow of infinity —terrifying and glorious.

BCE is the kind of exhibition that leaves you feeling fed — not deprived, not at a loss of understanding or excluded or disappointed but fully satiated. During her residency, Al-Maria has taken inspiration from the late speculative fiction writer Ursula K Le Guin and her essay “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” which “re-imagines narrative as a feminist project” where “storytelling becomes a means to imagine different, more hopeful futures.” The two films function in this way, working in tandem as an exercise in the exorcism of oppressive narratives. One is the “sling for carrying bad blood,” the other, affirms the possibility of the infinite, that “Still there are seeds to be gathered and room in the bag of stars.”

Refrain / Reframe: I Learned I Had A Body by Vivek Shraya

By Maeve Hanna

Saag_00018
Vivek Shraya, I Learned I had a Body, 2018. Installation photo by Jaime Vedres Photography courtesy of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Trigger Warning: This text reviews work by the artist, writer and musician Vivek Shraya which deals with suicidal ideation. 

Please god, don’t let me wake up.

A repeated refrain, spoken over and over, awakening in the viewer anew the realization of what it feels like to have no hope.

Can the desire to die be inherited?

One among many, or few, seldom questioned, tumbling out of mouths, written, spoken, voiced. A different kind of intergenerational trauma.

It’s just a number / it’s just a body / it’s just a life.

Is life only relatable to a number, as if it is a giant paint by number, one colour per year, fading away from one hue to the next?

These are some of the refrains that echo through Vivek Shraya’s hauntingly powerful video work I Want to Kill Myself. No shying away from the topic at hand —suicide: no shame; no hiding. Shraya unabashedly opens herself wide like an oyster pried free of its shell and allows us to sit with her and her emotions. It might be uncomfortable. We may squirm and wriggle. We may want to escape but her arresting voice, her gaze, holds us steady. The red lines of her tattoos draw circles around us, keeping us still in our place.

Saag_00016
Vivek Shraya, I Want to Kill Myself, 2018. Installation photo by Jaime Vedres Photography courtesy of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Her words slice through the air with a force that is both brutal and tender in its tenor. The ferociousness of her words reaches the depth of our spirits as we sit humble and vulnerable with her, listening to the darkness she has faced—although a delicateness is evoked. Swimming through the imagery and verse, tying the two together as the text and images converse and the viewer passively eavesdrops on this conversation, the viewer becomes an intimately connected third member.

I Learned I had a Body is the body, but more than the body, it is the alienation from one’s body in a society regimented by heteronormative and patriarchal systems. Shraya, being a trans woman, has learned, as one of the lines from I Want to Kill Myself, suggests “… I had a body through your condemnation of my body,” understanding the body and, in particular, her body through various relational means.

Referencing a relationship to the sacred, the familial, and other relationships that emerge in life, Shraya battled with her own acceptance of her identity and body as well as how others saw her, looked at her, gazed upon her. With the video/photo essay  I Want to Kill Myself, The viewer is placed in a realm of watching, gazing passively and absorbing her visage and the armature of her being while simultaneously hearing the haunting experience of suicidal ideation and deep depression. More people than one might realize relate to this work. However, Shraya revealed in an interview how touched viewers have been by it, “The work was launched on my birthday last year by CBC Arts and it had a tremendous response from the public. It was really powerful for me. What was surprising though were the comments from people I knew. It was a strong reminder to be conscious that what we see is not always the truth and that these are important conversations to have.”

Recitation like resuscitation from walking into the lake, the great lakes, (maybe it could be): Walking into water, like the great great lakes, a recitation similar to the resuscitation of the authorly tradition, as Shraya suggests recalling Virginia Woolf’s last moment on this earthly plane. But at the age of thirty-five, her resolve seems to change, her vision shifts. The red lines loosen their grip, the letters she writes, those lines of words drawn out in tendrils unwind themselves and drop off the page as if they never existed. The story ends at the age of thirty-five. But not with the taking of a life —but the resolve to live a life.

I wanted to kill myself at thirty-five.

            Shraya says again, but this is the last. In the finitude of this remaining stanza, the writer names how she came to this finishing moment. Like Virginia, but not. She names out loud, speaks the words clearly, vocalizing it to those who love her the most, allowing her to get the level of care she so desperately needed. I Want to Kill Myself names her pain. In so doing, Shraya releases some of the hold and power her pain held over her. Equally, in so doing as she states, kept her alive. In saying she no longer wanted to be here, naming this deep, guttural form of pain, Shraya aided herself in living, remaining, finding love and hope where there had been none.

Shraya wrote her suicide notes in red, the colour that adorns her skin, the colour of our life force coursing through our bodies.

We wear our scars proudly.

We bear witness to her pain and triumph in being present with this piece.

This work takes a kind of courage not many individuals possess.

Red on red, words on words.

Red on red dress.

Saag_00011
Vivek Shraya, Trisha, 2018. Installation photo by Jaime Vedres Photography courtesy of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

Equally moving is Trisha the accompanying photo essay in I Learned I Had a Body. Here Shraya recreates photos of her mother by presenting herself as her mother. She speaks in her text to the overwhelming desire to escape her own body, that which literally resembles her father’s, and to make her mother, the matriarch of the family happy and proud. She suspects that her mother always wanted a girl but prayed for two boys to give them a better life, one without the suffering, ridicule, pain and disadvantages that come with being a woman. In Trisha the artist reveals another instance where the body comes into play – adorning herself playfully in all the accoutrements from the chosen photographs, Shraya masterfully mimics the original image, creating a mirroring effect both literally and metaphorically, revealing how she “…modelled [herself] – my gestures, my futures, how I love and rage – all after you,” her mother. She revels in the joy that her mother had felt as a woman prior to her immigration to Canada and becoming a mother and wife and muses about how she can live that out on her mother’s behalf now as a trans woman. Perhaps one of the most stunning images in the series is a photograph of Shraya and beside it, her mother, lying supine on a reclining chair mirrored within the image as if seen through a kaleidoscope. Repeated upon itself it’s a joyful revelation in celebrating womanhood. Dazzling in red, enjoying the sunshine, Shraya and her mother arrestingly hold the audience’s gaze.

Reading I’m Afraid of Men in tandem with this exhibition brings the theme of the body throughout Shraya’s work into clearer focus. Throughout her latest book, Shraya highlights the ways that her body validated and also betrayed her and her identity. In one instance Shraya observes how she studied men in order to portray herself as more masculine:

Consumption is a key to masculinity. … I lift weights, all the while reprimanding my body for not conforming, for never quite looking buff or white enough. What would my body look like if I didn’t want affection from gay men and protection from straight men? What would my body look and feel like if I didn’t have to mould it into both a shield and an ornament? How do I love a body that was never fully my own? (31).

 

While the book focuses on the fear of the male sex, this instance where the body emerges refocuses how internalized our vision understanding of our bodies can become. Shraya reveals in this excerpt how displeased she is with her body, how she feels about accepting it in all its realities. What becomes compelling is the observation of how Shraya comes to accept what she has seen as flaws within herself and finds courage therein. Writing this review as a queer white woman, I am at a disadvantage of deeply understanding the trauma this instance, among others she recounts, inflicted on Shraya. However, bearing witness to and acknowledging her story by being present and allowing this work to take the space it needs within me and the gallery space provides a platform for this necessary dialogue.

Saag_00013
Vivek Shraya, Trisha, 2018. Installation photo by Jaime Vedres Photography courtesy of the Southern Alberta Art Gallery.

The compelling presence of words in this exhibition is not to be overlooked. I admitted to Shraya that I knew her primarily as a writer, while she sees herself first and foremost as a musician. Language and narrative present themselves as the foremost forms of expression for her. This is not to say the work requires the accompanying narratives, but more so that the work is activated by it, that through language Shraya is able to build a visual and auditory experience for the viewer.

Shraya offers a forum and platform for having critical yet tender conversations, for providing a space to be vulnerable, to be uncomfortable, yet acknowledge it, to push ourselves a little, to attempt to understand the limits of hope and despair, love and unconditional kindness. It is an offering to those who have struggled, who have attempted or contemplated suicide, who have been down that dark road. It demonstrates that even in the darkness, there is a light. And as a friend has said to me, it is when you hit the ocean floor that you are able to push yourself back up to the surface. Shraya’s hand is there as an offering to help you step out of those icy waters.

Bridget Moser: Prop Comedy & Consumer Anxiety

bridgetmoser_2
Bridget Moser, Season of the Witch (2016). Photo by Yuula Benivolski courtesy of Doored.

By Alexandra Bischoff

We live in a society of spectacle where our dreams are often wrapped up in consumer realities. Sparkles and sequins are not practical, but they do catch my eye. “To post or not to post,” but I graze on social media—and their targeted ads—compulsively. Fuck Nestle, but I do miss eating Häagen-Dazs. And neoliberal feminisms got me thinking, like, “I need a new lipstick to be a strong woman.” Some days this feels true. My ideal-I is only the proper shade of violet away.

A few things I would buy as a performance artist if I had unlimited funds:

  1. Several zentai suits in various metallic shades
  2. “Egg Sitter Gel Support Seat Cushion as Seen on TV”
  3. A customized neon sign that reads “a muse me”
  4. Plane ticket to France, so I could take a selfie in front of Victorine Meurent’s grave
  5. 1000 copies of the book “Rosa Luxemburg speaks”
  6. 1000 lbs of butter, in sticks
  7. A large filing cabinet

    butterstick
    Western-style butter.Steve Karg via Wikimedia Commons.

When I explain Bridget Moser to people who aren’t familiar with her work, I first call her a prop-comic because of her use of objects (Marcel Duchamp would love her for her candid use of the ready-made). Then I describe her comedy as awkward because her jokes are always wrapped up in some form of anxiety. But a more nuanced analysis would find that Moser’s objects and anxieties have everything to do with each other, rather than being discrete means to a punchline.

During her artist talk at Concordia University in October of 2018, Moser admitted that sometimes she purchases items—a bright red air dancer, for example—before she knows what to do with them (CICA, 2018). As a follow-up, during the Q&A I asked the artist to speak to her proclivities towards objects. Her purchasing habits came as a surprise to me; I had imagined the artist strolling down the aisles of Walmart or Ikea, pondering her next performance, seeking out and curating the things she imagined herself working with. Instead, her buying practices appear to be far more casual. It sounds like she is drawn to certain things, finds stuff that she just has to have, and stocks up before connecting them to her archives of audio, text, and gesture. She is a collector, like the rest of us.

Don’t be self-righteous; all of us love objects. Minimalism is a luxury and should be taken as an exception to the rule. Beginning with the inflated consumer culture which frames the 1950s, and spiralling into the Globalization and Neoliberalism constituting the 1980s, North America’s identity has always been defined by the desire to spend. What our present moment has inherited is consumer anxiety which pressures us to replace our smartphones every year, and causes us to wrack up an inexplicable amount of credit card debt.

bridgetmoserstill
Bridget Moser, Chaotic Neutral (2017). Photo by Yuula Benivolski courtesy of Doored.

Performance artists are particularly poised to remedy consumerist anxiety because we buy practical things under the guise of artistic worth. We don’t spend hundreds of dollars a year on swathes of canvas, variously-haired brushes, and exquisitely pigmented paints—the most useless, hedonistic, and glorious of art materials. Instead, performance artists buy things that we might otherwise utilize in our day to day lives. The small ladder from Moser’s Real Estates (2013), the lip-shaped throw pillows from Chaotic Neutral (2017), and various teal-coloured apparel from Don’t push the river. (2013) could also function as tools for the artist’s studio, furnishings for her apartment, or as personal gym gear. I wonder if she uses these things for their intended uses, besides as performance props, or if they sit pristinely on shelves awaiting their next performance-induced animation.  

And as it turns out, consumer anxiety and the all-too-familiar buyer’s remorse we collectively experience might be culturally healthy. Whether intentional or not, these feelings of self-doubt and monetary concern could be aptly applied outside of our individualist selves, as prompts to investigate how the objects we lust after are produced in the first place. It is ethically valuable to question who profits off of the vulnerable labour required to make our exponentially cheaper products (though the ability to do so also requires a position of certain privilege).

Performance artists could be considered especially bound to this duty; our practices can be politically motivated in many ways, but conversely, often rely on the purchasing of common things in a very a-political fashion. Moser said that she has always loved objects, but “feels equally troubled” about where she gets them (CICA, 2018). The artist understands the “economic disparity that goes into a lot of the way that these things are made or sold,” and that even the labour of finding it in a warehouse somewhere and sending the objects to her are fraught with exploitative ethics (CICA, 2018). Amazon, for example, doesn’t have the best track record as far as labour practices go. Moser also told the audience that she’s not yet sure how to address these concerns in her performances. I think she’s inadvertently doing a good job of it already.

bridgetmoser_3
Bridget Moser, Season of the Witch (2016). Photo by Yuula Benivolski courtesy of Doored.

The anxieties in Bridget Moser’s performances are served up through the objects that she employs, so I see very little distance between the anxieties of an individual and the anxieties of contemporary consumerism in her work. Broadly, we can understand Moser’s performed anxiety as the anxiety of displaying sincere emotion—a concern common to the glossy veneer of commodity culture. In her exaggerations, Moser simultaneously makes fun of intense emotional reactions, absurd paranoias, and the disappointing realities of everyday minutia—a carbon copy of advertising tactics—while also celebrating, in earnest, the bizarre affections and attachments we form with inanimate objects. In fact, Moser employs the same tactics as television commercials. These are loud, human displays which catch our eye and tell us what we need in order to mitigate our complex concerns, usually to profound and comical psychoanalytic ends. What are commercials, after all, but displays of hyper-human versions of ourselves? Commercials create exaggerated, if not unflattering portraits of human desire—and what we usually desire is for our every minor, mortal agitation to be consoled.

Moser’s inflated and ultra-physical connections with her props best sums up the modern day consumer’s relationship with objects. When we buy, we temporarily salve the wounds of our knowing doom, and cling to our new things as a kind of security blanket. This relationship is absurdly devotional. We know we are killing the planet, but we still buy bottled water. The office coffee maker is evil, but those Keurig pods are so cute and convenient. This pink, plastic watering-can shaped like a poodle is as good as a baby—it might as well be “my son” (Freak on a Leash, 2016). And if given the choice to choose between objects of anxiety or anxiety without objects:

 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO? WHAT WOULD YOU DO?

Season of the Witch, 2016

 

 

Anticipating the Avant-Garde: Hilma af Klint’s Prescient Aesthetics

By Lauren Fournier

HilmaAfKint_image1
Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016); Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

It was the spring of 2016 when I first saw Hilma af Klint’s work, sumptuously hung throughout the space of the Serpentine Galleries in London, nestled in the corner of the bustling Hyde Park. I was particularly lonely that day, walking through the streets of London alone, near the beginning of my 3-month research trip. Hyde Park was filled with smiling groups of families and friends, lovers, congregating in circles and sharing picnics and stories, drinking wine. When I reached the Serpentine Galleries, the aim of my pilgrimage that day, I walked through the glass doors to the exhibition Hilma af Klint: Painting Unseen. Melancholic and sweaty, I suddenly found myself enveloped by the works on the walls, forgetting about my body for a few sweet seconds.

As I walked quietly through the exhibition, I bared witness to the body of Klint’s work: her work was spiritually otherworldly and startling contemporary in its feel. There was a sensuousness to it—mesmerizing, aesthetic—and a palpable intellectual presence that was at the same time extra-rational and metaphysical. How could an artist so gorgeously integrate these concerns and make tensive forms that are so visually compelling? I took in Klint’s mid-sized canvases—richly coloured and saturated with symbolism—and then the giant canvases, on which Klint’s mystical abstraction and shapes were on full display. The hanging of Klint’s work in the space of the Serpentine galleries felt like a temple, meditative and warm. That these paintings had been created by Klint in a prophetic act—made for the temple she had been receiving visions of in her mind—made the experience all the richer, especially for an intellectually curious, spiritually hungry feminist art researcher wrestling with how to reconcile their own Evangelical upbringing with their ecumenical-dreaming present.

fullsizeoutput_14f0
Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016); Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a Swedish-born artist working in painting in the latter part of the nineteenth century through to the turn of the twentieth century. I’m still baffled by how, throughout my studies in art history and feminist art history, I had never learned about Klint’s work. In Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic Art History (MIT, 2004), Amelia Jones writes through the figure of the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, making the case that not only ought the Baroness be recognized as a Dada artist in her own right—one who has been, and continues to be, violently suppressed in histories of modern art and the avant-garde—but that the Baroness could be said to be more Dada than the male Dada artists who are recognized (such as Duchamp, Man Ray, and Tristan Tzara). Paradoxically, it was the Baroness embodying the purported tenets of Dada—blurring art and life, playing with the limits of legibility and intelligibility—that concretized her status as abject, shunned from the elevated spheres of artist or thinker. This was in contrast, Jones notes, to the male Dada artists who maintained their “otherwise bourgeois lives” when they weren’t making art. While different contexts and practices, Klint’s work, both as an individual and in her collaborations with De Fem—a 5-person collective of Klint’s female artist/mystic contemporaries— prompted me to reflect on the ways in which experimental artists whose gender identities lie outside of the cis-male standard make innovative work that might not be recognized as such until decades, maybe even centuries, after the fact: and that the work of BIPOC, feminist, and queer art historians is essential to unearthing the suppressed practices of artists like Klint or the Baroness.

fullsizeoutput_14f3
Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016); Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Currently, Klint’s work is receiving a new surge of critical attention, perhaps as the result of her current exhibition Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim in New York City (2018-19). Browsing through articles on Klint’s work—many of which describe her as “pioneering” in her contributions to the development of abstraction and modernist avant-garde practices (“pioneering:” a word I’m starting to bristle at a bit, with its colonial connotations)— prompted me to revisit the text I wrote in response to seeing Klint’s work in Painting Unseen at the Serpentine Galleries. During that trip to London, generously funded by SSHRC, I had set myself the task of writing a short, stream of consciousness response to each exhibition I went to. I didn’t want to write exhibition reviews, exactly–I didn’t think I’d have the intellectual energy, since the focus of this trip was developing my doctoral research on the histories and practices of feminist autotheory—but I wanted to record, in a more open-ended, ephemeral way, all of the work that I saw. The day prior, I had written a response to Electronic Superhighway at Whitechapel Gallery, a group exhibition I found more troubling than anything and the response to which I had provisionally titled “men’s use of women’s screams needs context” [my shorthand critique of American artist Ryan Trecartin’s installation: for someone with complex PTSD—who is particularly sensitive to sound—the work felt unnecessarily triggering.] I was so hungry for context through which to understand works like his, why they were being displayed in 2016 and what the work was intended to do.

fullsizeoutput_14ee
Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen; Installation view; Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016); Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Coincidentally or not, I’d later learn that one of the many practices that Klint engaged in, both on her own and when meeting with the De Fem collective, was automatic writing and drawing. Automatic writing and drawing are embodied acts of a stream of consciousness responsiveness attuned both to the present context and to one’s phenomenological response as an artist, thinker, feeler in a given space and time. As an avant-garde practice, it would later become associated with the male Surrealist artists, though with Klint’s 2016 and 2018 exhibitions we’re pushed to acknowledge the feminist histories of such a practice. Now, I share with you my response to Klint’s Paintings Unseen, which I wrote as I sat in front of her works. I spent a few hours in the gallery, sharing space with the paintings and letting them wash over me, trying my best to tune out the sounds of children jumping up on the bench and shouting. I decided to try and incorporate such “distractions”— part of the context of viewing, no?—into my response, instead of resisting what was going on around me and inside me that day.

When I left the gallery, I felt spiritually nourished. I was still lonely, walking through the streets of London, visiting places that my parents have never had the resources to visit, ruminating on ideas that can feel so privileged, so at odds with my uneducated working-class roots or my born-again upbringing. I wondered whether other people felt as lonely as me, clustered and laughing together in pubs, and then I started to feel Klint’s presence—like a strange spiritual ally. I could hold the impressions of her work as I walked along, reflecting on her images and on my own complicated relationships to femininity and spiritual life. I was energized by the possibilities of a feminist ecumenical practice of abstraction, and my burgeoning revelation that abstraction could be accessible.

That evening, I’d go to sleep dreaming of peach spirals, blue backgrounds, and so many weird eggs in the night.

something like prophecy

new cosmologies of 1908
theosophy and darwin
slit and cross
spiral and triangle
it’s all in there this
dark ecumenicism

two figures raise arms
to a chalice in the sky
from which they drink:
potion flows down from a goblet,
a blue spiral, a yellow spiral
forming a spirographic knot
and the two are no longer
divisible
is this evolution?

a prophecy from the beginning
of the twentieth century
“EVOLUTIONEN”
repeated ad infinum
male and female and
something outside this—
their bodies strong
canvases of pink and
a spectrum of greys

funny fertilities these
massive canvases of colour-joy
are those eggs
yes eggs! but not just eggs

eggy eggy
iggy iggy
aggy aggy
prophecies
prophet sees

lavender, red
mustard, white
easter colours, but not
exactly Ēastre, not
exactly austron, not
exactly spring

women+ artists, mystics, seers
were doing what the Surrealists
became famous for
but decades earlier
these prescient practices

women practicing
automatic writing
when male contemporaries
were taken by impressionism

but here we are given more than impression:
these are the paintings for the temple she saw

women are avant-garde, more?
women are avant-garde, more?
women are avant-garde, more?
women are avant-garde, more?

the baroness wasn’t seen
as avant-garde at all
just a freaky chick
a deranged non-artist
stinky and fishy

seance        science
seance        science
seance        science
seance        science

says

klint’s largest paintings are said to represent
“the four cycles of life”
visually indistinguishable, all just as colourful
and i think about aging and death

eggs in dots
dotted eggs
women in seance
seance says

fuck the magic

uu uu uu uu
uu uu uu uu
uu uu uu uu

endings and rebirth
and sex and death
and death and birth and
sex and death
and pleasure

black wings of eggs
symmetry that sways
women in seance
seance says

the material and the spiritual is a chicken and egg situation
there are children getting in the way of the art
I like that one I like that one I like that one!
i’m at that age, with that body, wrestling with the idea of
children as futurity, children as a future

I want to be alone with the art, and I realize
that maybe this is selfish
I want to have some quiet space, and I realize
that maybe this is impossible

is the contemporary art gallery a temple
for intellectuals or is it something else altogether?

wx ox oo ax ex
swx sox sax sex
uu uu uu uu
uu uu uu uu

wu rose blue green
eros in yellow

primordial symmetry in
chaos sym-metry in

chaos

their abstract order
feels so balanced,
like wholeness
something aspiring to
closeness

reigns

circular spiral snail
mustard moon hand
emanating to grab
muddy earth elevated

medeltiden over nutiden
yellow under blue
neu neu neu neu
eus eus eus eus

tiny pyramid in circle
black outline thick
moons of gold
old shade spectra
descending ascending
both valid it seems

ave maria
ave maria
ave maria
ave maria
ave ave ave

a wreath of dripping lilies
arms splayed, so sad

birthing bulbs
origins unknown
opening up and up
to infinity

red and black cookie
moon tree and venn
when sox sax sex
when sox sax sex

birthing bulb two
petals only

fling drop
drip drap
flung floof

dreaming of a place where
gender can be something other
no longer a competition
a place where no one is more
and Avant-Garde is a bore

then an old man shaky
leaning over to sit
his belt pulled down
and i want to help

leaving the gallery I walk
into the rare sunshine of
London in the springtime
and I’m vibrating
from Hilma’s work

Written by Lauren Fournier in response to:
Hilma Af Klint, “Painting the Unseen,” Serpentine Gallery, London UK
On May 8, 2016

 

PROUDICK: Paloma Proudfoot and Lindsey Mendick at Hannah Barry Gallery

By Chloe Hyman

PROUDICK is the name of the latest exhibition at Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham, London. It’s also the composite name of the most ogled celeb duo since Paris and Helen of Troy. Remember Helen? The Queen of Sparta whose love for Paris led to the ten-year Trojan War? She has gone down in history as the ‘face that launched a thousand ships’ while her lover emerged unscathed, reputation in-tact. Too often society labels the woman in a celebrity pairing the femme fatale. In their first exhibition as a pair of dangerous broads, Paloma Proudfoot and Lindsey Mendick—Proudick—confront this ancient convention.

They serve every Greek trope of female wickedness with an extra serving of the grotesque, finished with a layer of sensual glazing. In Misandrist’s Little Cunt, by Lindsey Mendick (2018), a man’s head is served on a ceramic platter, his piggish face recalling Circe’s favorite way to enchant the inferior gender. The work visualizes what we read in ‘The Odyssey;’ that Circe turns Odysseus’ men into pigs.

IMG_6044
Misandrist’s Little Cunt, Lindsey Mendick. 2018. Image by Chloe Hyman.

Mendick coats the pig-man’s head in yellow and black glaze, suggesting that he has been dressed with the classic combination of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The artist also garnishes her dish with trypophobia-triggering pink and green growths. The bulbous nature of these gelatinous mounds and suction cups is enough to induce nausea in the most steel-nerved viewer. They surround the head like a bed of lettuce, though the contents resemble eyeballs and octopus’ tentacles rather than leaves.

In realizing the trope of the cannibalistic witch, Mendick draws attention to its ludicrousness. Her imagined witch paraphernalia pokes fun at those who recoil in fear from a baseless myth. But the artist doesn’t linger long in the realm of ridicule. She chooses instead to revel in the violence and dark magic that have long been attributed to femmes. Through the work, she claims her witch’s power. If this is who you think we are, she seems to say, then this is who we shall be. Coating her feast in a delectable shiny finish is the artistic equivalent of licking one’s lips. The viewer can imagine the witch sadistically salivating over the slick surface of her meal.

Though they find humor in performing the female witch character that men fear, Proudick also finds truth in it. The grotesqueness inherent in a work like Misandrist’s Little Cunt speaks to a grossness women-identifying people are often afraid to express, for fear of appearing unfeminine. The work in PROUDICK provides a way to come to terms with our bodies and our emotions, in all their beautiful filth.

IMG_6050
Sara, Lindsey Mendick. 2018. Image by Chloe Hyman.

Sara, also by Lindsey Mendick (2018) epitomizes this process. It features a footbath filled with painted-blue water while two detached feet rest inside. Femme beauty and hygiene rituals are emotionally taxing and often compulsive. Their purpose is to rid the body of any trace of dirt or hair or excess water. To strip her dry and then moisturize her with shea butter and rainbows. Sara is the site of this ritualistic cleansing. Dirt gathers by way of paint splatters, and blood in streams of red on the inner walls of the tub. At the end of the ritual, the user literally steps out of her feet as if to signal her complete cleanliness.

It’s no coincidence that she is only one meter from the bed. She can slide into the sheets without her feet ever touching the ground, maintaining the purity and cleanliness expected of women-identifying bodies.

IMG_6049
Our Bed (Double Trouble) Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot. 2018. Image by Chloe Hyman.

Well, she actually has a few options in her seduction chamber. Proudick has presented two mattresses for the friends to recline on post-cleanse, crafted together by Proudfoot and Mendick. Like their predecessor My Bed, by Tracey Emin, these beds are a manifestation of emotional and physical loathing, born of the femme body and the standards imposed upon it. Hands and feet distend from all four corners, reaching out to ensnare the visiting bro who dare not text back. “We take screenshots of text conversations with thwarted ex-lovers, freezing the evidence of their inadequacy,” Proudick says.

 

The thrashing legs and lifeless arms also reflect thoughts of self-loathing and disgust; bouts of mania and periods of depression. The front appendages in Our Bed (Double Trouble) signify the latter. Large pink monster feet feel heavy as if the bed—and its occupant—are chained to it. Long, boneless red arms sink into the floor, signifying itself as a prison for the lethargic.

IMG_6057
Our Bed (Double Trouble) Lindsey Mendick and Paloma Proudfoot. 2018. Image by Chloe Hyman.

Meanwhile, the appendages up by the headboard are manic and violent. Arms clutch a cartoonishly large knife and wrench while a pink-bandaged figure struggles to crawl under the bed. Is this meant to be a scorned lover, someone who left Proudick in the dust? The figure’s torso disappears into a cylindrical shape that plunges into the ground. His pink phallic body, so close to sharp objects, suggests Proudick’s possible take on castration anxiety. In the paradigm of PROUDICK, all fears about the dangerous women are brought to the surface and decorated. It comes as no surprise, then, to see castration so delightfully rendered in mixed media.

At times, PROUDICK is delightful. When confronting strange sexist stereotypes, the artists lean so far into old tropes that the result is a wicked laugh at the expense of the viewer. Our Bed (Double Trouble) has a bit of fun with this while also touching on more serious side effects of self-loathing. There are a few works in this exhibit that strips away delight almost entirely to consider self-doubt. One stand-out is Buns Without a Face, by Paloma Proudfoot (2018).

The faceless bust sits on a vintage table, several meters below a mirror. Her proximity to the mirror suggests the desire to present herself—to perform some sort of identity. But her covered face and her positioning below the mirror also point to fear and self-loathing. She stares at the cockroaches crawling across the wall while the worms that compose her Leia-buns writhe across her skin. Does she, herself, feel like vermin? Negative thoughts consume her until her outsides match her insides. With this poignant spatial positioning, Proudfoot reveals a dark corner of the femme mind—a paralyzing black hole of self-doubt.

The viewer who stands before Buns Without a Face will see their own identity in the mirror, and glance down at the anonymous bust at hip or knee-level. The spatial optics of the work suggest a dialogue between all three parts—the mirror, the viewer, and the worm-infested bust. Such a dialogue might foster empathy between the viewer and this strange, faceless person. It might also force the viewer to recognize their own self-loathing and consider its origins.

PROUDICK bears moments of sadness and moments of delight. Its contents are dirty and violent, but in the bright fluorescent light of the gallery, they appear pristine. Paloma Proudfoot and Lindsey Mendick relish exploiting the fears of men, but also experience joy in accepting the gross reality of their bodies and minds. Their world is grotesque because they are dirty and beautiful.

PROUDICK, curated by Marcelle Joseph, runs at the Hannah Barry Gallery in Peckham, London through January 12, 2019.