Log 9 - A trip to the gallery

As I mentioned in my last log, I asked my Contemporary Illustration + Commentary students to take a field trip to a local gallery and ‘report’ on their experience through creating a zine. And I did one, too!

There were two parts to the project: actually going and taking notes about my observations that day, and then curating it and creating a zine. The zine-creation got a bit out of hand, but only because I was having so much fun with it! I, as well as many of the students, had made zines before, but not in a long time– it was really nice to make little booklet from start to finish.

Here’s what I came up with:

The ‘cover’ folds out to create a little ‘gallery’ box, while the interior accordion-style pages can also fold up to stand vertically, creating ‘walls’. My experience of touring around the U of T architecture studios that I did before going to the Art Gallery of Ontario, definitely influenced me in the form, as well!

Here’s a more web-friendly readable version of the content:

4:15am 8:00am Text 1: Taught second years. it was a chill class. they’re working on a storyboard project. they’re a great bunch. I’m at that point in the semester where I’m second-guessing my own ability, but impressed by their’s. Text 2: ‘This is gonna be the best class!’, ‘reality check’, ‘some cool work gets made’, ‘break week’, ‘the grind’, ‘at least we survived bit’ 12:00am

text: the lake + the Lakeshore/Gardiner. We’re getting into Toronto now. I hate drawing cars.text: the lake + the Lakeshore/Gardiner. We’re getting into Toronto now. I hate drawing cars. Text: delivious lunch at crimson teas. It was so much I couldn’t finish it. Catch up with Gabe + Lily. They’re working at U of T’s architecture school. We gossip about the college/university stuff. They’re putting on a really cool workshop next week. As much as we like learning, hlping students, and generally what schools stand for, they’re also businesses.Text: delivious lunch at crimson teas. It was so much I couldn’t finish it. Catch up with Gabe + Lily. They’re working at U of T’s architecture school. We gossip about the college/university stuff. They’re putting on a really cool workshop next week. As much as we like learning, hlping students, and generally what schools stand for, they’re also businesses.

touring the architecture program studios

1:45pm Gabe tours me around the Daniel’s Campus. There’s so many cool things! Laser-cutters, 2$ lattes… Text: the space is all ‘modular’ and ‘flexible’ and ‘responsive’. There are moveable walls to create classrooms (and student models stored within them – everywhere). but there’s no quiet space, no privacy, either. 1100 undergraduates, 400 graduates. text 1: we’re building a giant model of philosopher’s walk! …it’s due tomorrow. text 2: wow! text: The students do a project where they design a space for an artwork by an indigenous artist. I liked this one – white blocks of styrofoam carved out. literally destroying the ‘white cube’ gallery spce.

2:30pm When I get to the AGO it’s already 2:30, and they close early at 5. I drop my bags, squeeze my sketchbook and pencil case into my pockets and get started. Surprisingly, I run into students from class in the first room — and throughout my visit, I end up seeing a few little groups of them throughout! They seem to be enjoying themselves.

I’m really noticing where my attention is going, because of this ongoing reportage activity. There are coincidences, strangers I end up travelling with, people that seem like unique characters rather than crowds on the street sidewalks, peeking into store windows shows scenes of everyday life like a tableau. Perhaps it’s also because there’s an element of editing already at play; I’m wondering, ‘do I make note of that? Is it worth recording?’ There’s dozens of little things I want to capture, but I also know it can’t all fit.

In the gallery it’s even worse — there’s so much. But I know my personal preferences: I don’t even bother with the classical / antique works, nor the ship models, nor even the modern exhibits. I’m here for the contemporary shows that are on rotation. But even then, there’s this feeling of urgency. It’s hard for me to slow down and take my time — I think this is a common feeling in large galleries/museums like the AGO.

Denyse Thomasos’ show

cages, enclosures, envelopes

It’s the second time I’m seeing Denyse’s show. I think the first time I went I was looking more closely at the work, thinking about the shapes and forms that seemed to emerge or dissolve in the paint strokes. The paintings straddle the line (ha) between 2D and 3D; some are simple repetitions of flat strokes, but when layered like she does it there’s sense of depth, in a way that reminds me of window blinds. Others are much more alike to architectural drawings, schematics, or perspective grids.

She painted like she was drawing

One of my favourite parts of the exhibition is a collection of her sketchbooks. There’s one that’s open to a page that says something like, ‘I must find a way to travel more, do more residencies. It’s so good for me’. From another sketchbook page:

My work is about cages, about enclosure, being enveloped. I think of the ‘cage’ as a political object — it is not an idea really. It is like saying my idea is a ‘line’. That is not an idea — it is still visual. What is my idea. Many artists never really have an idea. When I critique them I realize they are looking or watching for their idea. The activity in the studio is just keeping them busy until something happens. I never thought of myself as one of ‘those’ artists but now I am wondering. What is my idea outside or apart from a visual language. Should a visual artist have an idea outside of a visual idea — is it possible.

I like and relate to her thinking, this kind of vulnerable doubt– or perhaps less doubt, and more wonder or curiosity. And I also relate to both sides of it: seeing other artists and observing them, yet also being blind to my own actions and reasoning. The language of “my idea” is interesting, too. As if there’s ownership or a claim on it, as well as the singular. Another blurb on one of the gallery walls states that the work is about survival. And I wonder if she came up with that, or the curators or critics, did.

With the larger paintings in particular, they feel like they’re like a picture window of a space you could perhaps step into, one that’s full of gridded, storied buildings, or boats docked, or cages stacked upon each other. A brilliant, unexpected moment happened upon leaving the exhibition (which is on the top floor of the gallery) and stepping through the door to a landing of one of the gallery’s exterior spiral staircases. This one looks northward, over the Annex. The infrastructure of the city, the gridded streets, the stacking rooftops and geometric condo buildings all feel like another of Denyse’s paintings. This feeling carried on throughout the rest of my visit — and that’s the power of art, and maybe gallery spaces, serving as a portal to shift your perspective to one that looks at even your mundane surroundings appear unusual — the exposed skeleton of the boat-like atrium, and the ceiling in the Henry Moore gallery were reminiscent of her work. I found several connections between her work, Henry Moore etchings of Elephant skulls, and David Ruben Piqtoukun’s whale bone sculptures. Drawing/sketching and taking notes was a really enjoyable way of engaging with the gallery, and I felt like I was seeing more connections/noteworthy aspects because of it.

the artist is present

This time around, I was struck by the presence of her in the space and the work. I forgot for a moment that she was dead, and then when I remembered, I was sad.

There’s a real physicality to the work: the massive scale of some of them, that envelopes your vision when you stand close to them, or that encloses a viewer when you’re watching from afar. The way each line was drawn deliberately and in a way that makes it easy to imagine her at work, repetitively building up the layers of paint and marks. There are videos of her at work, on a stool pushing paint on a canvas, and interviews with people that knew her.

And then there’s the personal ephemera: a pair of paint-splattered shoes, plastic tubs of paint (staged, but similar to what you’d find in her studio), the sketchbooks that have handwritten notes on the pages.

I was thinking about this body of work (and even the language of ‘body’ in this case), and the things an artist leaves behind. And thinking about all my stuff. What would it be like to have my sketchbooks and thoughts laid open after my death? My worn studio slippers? In a way, you could think of the artist’s work as just an ongoing process of recording thought.

I had only found out the week before that Denyse had actually attended Sheridan, and that there’s one of her paintings displayed in a hallway I often walk past. So in a way, she was already present in my life.

Looking at people looking at art

I always forget about the physicality of the gallery — standing, walking around, the hard concrete floors. That artist is right, we need more benches. Is it about anti-loitering? No sleeping? Isn’t the point, however, to spend time with artwork. — a note from my sketchbook

The artist I’m thinking of ^, Finnegan Shannon:

Upon retrospect there was only five or so couches that were actually nearby artwork.

I envied the older person who had a walker with a fold out seat.

I was noticing how other visitors engaged with the artwork and the space. There was a huge range of people, and ways of being in the galleries. And– of course, this happened, but it was kind of funny in an absurd way– I watched someone sit on one of the two couches in the big room, looking at one of the massive paintings… and then take out his phone to take a photo from his seat (thumb in frame). Instantly, the 20-foot painting was reduced to not even two inches on the screen. Just instant compression.

I was taking photos, too– everyone was!

The only exhibit where people didn’t seem to be recording was the Jónsi sound installation. I really like it: it’s a circle of over a hundred speakers arranged around a low platform that you can sit on. It’s dark in the room, though a diffused overhead light occasionally flickers on, and smells like one of those hot-stone saunas. It’s a soundscape/piece created from imagining what being inside an erupting volcano would be like. You really can’t capture the fullness of the experience through your phone. Especially as compared to the Kusama Infinity Room, which is ironically next door to it, and which I find more interesting in photograph form rather than in person.

heading home


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