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.

THE MIX IN TORONTO THIS WEEK: Ichimaru, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Fatoumata Diawara, Jon Blak & Jean-Luc Godard

Black grafitti wall with faces outlined in white Corner of Richmond & John St. Toronto. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Are we in a new time and place?

In a Ali Baba franchise off Richmond Street in Toronto I sat with two friends eating falafel. It was time for the sunset call to prayer. The voice of an imam sang Bismillah ar-rahman ar-rahim out from the owner’s laptop.

One friend was explaining Métis history to the other friend originally from Paris. Mon ami parisien paused. With a growing look of elation on his face he declared how beautiful this moment was – the Arabic praise to Allah here in Toronto, traditional Anishinaabe territory, on a busy urban street while speaking of the Métis, a word that is rooted in the French for ‘mix’.

It was a beautiful moment that we, in this hyper-hybrid context of Canada in the 21st Century, can easily take for granted. But these conversations are powerful because they are the wards that support us moving forward towards deep and empathetic inclusivity. The power of storytelling!

And what is happening this week in the Toronto culture scene is storytelling from a multiplicity of viewpoints using various artistic mediums.

It’s going to be a great week!

Portrait of Geisha in black and white

From Geisha to Diva: The Kimonos of Ichimaru opens today at the Textile Museum, tomorrow evening is Anishinaabe writer / activist Leanne Betasamosake Simpson launch of “Islands of Decolonial Love”, Saturday Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara will be performing at Koerner Hall and “Home: Photographs of Jon Blak” opens at The Gladstone Hotel. Finally the French connection – the films of Jean-Luc Godard are being featured at TIFF this week until mid-February.

(left image of Geisha Ichimaru provided by the Textile Museum)

 

From Geisha to Diva: The Kimonos of Ichimaru

“The fascinating life of Ichimaru (1906-1997), one of the most famous geishas of the 20th century due to her exceptional singing voice, is told through this collection of her magnificent kimonos and other personal effects. In the 1930s, Ichimaru left geishahood to pursue an illustrious career as a full-time recording artist, but even as a diva, she continued to perform in full geisha regalia.” Read more…

Runs through to May 25, 2014
Hours Daily 11 am – 5 pm
Wednesdays 11 am – 8 pm
$15 General Admission
Pay What You Can Wednesdays from 5 – 8 pm

Woman speaking and holding beaded wampum belt with other panelists
Leanne Simpson speaking on a panel at Niigaan Gala. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

The Catalyst Café featuring Leanne Simpson, Tara Williamson, Sean Conway & Nick Ferrio

“Leanne teamed up with Indigenous musicians including Tara Williamson, Nick Ferrio, Sean Conway, Sarah Decarlo, Melody McKiver, Cris Derksen & A Tribe Called Red, to record writings from her book Islands of Decolonial Love as a spoken word/musical performance.

Renowned writer and activist Leanne Simpson vividly explores the lives of contemporary Indigenous Peoples and communities, especially those of her own Nishnaabeg nation in her debut collection of short stories in Islands of Decolonial Love.” Read more…

Thursday January 30
8-10pm @ The Music Gallery, Toronto’s Centre For Creative Music
197 John St.
Doors Open @ 7pm
$15 | $10 students Purchase Tickets Here

Image of female singer in African and western style outfitFatourmata Diawara performing at Luminato 2012. Image by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Fatoumata Diawara with Bassekou Kouyate

“Named by TIME magazine in late 2012 as one of the next 10 artists poised for stardom, Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara originally moved to France to study acting, and appeared in several films before picking up the guitar and writing her own songs. “Enchanting and blissful. Her well-crafted songs are often light and breezy, but her soulful voice brings a bluesy depth and potency that can stop you in your tracks.” Read more…

Saturday, February 1
8 pm @ Koerner Hall
Purchase Tickets Here

HOME: Photographs by Jon Blak

“Home presents photographs by Jon Blak that explore Caribbean Canadian history, culture, art and music with a particular focus on youth culture. Toronto-based photographer Jon Blak works as an artist and educational outreach mentor. Much of his work addresses racism, stereotypes, and role-modelling for young people. Blak’s images reflect the changing contemporary cultural milieu in both Jamaica and Canada as he examines issues around class, race and cultural production to celebrate the impact of community. Home will include an interactive installation, and a short documentary film by Matthew Mulholland.” Read more…

Opening Saturday, February 1
10 pm – 1 am @ The Gladstone Hotel
Runs until February 28
12 – 5pm Daily 2nd Floor Gallery

PRESENTED BY WEDGE CURATORIAL WITH THE GLADSTONE HOTEL AS PART OF TD THEN & NOW SERIES 2014

Godard Forever: Part One

“The first part of our massive, two-season Jean-Luc Godard retrospective — spanning the French New Wave master’s “Golden Age” from his epochal debut Breathless to the apocalyptic nightmare of Weekend — comprises perhaps the most innovative, influential and revolutionary body of work in all of cinema.”More info & full schedule…

Runs until February 13 at TIFF Bell Lightbox on King St. W.

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!