Belonging With an Interconnected Ego

An accompanying text by Nico Glaude, on the Z’otz* Collective’s exhibition EVICTED FROM THE ANTHILL

No artist can ever be without ego. It’s one of the motivating factors that make everyday people want to become artists. Aside from the creative process and expression, there are many elements that go hand in hand with both ego and art. Validation, recognition, selling a piece of art, getting a standing ovation, winning a grant or receiving an award, all feed into and fuel the creative ego and the desire to strive for more. At times, an artist might not have much more than their ego to sustain that primordial drive; tackling bigger projects can mean greater success, more press and more opportunities when artists let their ego guide them.

Speaking with the Z’otz* Collective, it’s surprising how little consideration is given to each member’s individual ego. In fact, complete disregard of ego is an ever-present factor in their art-making process. Their murals are rarely sketched out beforehand; each individual of this 3-piece collective comes to the wall with their own separate ideas; there’s little to no verbal communication between them as they work, although they do leave little hints behind for the other members as to what direction they think the piece should take and what it should look like. Interestingly enough, these hints are often misconstrued and can become something entirely different than what was initially intended, and so the piece becomes something new, something unexpected. It can seem like an obvious notion, especially when working within a collective, but that dynamic can play itself out multiple times throughout the creation of one mural. In a way, it’s that give and take between each individual member’s ego that allows the Z’otz* Collective to create these ephemeral murals that seem to have been created by the same hand.

Their murals are silent narratives, incorporating familiar objects, elements of nature and animals that all blend into one linear piece. While many of these individual elements might seem familiar, that familiarity gives way to the ambiguity of the final, interconnected piece. Merging these elements creates a sense of uneasiness, but the ambiguity of it all invites us to look past the unknown and embrace a certain sense of ambivalence, which finally leads to a place of understanding. We realize that the Z’otz* Collective’s murals aren’t about the singular, standalone elements, but rather are about the process of becoming aware of the whole—that there are no separate elements and that everything is interconnected.

Part of this portrayal of interconnectedness is achieved through the depiction of animals and our personal relationships with them. There are a lot of conflicting emotions and actions at play between humans and animals. The Z’otz* murals remind us that life demands respect. After all, we’re all interconnected and we need to be partners with life—to embrace it, to nourish it and to understand our impact.

The Z’otz* Collective’s murals engage and connect with viewers by bringing them back to themselves. Even if the imaginative settings are unfamiliar, the ambiguity really doesn’t come across as alienating. Rather, the odd juxtapositions arouse curiosity in the overall narrative and can ultimately lead to an understanding of the work that’s rooted in a deep sense of belonging.

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Nico Glaude is a Sudbury based installation artist, curator and raconteur. Everyone has an emotional investment in Sudbury and he values that by creating and curating work that is as fried, sweaty, cheap, fun and awful as any other experience you can have here. Mind of nickel, heart of gold.


BESHAABIIGANAN – In The Media

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Thanks to Le Voyageur newspaper for their article on Darlene Naponse, Deanna Nebenionquit, and Tanya Lukin Linklater’s BESHAABIIGANAN.

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Thanks also to the Le matin du Nord show at Radio-Canada for welcoming us and talking about the exhibition !

Le matin du Nord

 

 


Return to the Enchanted World

Reflections: “le homecoming” by jenna dawn maclellan
an accompanying text by Guylaine Tousignant

“[i]f the writer cuts himself off from his childhood, his roots, his oneiric ancestral memory, he deprives himself of all his artistic means.”

Jacques Derrida

“I really wanted to go back to being playful, just having fun with the materials and not worrying about perfection.”

jenna dawn maclellan

The enchanted world was not invented by Walt Disney. It is a world as old as the world, a place of magic, where reality is lost in dream, and dream in reality. It is the land of childhood. It is a land that always lies within us, whether we want it to or not.

When we leave it, it calls us back. When we try to forget it, it calls us out. It wields a force over us that can attract or repel us, like a black bear in a garbage dump.

There is magic in this place where we first played, where we threw our first stones, where we imagined what life might be, where we built it for ourselves with the tools and materials at hand: a chainsaw, some wood, a shovel, some snow, scissors, some fabric, pencils, and a little cardboard.

This place is the cabin and the bonfire.

To remember it is to travel freely in a world of the imagination. During winter, we remember ourselves picnicking in our favourite summer dress, gathering snowballs; during summer, we take snowmobiles through trails coloured with crushed berries.

In the image, the cord of wood is always perfectly there.

Shooting stars fall from the sky in all seasons. Wishes will come true.

Life, as seen through memory, whether it’s our own or someone else’s, is like a dream that’s real. We know that life is not like that, but we don’t know that we know it, and it’s good that way.

This enchanted world is where we must go when we forget how we ever came to grow up, when we forget how to be children.

In that moment, it’s always good to go back home.

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Guylaine Tousignant is a writer and freelancer. She lives in Windsor, Ontario.


When The Centre Loses Hold

An accompanying text by Maty Ralph

How political is your lamp? And when it comes to philosophy, how profound is your desk? Does your kettle whistle, or scream about revolution? Is your chair a degenerate?

Hold on. Perhaps this line of questioning is premature. Maybe I started in the wrong place…

In the beginning there was conception. An idea was born. A design conceived. Materials were considered, chosen, manipulated. Eventually, a physical form manifested. The idea could now be used. But in order to be used it must be sold. Value was determined. Replicas were made. And if all went according to plan, profit was gained.

And so, a timeline is established. The idea, which began in the mind, was executed in the studio, produced in the factory, and sold in the store, finally becomes part of a functioning home, each day inching its way closer to the last stage of life: junk.

All junk began as an idea. But do all ideas turn to junk?

Out of This Light, Into This Shadow…

The Bauhaus was an idea -several ideas, in fact- that would illuminate the world of design forever. The school championed respect for materials, space, aesthetic and functionality. It was a place where art informed craft and where practicality was fused with beauty. This was the birthplace of the International Style.

But soon the shadow of Nazi Germany fell over Europe. To the Nationalists, the Bauhaus was a school of degenerates. The ideas they championed were a threat. And so, like many others, they were silenced.

Luckily, the principles and philosophies that thrived during the Bauhaus’ fifteen years emerged from the ashes of WWII, relatively unharmed. The ideas survived, and were utilized, exploited, edited, abridged, and manipulated over the years. What we are left with are designs standing on the shoulders of thoughts standing on the shoulders of the past.

And with all these changes, what of that past remains? Do our designs still challenge tyranny? Would the Nazis view IKEA as degenerate art? Would they consider your desk lamp a threat?

It’s obvious that the aesthetics of modern design echo the Bauhaus to this day, but Juan Ortiz-Apuey has shown us that when you peel away the facade, there is an emptiness at the core.

Design has gone the way of blockbuster movies and pop music. Formula without thought. Replicate the success of the past, but make it cheaper. And quicker. Trim the fat. Edit out the prophet in favour of the profit.

As an exploration of this inherent vapidity in consumer culture, Out of This Light, Into This Shadow could easily wag its finger at capitalism gone awry, but it doesn’t. If a villain is to be cast in this narrative, corporate greed is as worthy of candidacy as consumer complacency.

It’s not enough for us to conclude that we are being sold a hollow, flimsy version of the past. We already knew that much.

We must also wonder why we don’t expect more; Why we don’t demand a return to form. We grew to accept that the furnishings that surround us need not be innovative or profound or even ethical, as long as the aesthetics are enjoyable.

In our uncritical embrace of transient design we have lost sight of the fact that all junk started out as an idea. We now operate under the reverse pretext that all ideas are destined to become junk. And with that, we lost reverence for innovation and began to throw our ideas out with the rest of the trash.

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Maty Ralph loves talking to you about art and is always on the lookout for new adventures that challenge the heights of imagination.


Base Industries

Jon Sasaki at the GNO and AGS
An accompanying text by Kenneth Hayes

Jon Sasaki’s tandem exhibitions at Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario (GNO) (May 27 – June 30, 2016) and the Art Gallery of Sudbury (AGS) (July 7 – September 5, 2016) constitute an eloquent and unusually comprehensive investigation of cultural conditions in the place where they were presented, the city of Sudbury, Ontario. While each exhibition focuses on one of the base industries that have determined Sudbury’s historical development – mining at the GNO, forestry at the AGS – it is when they are examined together that they illuminate the origins of Sudbury’s hallmark ecological disaster, which continues to fascinate visiting artists.

Having these two opportunities to see Sasaki’s art reveals the depth of his commitment to reconceiving landscape art and the novel artistic strategies he brings to that project. Sasaki’s work differs from prior ambitious artistic representations of Sudbury by such artists as Louie Palu, Geoffrey James, Ed Burtynsky, Allan Sekula, and Mariana Lafrance, in that it does not primarily utilize photography. Photography, with its underpinnings of documentary realism, is the art form most commonly identified with the project of creating a cultural topography. Sasaki, however, engages with place through an agile combination of video, performance and installation. Sasaki also has an idiosyncratic approach to making objects; even when he makes something durable and permanent (or at least meant to be of long duration) it usually cannot plausibly be described as sculpture.

In fact, setting aside questions of artistic media makes it easier to identify gesture as Sasaki’s primary artistic mode. It is tempting to further characterize Sasaki’s work as comprised largely of futile or failed gestures; so many critics have done so that this description has become a trope in writing about the artist’s practice. Nevertheless, a proper understanding of gesture makes that characterization redundant – another keyword in writing about the artist. In an interview, Jacques Lacan queried, “What is a gesture? A threatening gesture, for example?” and answered, “It is not a blow that is interrupted. It is certainly something that is done in order to be arrested and suspended.” A gesture, Lacan contends, is intentionally incomplete; to feint is by no means to fail. He elaborated, “It is this very special temporality, which I have defined by the term arrest and which creates its signification behind it that makes the distinction between the gesture and the act.” Sasaki’s work often occupies this arrested condition; the distinction between gesture and act also explains why Sasaki’s art cannot be considered a form of activism. Rather than seek to change a condition or presume to move the viewer toward a particular course of action, Sasaki hopes to induce an intense, almost hallucinogenic, apperception of the arrested object, be it a familiar painting viewed in an entirely new manner, a particular tree plucked from a forest, or a letter opener comprising a piece of shrapnel.

Time, or rather temporality, which concerns modes of experiencing or dwelling within time, is the crux of Sasaki’s art, which often posits improbable periods, conjoins moments, and frequently produces effects of dilation. Surrealism thoroughly plumbed the temporal dimension of the encounter with a significant object, but Sasaki’s work is more closely related to later developments like Fluxus, and shares Conceptualism’s peculiar blend of axioms and tautologies and its fixation on duration. In line with Conceptualism’s mature development as institutional critique, Sasaki’s arrested moments are often designed to raise consciousness of the ways in which art and art-making is determined by its setting or context. Sasaki aspires to condense and communicate the totality of its productive conditions in his work, including both the condition of the viewer and the artist’s awareness of acting within an institutional system. Indeed, this is part of his larger project of promoting general historical consciousness. The title of his AGS exhibition, In the House Built by Those That Came before Me, signals this project by acknowledging the temerity of proposing to exhibit art about trees in a public gallery that was once the home of a lumber magnate.

AGS


Installation view, remnants in Gallery 2. « In The House Built By Those That Came Before Me », at the AGS.

Forestry no longer plays as large a part in Northern Ontario’s economy as it did when Sudbury was named Sainte-Anne-des-Pins in recognition of its magnificent pine forests. But well after the rapid ascent of mining in the region’s economy, the forests were still extensive enough to make William Bell one of the city’s most successful businessmen. He and his wife Katharine were also to become the city’s most generous cultural benefactors, donating land and money for parks and churches, and upon Katherine’s death in 1954, donating their home, named Bell Rock, which eventually became the Art Gallery of Sudbury.

Sasaki’s work for the Art Gallery of Sudbury consisted of selecting a single large pine tree, having it harvested, and, working with a crew of volunteers, maneuvering it into the gallery and hauling it to the second floor exhibition space where it was placed on display for the duration of the exhibition. At several stages along the way to the gallery the tree had to be further cut; a number of large branches had to be removed to pass through the gallery’s main door, where they remained in a pile, and a long section of the tree’s trunk was placed in the small glass conservatory after it was lopped off in order to hoist the tree up the nearby flight of stairs. The bulk of the tree occupied the gallery space in something like the manner that large boulders occupy rooms in Magritte’s paintings. Adjacent to the space where the tree lay, a 17 minute video projection presented the lengthy collaborative process of selecting, harvesting and transporting it.

The title of the exhibition, « In the House Built by Those That Came before Me », can be simultaneously understood in two registers. One is established by the history of the house as a luxurious and prominent dwelling built with the proceeds of forestry. This leads to questions of the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources, the representation of landscapes, and patterns of cultural benefaction, both in a local context and nationally, as a general matter of Canada’s neo-colonial culture. The other has to do with a specific convention of Canadian landscape art, the symbolic representation of a single, iconic tree[i]. Sasaki has had a long-standing and explicit engagement with the legacy of the Group of Seven painters who were active at precisely the same time and often in the same forests as lumber barons like Bell.

The tree Sasaki chose, however, was nothing like the noble, gnarled wrecks favoured by the Group of Seven artists; it is instead readily recognizable as one deliberately planted in order to be harvested as lumber. Uniform and quite free of incident that might be interpreted as character, it is part of a second or even third generation of trees to grow since the old, natural growth was cut a century ago. Sasaki’s choice of this particular tree may have been expedient, but it also serves to foreground the question of the availability of resources and the arbitrary, invariably elevating, character of an act of artistic selection. Sasaki’s work both acknowledges and attempts to neutralize the iconicity of the tree by making it real, not represented. He knows, however, that representation is stubbornly persistent, and that the real is not easily grasped[ii]. Here too, his work can be understood as a gesture, and the significance behind it is the ambivalence between the identification with the iconic tree and weariness with its dominance in Canadian landscape art, which Sasaki demonstrated through selecting four paintings of trees from the Gallery’s collection and hanging them in an arrangement that he refers to as a ‘grove.’

Though he probably would not express it in the same terms, Sasaki might sympathize with the sentiment famously professed by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari at the beginning of A Thousand Plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia, (1980): “We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much. All of arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics.” Sasaki, however, seems unlikely to make a break as definitive as Deleuze and Guattari when they proclaimed, “Nothing is beautiful or loving or political aside from underground stems and aerial root, adventitious growths and rhizomes.” Critical of the limiting terms of the Canadian landscape tradition but unwilling to abandon it entirely, Sasaki renders the iconic solitary tree as a sort of familiar spectre, laying, and dying, on the gallery floor.

GNO


From The Ground To The Sky And Back Again (Part One), 250′ inflatable, two blower fans, controller

Sasaki has recently developed his practice through undertaking artist’s residencies of varying duration in a variety of places. It has made him something of a reconnaissance agent, adept at rapidly apprising cultural situations. Sasaki’s initial exhibition in Sudbury From the Ground To The Sky And Back Again at the GNO resulted in part from a brief residency; upon arrival, the artist’s attention was drawn to the city’s most prominent landmark, the INCO Superstack. Of course, it is not unusual for visitors to the city to marvel at a landmark that seems easier to see from a distance than in close proximity (its base is located deep within a restricted industrial area), but Sasaki’s interest was predetermined, since smokestacks have an established place in his practice. In 2010, the artist used one of the inflated tubular fabric figures, of the sort installed along commercial strips in North America in order to draw attention to carwashes or fast food restaurants, to make a work titled Flyguy Triggering His Own Motion Sensor. Five years later, Sasaki modified this device to make an installation of nineteen 25-foot tall ‘smokestacks’ of nylon fabric printed with brick patterns. Exhibited during the 2015 Nuit Blanche at the PowerPlant on Toronto’s harbourfront, the work was designed to evoke the ambivalent feelings roused by the rapid disappearance of smokestacks from North American cities. For his exhibition in Sudbury, Sasaki sewed ten of the nylon tubes end-to-end to fabricate his own extra-tall stack. Then, rather than install this structure outdoors in direct competition with the Superstack, he inserted it into the former commercial storefront that houses Galerie du Nouvel-Ontario. Inflated at each end by a pair of large fans, the improbably long fabric tube doubled back several times over, became tangled on the gallery floor, and tossed about as if in agony.

The obvious significance behind Sasaki’s gesture is the loss of iconic industrial structures. Due to the need to disperse the sulfur dioxide released by smelting nickel sulphide ore, Sudbury has been the site of many smokestacks, several of which were the tallest of their time in Canada. Each has vanished in turn without a trace. It is worth noting that even the future of the Superstack, once the world’s tallest freestanding structure, is now in doubt, and it may be demolished. But Sasaki is not interested in industrial archeology as such. He described his own work as an image of ‘a giant writhing snake or a heaving intestinal tract.’ The latter description might suffice (at least for those of a certain generation) to evoke André Masson’s iconic representation of the base materialism theorized by Georges Bataille, which featured a headless figure with a coil of intestines that were imagined as a materialist labyrinth roiling secretly away in the revolutionary modern worker. Indeed, visitors to the gallery faced a labyrinth of sorts as they attempted to traverse the gallery space without treading on the artwork.

Given Sasaki’s penchant for associations, he might also welcome the comparison that came to mind for me: Dan Graham’s conceptual piece Detumescence (1966-1969). Graham’s work consisted of placing an advertisement soliciting a clinical description of ‘the typical post-sexual emotional and physiological aspects of post-climax in the sexual experience of the human male.’ Graham’s observation of the absence of such a description – he called it a ‘structural “hole” in the psycho-sexual conditioning of behaviour’ and suggested that it may be culturally suppressed – was affirmed by the failure of his search to elicit a response. The work is a classic example of conceptual art because its ambition is to articulate a conventional, culturally determined limit on everyday experience.

Like Graham, Sasaki seeks to elicit complex feelings that are repressed or generally resist expression. With this installation, he continues to reflect on the general cultural investment in a symbol of industry, the value of which is ambivalent to say the least, and the feelings of loss and estrangement that are nevertheless aroused by the prospect of its loss. As an artist, and thus as a primary form of producer, Sasaki takes it upon himself to express for us the complex sentiments aroused by the loss of an entire order of industrial production. He has made a monument to an industrial extinction event, if you will. Oscillating between the sublime and the comical his work rouses powerful and quite specific feelings the presence of which we were hardly aware.

The second component of the GNO installation rendered these sentiments even more intense, nuanced and personal. Sasaki made a video with archival footage documenting the use of nickel in fabricating munitions for the First World War and the carnage caused. These historical facts gained a shockingly contemporary and concrete focus when Sasaki discovered for sale on e-bay a letter opener fashioned from a piece of shrapnel from the War. Sasaki purchased the letter opener, and in an eloquent, silent, and solitary gesture, brought it to Sudbury and buried it in an area of tailings that are slated to be re-processed. The artefact may remain buried for years, or it may soon be incorporated in another form, like a jet engine or a piece of medical equipment. The exhibition’s title refers to trajectories that span extraordinary moments in time. Sasaki’s work exposes the uncomfortable fact that, historically, Sudbury has flourished as a direct result of its provision of a material strategic to modern mass warfare. As a guest to the city, he dutifully brings a gift, but given his commitment to historical truth, it is one that pointedly recalls his host’s material complicity in the history of mass slaughter. Nevertheless, his gesture holds such grace that it is clear that his intentions are not defamatory or accusative, but rather elegiac and even cathartic.

The ability to discover the pathos in seemingly trivial or debased objects is probably Sasaki’s greatest artistic skill. Behind the humor so often evident in his work lays a powerful sense of suffering and unfreedom. The presentation of the parings from the pine tree, for example, bears a strange resemblance to the Christian icon of the Stations of the Cross; admit that, and his performance/installation begins to take on even stranger allegorical dimensions. In this light, it appears that Sasaki’s work on Sudbury’s primary or extractive industries contains another significance that can probably be decoded as a meditation on Sudbury’s devastated and revenant landscape. The ecological disaster that has indelibly defined Sudbury’s image and made it a watchword for the cost of modern industry was not only the product of nickel mining and sulphur dioxide emissions, as is widely assumed, but of the interaction of forestry and mining. Sasaki’s two Sudbury exhibitions utilize artistic gestures to conduct a compelling dialogue on the landscape created by resource extraction economies. Doing so frees his work from the conventional limits of historical Canadian landscape art; indeed it places it at the forefront of ecological thought in contemporary art.

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[i] See Wall, Jeff. “Into the Forest.” Rodney Graham: Works from 1976 to 1994. Eds. È. Van Balberghe and Y. Gevaert. Toronto: Art Gallery of York University, 1994. 11-25. Wall has also contributed to the genre, especially his picture The Pine on the Corner (1990).

[ii] For a detailed analysis of this problem, see Joseph Leo Koerner, Caspar David Freidrich and the Subject of Landscape.

In The House Built By Those That Came Before Me from Jon Sasaki on Vimeo.

From The Ground To The Sky And Back Again from Jon Sasaki on Vimeo.