Cohesion and Contrast: A Review of Process at the Grad Gallery

Discussion of the artistic process and the activities that practitioners undertake are usually confined to the studio and made visible occasionally through artist talks or a behind the scenes Instagram photo. However, in the multi-artist show Process, curator Avalon Mott shares a selection of works with close ties to studio residencies as a part of the art making, emphasizing the development of artistic practices. With a combination of strong artistic pieces from six emerging artists and an effective use of the particular quirks of the Grad Gallery,  Process encourages an active engagement with the space and its works, requiring movement and an active consideration of material even with wall hung works. 

Sara Shoghi’s Faces powerfully opens the exhibition with clear references to the ongoing protests in Iran. As viewers move along a series of wall-hung grey-scale portraits, the Persian faces peer out from the constraints of elaborate full colour frames in the style of traditional illuminated manuscripts. Their eye contact confronts the viewer creating a sense of disquiet with the superficial beauty of the work. However, when the fifth frame produces a mirror instead of another drawn portrait, the viewer is thrust into making eye contact with themselves, placing themselves as a part of Shoghi’s series. This work clarifies that Process is an exhibition that requires participation. Viewers see that they are implicated in the works and must become active participants through their movements in the gallery to allow the works to function. The experimentation of the viewer as they move through the space becomes an extension of the artist’s experimentation in the studio. 

Across the gallery, Erin Stripe’s The Task is Transformation complicates initial perceptions of her work as a 2D photograph with small metalwork accents that project out of the image. These small pieces hang from hooks and mimic the shapes of the metal in the image but when viewed straight-on, they lose their detail in the larger and chaotic image of the photograph. By moving to view the work at various angles, the intricacies of the metalwork become more clear, emerging out of the flatness of the image into dynamic materials that were clearly shaped by the artist’s hands. Just beside Stripe’s piece lie more literal representations of artist hands in the form of mihyun maria kim’s Textures of Han, which includes casts of her hands and clay molds that create imprints of her grasping motions at the intangibility of colonial legacies. The juxtaposition of these two pieces complexifies understandings of what artistic experimentation seeks to negotiate: the possibility of explorations that focus on understanding material in the form of metalwork or the adoption of material as a way to bring form to what is otherwise ethereal. 

The Grad Gallery in and of itself is a space in process. Installations must work around the architecture of the space, particularly with the large pillar in the front half of the room and the large windows along the back wall. Both elements were handled well within Process, with Vicky Talwar’s piece wrapped around the pillar and the light from the windows adding dimension to Reshmi Beissar’s work. Talwar’s work is unique in the exhibition with its inclusion of a sound piece, accessed through a QR code,  providing a strong sense of flow that helps guide a circulation around the colorful salts and circular pillar. The auditory aspect in the work helps blend the difficult architecture of the space into the work in a way that feels productive rather than a hindrance. The sense of the works being in conversation with the space of the Grad Gallery continues in Beissar’s metalwork. Visiting the gallery in the early afternoon, the light through the windows assists more static gallery lights in casting shadows through the hoops onto the vinyl background, tying the two parts of the work together more strongly. The introduction text of the exhibition frames the gallery as an extension of the studio, making these interactions between the work and the physical infrastructure of the Grad Gallery an important alignment between the installation and conceptual core of the show.

All of the works in Process were created as part of an ArtScape residency, yet Beverly Freedman’s piece Marbles arises as a point of dissonance. While Freedman’s work was created as part of the program and thus aligns with a stated curatorial theme, the content and emotion of Marbles differs from the other pieces in the show. With a large worn armchair and knitted blankets, the piece becomes a small living room inside the gallery where viewers are invited to sit, wrap themselves up, and through the intentional holes in the blankets, consider the loss of cognitive function found in Alzhimers or dementia. Freedman’s work on its own is quite compelling, and for many visitors in the context of the Grad Gallery, it likely brings up consideration of aging family members and elders in a moving and comforting way. However, the element of the personal that runs through the work of the other five artists in the show is not present in Freedman’s work, at least not as it is presented in Process, which leaves it feeling out of place within an otherwise cohesive exhibition. 

Overall, the Process exhibition succeeds in its claiming of the gallery as a space for experimentation on the part of both visitor and artist. Viewers are encouraged to consider the ways that artists take up material in both a physical and conceptual sense, which leaves open the possibility of the work remaining in process, being further shaped and completed by the viewer’s journey through the gallery. Despite small inconsistencies that arise out of curator Avalon Mott’s decision to work exclusively with artists coming out of the specific ArtScape residency, the exhibition installation effectively contextualizes the at times challenging space of the Grad Gallery as a potential extension of the artist studio. With the acknowledgement that this iteration of Process was exhibited as a planned part one of two, the questions about viewer participation and artistic experimentation become part of a longer conversation that remains ongoing while moving towards the second part in Spring of 2023.

If you enjoyed this post or have ideas you would like to share please feel free to leave a comment and if you really enjoyed this post please consider supporting my work by buying me a coffee here. If you found the ideas in this post interesting you may enjoy some of my other exhibition reviews including my review of A Heap of Random Sweepings at the Koffler Centre which also discusses an exhibition that requires active viewer participation which can be found here.

You can view images and the text labels for the exhibition on Avalon Mott’s website here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s