INTERSECTING THE CITY: Urban Fabric at the Textile Museum Toronto shows how the natural and constructed co-exist


Queen. Image provided by Scott Norsworthy.

“Urban fabric as a metaphor for the city” ~ Deborah Wang

“The artists in Urban Fabric: Portraits of a City engage with the interwoven hard and soft dimensions of the city from multiple perspectives; their photographs, paintings, sculpture, film, and pattern-making create a portrait of a city, often taking Toronto as their subject.”

This year’s Toronto Design Offsite included an interesting partnership between TO DO and the Textile Museum. Urban Fabric: Portraits of a City, curated by TO DO’s Creative Director Deborah Wang (pictured right) traversed the intersections of what comprises a city – “the built environment, webs of individuals, and the social, technological, and economic processes that produce a particular urban framework” as well as the insertions / assertions of nature.

The exhibit featured stunning photography by Scott Norsworthy that included the West End of Toronto. Hard isolating walls of bricks, unbroken expanses of asphalt and a multiplicity of electrical wires were softened by gentle light blanketing the concrete jungle with air and sky. Sheila Ayearst‘s series of Concrete paintings also contained a softness despite their subject matter. The canvasses, in varying shades of gray, had titles like Beaconsfield Concrete, again recalling the West End and its rapid development.

“Holes in the urban fabric, these sites speak to the city as an evolving network of development, appropriation, redevelopment, undoing, and neglect.” ~ Scott Norsworthy

(top to bottom) Dundas, Dupont, and Dupont. Images provided by Scott Norsworthy.

“Visitors in search of escape instead encounter.” Jessica Craig

Jessica Craig’s large projection of a location along the Don Valley revealed the lushness of a green Toronto that doesn’t just exist as an unattainable Shangri-La in our imagination.


Don Valley #212 (2012). Image provided by Jessica Craig. 

“Long protected from intervention by floodwaters and topography, the ravine defies construction and therefore profit: it is a fracture in an otherwise unified urban fabric.”

Jessica’s photographic work considers the concept of “terrain vague” and in her essay Landscape off the path she writes:

“Terrain vague is Ignasi de Solà-Morales’ term for abandoned spaces within a city that exist outside the common social realm and are often perceived as empty.”

These transitional spaces, because of the ambiguous mystery they offer city dwellers, hold latent potentiality as places of enchantment and restoration. “The value of the still unaffected land – and the relief it offers to a highly developed city – is difficult to quantify” but there is a sense that spaces, such as these, are seen as necessary in order to restore some sort of balance to the rigid confines of the constructed city.

(top to bottom) Don Valley #212, Don Valley #132, Don Valley #240 (2012). Images provided by Jessica Craig.  

“Roots are the first kind of textile.” ~ Scott Euson

For artist Scott Eunson plant roots are like fibers as they shoot up and spread out and the city is like fabric in that it is made up of many single “elements [fibers] that cooperate with the whole” as it rises up and moves out across the landscape like a rhizome. He spoke on how we often talk about the city as though it is a textile “neighbourhoods are knit together” or “densely woven.” He took wire and wood along with roots and bent metal, all found on walks through the city, to loop and twist a typography into place.

His piece Material Map – Toronto represents the complexity of urban spaces and their intertwining of newly digitized and still naturalized realities. The city is where we are often forced to locate our busy lives but not without letting go of our desire to feel our natural-ness now and again. As skyscrapers rise we haven’t completely forgotten the call of the waves. The shoreline always beckons us to return to some ancient cellular memory. Below the foundation of the city lies what was once the Glacial Lake Iroquois, what’s left now named Lake Ontario which means “Lake of Shining Waters” in the Wyandot language.

I like that this piece presented without judgement. In the assemblage there is no warning about the eradication of nature due to the city, the metal wires are able to co-exist with the natural. Despite the entanglement there is a type of order and an absence of hierarchy. The wood and wire take turns coming up between the foreground from the background, at times each receding, other times bending or breaking out of the grid.

The shape of the work represents Toronto as it is contained by the borders of the Humber River on the West and the Don River on the East. A few wires and twigs grow out past the North, West and East boundaries but at the shoreline of the Lake all halts, deferring to the great body of water that lies to the city’s south.

For me this piece is hopeful suggesting that there can be a resolution between the requirements of a city with all of its systems and our urban yearning for woods and water, that the existence of one doesn’t mean the end of the other.

Perhaps we can wrap ourselves around the notion that balance is not beyond our imagination and our quest to discover where it lies in the urban space is the taut thread that snaps everything in place.

Urban Fabric closed on January 25, 2015. Read more about the show on the Textile Museum’s website.

Images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

 

FICTIONS & LEGENDS: Jérôme Havre Closes at the Textile Museum, Toronto

Jérôme Havre, Untitled (Hybrid Series), 2010, fabric, kapok. 75 cm tall. Photo: Paul Litherland. Image from Textile Museum

I had two different experiences of Jérôme Havre’s work.

1. VIRTUAL EXPERIENCE

Images taken of a past exhibit showed a presentation that was unique in the way it utilized almost the entire square footage it occupied within the gallery space. A pattern in black and white had been painted onto the wall, wrapping the room and melting onto a grayed floor. I didn’t know what the pattern represented but I knew I loved it. The repetition was calming and invigorating at the same time.

Standing on pedestals (or as I later realized hovering slightly above them suspended from the ceiling) were these beautiful beings that you could tell had been handcrafted with colourful textiles that added more pattern to delight the eye. They were fashioned with lumps and bumps but also with feet so I got the sense that some hybrid being had emerged from the artist’s imagination.

Nothing immediately came to mind to compare them to but the entire effect of the patterned wall, free floating sculptures and pedestals that felt more like architectural remnants made for maximum impact!

I was excited to see the show at the Textile Museum so that I could get a sense of it all – up close and personal.

2. PHYSICAL EXPERIENCE 

What I was looking forward to the most in seeing Jérôme’s work in the flesh was the experience of being enveloped by the install. I admire artists who know how to create an environment that makes me feel as though I am walking into a very different kind of space, one that catches me off guard – disarming me a little or provoking me a lot.

Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi Yasui. Image from the Textile Museum

Fictions and Legends, that also includes the meticulous and stunning work of Heather Goodchild, did not disappoint! Immediately upon entering the exhibit you know you have walked into a show that is going to be a very different experience than one would expect at the Textile Museum or any other gallery for that matter.

The first room I walked into was wrapped with fabric on which Heather had painted symbols that felt religious and words that felt sacred. Thick curtains closed off secret spaces. Once inside those spaces I was met with rug hookings that seemed antique in their technique but the scenes depicted didn’t match the pastoral compositions you would expect. They felt foreboding – almost apocalyptic. The scene on the last rug before the entrance to Jérôme’s space made me particularly uncomfortable but I will come back to that.

Heather Goodchild, Get Behind Me. Image from the Textile Museum

I then stepped into the space that Jérôme had constructed. This room was devoid of the curtains that acted as barriers in Heather’s install. In fact, just like the images I saw online, everything was installed without obstructions.

I had yet to see all of Heather’s work so I left Jérôme’s area to enter into the final scenes she had created. This time, instead of textiles on the walls, porcelain figurines, bigger than dolls but smaller than life-size, were configured into scenes that read as vaguely Biblical, some sort of moral tale was being told even if I couldn’t call up an immediate reference as to who and what. The scenes, much like the rug hooking on the walls, were haunting. Some of the female figurines seemed to be committing dirty deeds done dirt cheap. As I overheard one person say Heather’s work contained “creatures we don’t understand and stories we don’t want to tell.”

Heather Goodchild, installation view. Photo: Naomi YasuiImage from the Textile Museum

In all of the scenes Heather constructed there was an implied demarcation where the viewer was to stand, like an impotent witness.

Heather’s work was cloistered, staged and secretive; precious and breakable therefore untouchable. Her figures were stark white and clearly female with contrived faces with unbroken expressions; poses that were rigid and fixed.

When juxtaposed with Jérôme’s work I couldn’t help but feel that the two installs where pushing off each other with an intense force – in binary opposition.

For everything Heather’s work was Jérôme’s was not – out in the open and close enough to touch; made of fabric that was flexible enough to withstand impact. The hybrid beings referenced ‘blackness’ and their bricolage bodies were stitched together from fragments of nylon and cotton leftovers making them uneven and soft, although sturdy. They each hung suspended, turning slowly to animate the space. In Heather’s install there was silence. In  Jérôme’s the sound of wild birds.

I didn’t recall, from my reading of the exhibit prior to entering, that it was meant to be an exhibit speaking on the subject of race but in this space, the realities of race seemed inescapable.


I returned many times trying to reach back to that first moment when I saw Jérôme’s work and had read it so differently.

My experience provoked me and I needed to get to the bottom of it. When I attended a LUFF Art + Dialogue’s Open Sesame Event discussing the Fictions & Legends show I entered into a room full of knowledgeable art professionals but it was a predominately white space. Jérôme was in attendance. Would he would let the cat out of the bag that the artist was present? Even if he didn’t it, the obvious elephant in the room was the fact that he was the one black male in a group of mostly white bodies. How would this fact impact the discussion?

Just prior to seeing Jérôme’s work I had attended the Vodou Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of Civilzation. In an effort to works towards better understanding of their spiritual practice, hopefully resulting in new found respect, members of the Haitian Vodou community in Montreal were involved in the organization of the show. As I walked through the exhibit though I wondered if people would be able to see (feel) past their preconceived notions. We grow up on a steady diet of stereotypes so much so that the unconscious must store those unsettling thoughts, maybe even keeping them under wraps, but they aren’t so buried that they can’t emerge in an unfortunate moment.

And just before the Vodou exhibit  I had visited the National Gallery in Ottawa where part of Carrie Mae Weem’s From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried was installed on a wall. On the four red tinted ethnographic daguerreotypes of black men and black women are the words:

You become a scientific profile,

a negroid type,

an anthropological debate,

a photographic subject.

In reviewing Jérôme’s work to sit down and write out my thoughts for this post I look again at one of the first images I saw of his work. I see something I hadn’t noticed before. A framed image hanging on the wall that reads:

When will we be just beautiful?

The Fact the lies in Fictions and Legends

In Fictions and Legends, the scene in the rug hooking that left me so unsettled was of a white female body lying on the ground with her back to the viewer. Overshadowing her body like a storm cloud is a black animal-like being, pressing itself into her skin.

In the Exhibition Overview I read:

“Both artists tease out our deepest collective cultural experiences, practices and beliefs by proposing evocative truths in the form of fictions and legends.”

For as far as humanity has come regarding race, in a mind’s deep recesses not consciously inhabited, what lies in opposition to whiteness is still blackness.

Fictions and Legends closes this weekend. Don’t miss a chance to experience this engaging exhibit without comparision!

View more of Jérôme Havre’s work here.

For more of Heather’s work visit www.heathergoodchild.com.

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

CLOSING THIS WEEKEND: Geoffrey Farmer @ Mercer Union & Maya textiles from Guatemala @ Textile Museum Toronto

Two pieces of art work framed. On left photograph of two young girls with angel wings, on right photograph of older woman with halo, mixed media collage
Work by Verónica Riedel. Image courtesy of the Textile Museum.

Ancestry and Artistry: Maya textiles from Guatemala

“Cloth holds great importance for Guatemala’s indigenous communities, and traditional dress plays an essential role in Maya identity today as a vital link with the ancestral past and a means of cultural reinvention. Whether worn for religious ceremonies or as an emblem of ethnic pride, textiles offer a medium for innovation and creative expression, as well as a marketable product for the tourist industry. Through an array of textiles patterned with evocative designs rich in iconography, Ancestry and Artistry traces a century of dynamic change as well as the remarkable continuity of ancient Maya traditions in the face of significant modernization, political upheaval, and religious transformation.

Integrated into the exhibition is the work of contemporary artists Andrea Aragón, Verónica Riedel, and photo-journalist Jean-Marie Simon.” More info

Textile Museum of Canada
55 Centre Ave (Dundas St. W & University Ave., St. Patrick subway stop), Toronto, M5G 2H5
Open Daily 11 am – 5pm
Admission $15 adult, $6 student


Boneyard by Geoffrey Farmer. Image source Now Magazine.

A Light In The Moon: Geoffrey Farmer

“In her 1977 book On Photography Susan Sontag pronounced “to collect photographs is to collect the world.” This statement resonates with the work of Geoffrey Farmer who excavates multifarious cultural histories, from the life of Frank Zappa and his Mothers of Invention, photographs in Life magazine between 1935 and 1985, Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Nabokov’s 1962 novel Pale Fire, to the figure of Aloysius Snuffleupagus from Sesame Street. Rather than existing in isolation these stories, or histories, are intertwined with social and political events, music, visual art, film and happenstance through atmospheric and multifaceted installations combining video, film, sculptural elements, found objects, and sound. The exhibitionary moment becomes a magical space to tackle larger themes of the dialectical relationship between reality and artifice, how we understand our existence, knowledge and power.

A Light In The Moon refers to Gertrude Stein’s 1914 poem which breaks from a possible ‘sensible decision’ to a litany of options, possibilities, excitements and creations. Often playful, Farmer’s work leads us to renegotiate how we look at objects, and the meanings they elicit. In gathering histories, stories, objects, sounds, and images through poetic and theatrical installations, Farmer prompts wonder and undermines and disrupts the very concept of categorization or an encyclopedia of the world in which we live. Underlining such ideas is the capacity for anything, an object or an artwork, to alter its role and significance alluding to continual transformation and the potential for change.” More info…

Mercer Union
1286 Bloor Street West. Toronto, M6H 1N9 (One block east of Lansdowne TTC Station)
Saturday 11 am – 6 pm (Closed on Sundays)
Admission FREE

Take a moment this weekend to see these short but sweet shows!

OPENING THIS WEEK: GTA Art Shows @ Ryerson, Textile Museum, Prefix, A Space, Markham Museum & Manifesto Festival

Jam-packed. Art. Week.

OPENING WEDNESDAY
Ghost Dance: Activism. Resistance. Art.

Ryerson Image Centre
6 – 8 pm
Runs until December 15

Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.”  More info…

Farandole: Perspectives on Western Canadian Metis Culture
Textile Museum of Canada
6:30 – 8 pm
Runs until November 14

“The exhibition’s title refers to a traditional French dance involving a chain formed as dancers hold hands, moving along in the leader’s path, captured in the cyclical relationship of collaboration, appropriation, and inspiration at the heart of Farandole. Exploring the ongoing connections between Métis and francophone culture, the exhibition offers a unique look at the continuum of high end fashion and traditional costume, storytelling, beadwork, weaving and embroidery. An innovative examination of 21st-century identity, Farandole reinforces the Textile Museum of Canada’s commitment to engaging experiences and creative practices that provide insight into our global context.” More info…

OPENING THURSDAY
Trade Marks: Keesic Douglas, Meryl McMaster, Nigit’stil Norbert & Bear Witness
Prefix @ 401 Richmond
7 – 10 pm
Runs until November 23

“Trade Marks presents a new generation of Indigenous artists who, through their various artistic strategies, challenge and interrogate working assumptions of who they are. The exhibition contributes to the recently revived conversation on what it is to be Indigenous in Canada today. It also considers how these artists have responded to the imposition of Western systems of classification on non-Western arts and how their artistic practices have been informed by methodologies of decolonization.”  More info…

This exhibition is presented by Prefix in association with ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

FYI – As Part of CULTURE DAYS curator Betty Julian will be giving a walk-through of the exhibit on Saturday, September 28 @ 2 – 2:30 pm. More info…


OPENING SATURDAY
Manifesto’s Sacred Seven Art Exhibition
& Heartist Pre-Show Panel Discussion
918 Bathurst St. (Dupont)
Panel Discussion (RSVP to rsvp@themanifesto.ca )
4- 6 pm

“HEARTIST A pre-show panel discussion and audience talk back about the growth of mentor-mentee collaborations in Canada, how they work, and add value to the health of the Canadian arts sector.” More Info…

Sacred Seven Art Exhibition
6 – 1 am

“The 7th Annual Manifesto Art Show will explore the notions of connectedness and evolution as we present thought-provoking works from over 25 artist across Canada and internationally.” More info…

Land|Slide Possible Futures
Markham Museum
Runs until October 14

“Land|Slide Possible Futures is a groundbreaking large-scale public art exhibition which responds to a world in transition where the past, present and future collide. The landscape of Markham will be transformed by the work of over 30 national and international artists to explore themes of multiculturalism, sustainability, and community.” More Info…

For directions on how to get there from Toronto including directions for TTC & Free Shuttle Services from MOCCA on every Saturday starting September 21  as well as this Sunday, September 22 click here.

Lovesick Child: Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw, Leslie McCue, & Adrian Stimson
A Space Gallery
Runs until October 26
Opening Reception October 18, 5:30 PM – 7:30 PM

Lovesick Child is Toronto’s first retrospective exhibition between A Space Gallery and the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival on Aboriginal new media pioneer Âhasiw Maskêgon-Iskwêw. His work with the Canada Council for the Arts and the Banff Centre on a number of equity and new media initiatives such as Drum Beats to Drum Bytesin 1994 ensured Indigenous presence within the new territory of new media and the Internet.” More Info…