And all of a Sudden…. | Curatorial Essay

And All Of A Sudden Curatorial Essay

by Simone Rojas-Pick

There is an old Yiddish parable: “Man Plans, and God Laughs.” Certainly, the last two years have elucidated the truth of such a statement. Despite our most careful planning, even our best-laid plans can be unexpectedly upended. As guest curators, we chose to lean into this idea as a call to action for artists to reflect on their own experiences during the pandemic. More importantly, we wanted to shed a light on how uncertainty and doubt can be a powerful catalyst for creativity and experimentation.

American conceptual artist John Baldessari said: “Art comes out of failure. You have to try things out. You can’t sit around, being terrified of being incorrect.” To embrace doubt is to liberate oneself from the maddening quest for perfection. Adopting this mode of thinking can be both transformative and affirmational. It forces one to dare to go beyond the expected and truly innovate. It is specifically in this space that the creative mind thrives. Truly visionary artistic thinking is the ability to break through limits and exercise a critical mode of thinking rather than working with set assumptions. 

As curators, we were interested in: What happens when one embraces uncertainty, and perhaps even the possibility of failure, as a vital part of the creative process? Highlighting a diversity of media and voices, the works presented in this exhibition span: explorations of unexpected materials and alternative processes; themes of transformation and being in a state of in-between; artistic gestures, patterning and mark making; and using found objects and personal items to create a visual archive of ones lived experiences. What emerges is an exciting and dynamic portrait of the unwavering vigour of the creative spirit during times of hardship. 

Concerted plays with alternative materials, processes, and fabrication techniques underscore the ingenuity woven into the DNA of the artistic spirit. Carlina Chen’s “TTC Roundabout, created using alternative DIY printmaking techniques by repurposing a manual pasta maker, or Rob Sirignano’s charming felt construction, fashioned when the artist was seeking a solution for absorbing sound in a glass office, illustrate particularly clever approaches to creative problem solving, yielding exciting and thought-provoking results. In other cases, like Doris Purchase’s “Nothing Level and Karen Klucowicz’s “I thought of you, forgoing the boundaries of the pictorial frame altogether to create objects that are open-ended and subverts against audience expectations. Through their respective material and process-focused explorations, we can see inventiveness that emerges when experimenting in the studio. This can even include something as simple as hanging a piece up by the corner to instantly transform it into a fresh new form, as in Susan Ruptash’s “x

Themes of metamorphosis and liminality are woven throughout the exhibition. They speak to a fundamental desire to find meaning when faced with the unknowable. Elyse Longair’s triptych Suspended Animationexplores questions of reconciling selfhood and identity in a world caught in a state of flux. Patrick Stieber’s photograph the Sound explores unrealized energy and looking forward into the undiscovered, asking: will it crush, or empower us? Pam Patterson’s diptychDrawing on Water marries photo documentation of an earlier performance piece, digitally altered and then overlaid with drawings, to examine issues surrounding boundaries (both physical and societal) to communicate their own experience with pandemic uncertainty. What emerges are broader existential questions that seek to capture what it feels like to be in varying states of becoming, like Nadine Wyczolkowski’s “Eventide captures a building in the process being demolished, caught between the past and the present, or Ulla Djelweh’s Milkweed capturing the moment when the seed pods bursts. 

Humour also plays an important role within the exhibition. Wry and sometimes delightfully irreverent, the artists who turn to humour use it as strategy for drawing the viewer’s attention to the absurdity of contemporary life. Be it Mike Callaghan’s photographic collage are your tomatoes epic?” depicting two figures seated at a dinner table wearing military helmets or Robin Ouellette’s stained glass Apocalyptic Sorcery illustrating two medieval alchemists staring at a cell phone, baffled by this technology from the future. Similarly, in Preeti Schaden’s photographic self portrait Trying, the artist reveals themself stumbling through the technical challenges of being both creative director and model, while Gabriella Solti’s drawings from the artist’s I have a plan… series, uses the imagery of the crumbled ball of paper as a witticism for aborted, discarded or abandoned failed plans and Ian Mackenzie’s “How to Know when Your Drawing is Finished humorously addresses a common experience for many artists, but taking it to an absurd extreme. 

The impetus to archive lived experiences also comes to the fore. Dorota Dziong’s still life The typewriter and the chess clock chronicles experiences of displacement as a result of economic uncertainty, and how they intersect with Toronto’s housing crisis. We see other artists incorporating found objects and ephemera to document particular milestones and express personal narratives. This is seen in Isabella Francesco’s “Morse street journals 13 ~ O (oh dear, oh shit, oh well), where the artist used personal journal fragments to chronicle the dissolution of a long-term relationship to achieve closure. Similarly,  Robert Quance’s “Electric Rainbow and Sean Sinclair-Day’s “Anxiety Echoes”, embrace bright, saturated colours and pop art aesthetics to explore mental health struggles. There is an intrinsic relatability to these creative gestures and accounts that speaks to both personal and universal.  

Lastly, for others the visual language of abstraction becomes a salient avenue for exploring the psychic dissonance that can occur when faced with the unknowable and to potentially untangle complex emotions. This is seen in the obsessive repeating designs and patterns found in Sarah Fabrizi’s “Dot and Line and Lori Fonger’s “Iris”, which use densely layered hypnotic abstract visual motifs, or techniques of aesthetic reduction to emphasize and make visible the physicality of the artist’s gestures, as in HyunRyoung Kim’s minimalist Push, Pull and Uncertainty or Em Leighton Hern’s diptych Dream House, which deliberately calls attention to the artists compulsive over working of the pictorial surface. In other cases, like Emily Zou’s “Dark Matter where the artist used found material to construct a three-dimensional object, reminiscent of a tight, complex network of spider webs, fastidiously winding, intertwining, and tying for hundreds of hours as an outlet to dispel anxious energy. This formalist approach makes visible exuberance and intensity of these artistic gestures. The compositions are active and layered, never static, accentuating their physical and material qualities.  

Art making is a pursuit where doubt lies in wait at every turn. Unlike other disciplines, in the realm of Art ‘failure’ has a different currency. Within creative disciplines, failure occupies a conceptually paradoxical space between expectations, intention and realization. The word’s etymology is derived from the 17th century Anglo-French ‘failer’, which refers to a ‘non-occurrence’ or ‘cessation of supply’. This concept of a ‘non-occurrence’ is particularly salient here because it emphasizes how the production of ideas has no end point. Ultimately, questions hold more power than answers. 

This exhibition frames the artistic impetus and need to create amidst global uncertainty as a radical act. What does it mean as an artist to claim a productive space where doubt is embraced, dogma is rejected, and risk is considered a viable position? The possibilities are limitless. If “we plan, and God laughs”, then perhaps we might choose to reframe our mindset and be open to finding the humour when faced with the unknown and unexpected. 

Essay Written by: Simone Rojas-Pick
Edited by: Averill Elisa Frankes

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