Toronto Inspires when three artists’ distinctive perspectives on barriers, real or otherwise, seamlessly dovetail into a cohesive exhibition that delivers heart, politics and whimsy.
Post by Lynda Chubak, avid Toronto arts fan
Offence/Defence is a dynamic examination of our relationship with fences and their demarcation of the territory between “us” or “them”. These complex ideas are presented in the abstract through works that are easily relatable to everyday experience, yet simultaneously provide a variegated analytic framework from which we can (re)consider our own relationships with and responses to barriers.Offense/Defense runs until November 30, 2013. All are welcomed! Milton Centre for the Arts, Holcim Gallery
A glimpse of the artists and their work
Kal’s 20-year background as a graphic designer underpins his current artistic practise that combines utilitarian materials and a bold sensibility. His works are frank and meticulously hand-crafted, with a manufactured precision. Often, they are embedded with levity. Like many of us, he has mixed reactions to fences, understanding the comfort of privately chilling in one’s own fortified backyard, without feeling the possible obligation of polite chit chat. Conversely, he recognizes the community building aspects of open gardens or hip-high separations that encouraged neighbourly engagement common to his parents’ generation. His works explore this kind of dichotomy through external manifestations: fences, by-law signs and a flag.
Selected works by Kal:
Spanning the lion’s share of the gallery’s backwall, Neighbours, the largest of Kal’s eight pieces, is a collage on cedar fence boards and specifically questions at which point does an ordinary fence get escalated into something more ominous.
The work “considers the similarities and differences between the seemingly innocuous fences found throughout a typical Canadian town and the larger-scale barriers erected by societies globally that attempt to control movement and quell conflict.” Using Google Street View technology Kal repurposed and juxtaposed images of Milton fences with barriers found in past and present international hotspots, such as between East and West Berlin, between Belfast’s Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods, between the U.S. and Mexican border, and between Israel and Palestine. The collage leaves a telltale impression that the transition from friend to foe may be mere fence slats away. On a more capricious note, five of his pieces are constructed around a theme he calls My-Law Signs, signs that foster actions he is fond of, while poking fun at how our by-laws are becoming ridiculously petty. These by-law re-imaginations enforce such edicts as “Kindness. 24 hrs. No Exceptions.” or “Freedom. Rigidly Enforced.”
Bursting through the drone of opening day gallery chatter is Kim’s exuberant, easy laughter. She describes herself as a heart-based person, whose perspective is composed through the filter of feelings, hers and other people’s, light and dark. She often delves into themes of containment and the struggles against them, drafting into service any medium that will give form to her ideas. She cites her concern about the global effect of barriers and how nomadic peoples and migratory species are severely affected by the constant ongoing fracturing of what used to be open pathways, which previously allowed for the travel necessary for the species to survive. Here her work is more personal, at times visceral, and meant to be deeply expressive. Her ten pieces probing our relationship to fences and other barriers strikes intimately and emotionally close to the bone.
Selected works by Kim
Being crisp, clean, and contemporary, her work has an attractive aesthetic, an ornamental quality, but as you look beyond the digitally-printed polyester fabric of a piece like Comfy, the raw, emotionally honest images of distorted flesh evoke the conflicting effects of internal and external barriers. The artistic representation of skin stands in for your skin and mine skin; and draws empathy from its audience.
With Insubstantiated, she deconstructs barriers by bringing you into the domestic realm through a sculpture combining paint pen drawing on polyester voile fabric, a hanging rod, and indoor/outdoor carpet. “Looking at the fabric you know how light it would be and how yielding, and yet it has chain link on it.” She takes this solid unyielding barrier of chain-link and transforms it into something that is soft and accommodating.
Home Bound reflects Kim’s particular friction with the positive and negative aspects of home ownership and the barriers to freedom that may be part of the package that comes with the proverbial white picket fence.
When asked if she had any expectations or hopes of initiating any behavioural changes through this exhibition, Kim observed that art’s place is more properly in the planting of the seeds of discussion. “My art certainly doesn’t attempt to provide solutions of any kind…but art is properly suited to acting as a catalyst – and environment – for discussion and reflection, often by presenting things in ways you haven’t seen before. Discussion and reflection are the precursors to change.”
Sculptor and arts community activist Nancy Cuttle could be considered the progenitor of Offence/Defence. Not only was she the catalyst that united these three artists and provided the idea of fences as an initial point for artistic convergence, she was an instrumental force behind the development of the gallery space in which the exhibition is housed.
Selected work by Nancy
FENCED is Nancy’s single, yet powerful, contribution to the show (best experienced in person than through a photograph). The 12ft x 12ft x 6ft winterstone, wire and wood sculpture installation (FENCED) prompts reflection as to how we can reject or submit to barriers. A series of life-size winterstone people depict different responses to the same fence. One breaks through. Another is stymied by it. Yet another is running obliviously towards it. For Nancy, barriers might be race, colour, age, or technology; and how you react depends on which side of the fence you find or place yourself.
Visit the exhibit and click the links to see more works by these artists:
Inspiration Takeaway: Art ignites conversations.