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Jenna Powell

Psychological Slips: The Sculptures of Trevor Baird

Psychological Slips: The Sculptures of Trevor Baird

 by Anna Kovler

Molding and firing clay is among the oldest recorded human activities. In the Ancient Near East, clay was imprinted with tiny lines to keep records of grain and other goods. The Greeks made clay vessels for eating and drinking and for honoring the dead, the surfaces covered in intricate geometric designs and abstracted figures. In his ceramic vases, tablets, and sculptures Trevor Baird combines this ancient language with the more contemporary aesthetic of comic books, creating hybrid objects that reject the rules of their constituent traditions. His comics either needlessly repeat or are abruptly cut, making it impossible to follow a linear narrative, turning them instead into psychological portraits and snapshots of daily life.

In one dream-like pattern, a face looks into its own reflection in a large kitchen knife held by a severed hand. In another sequence a pair of hands cradles its severed fingers and an arm smashes through a computer screen. A few repeating speech bubbles discuss ripping off Japanese pottery. Trying to make sense of these comics is of no use. Like deciphering a disturbing dream, the viewer must connect disparate puzzle pieces. “I used to draw a lot of comics, and I had a cash of drawings I wanted to use,” says Baird, “they are doodles or narratives that belong to a larger story, so I took that and edited it.”

In past works, Baird referred to identity formation by depicting Hollywood stars like Nicole Kidman and Matt Dillon. He was interested in the gap between who a person really is, their likeness, and what others think them to be. Celebrities serve as a perfect example of an unstable or mysterious identity since the public starts to associate the roles they play with their “true” selves. “It’s really hard to represent someone accurately,” reflects Baird, “because you’re always drawing your own likeness, you just end up representing yourself and amalgamating that with what you assume that person to be.”

Baird works with porcelain slip that is extremely thin, giving his vessels a milky chalkiness resembling fresh cookie dough. As the clay rips and folds it also starts to look like pale skin with stretch marks, folds, and scars, the blueish lines of the comic drawings echoing tattoos. “There is not a lot you can control about the process, it’s a ‘fingers crossed’ way of making a piece,” he says.

After some inspection it becomes clear that we are looking at psychological portraits. Despite being non-linear, the theme of identity and its fragmentation emerges from the comics on the porcelain. On one vase, twin portraits of a woman repeat, suggesting perhaps the storyboard for David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive, with it’s mysterious plot and unstable identities. Other recurrent drawings refer to the identity of an artist, and the artist’s pain. We see a severed hand holding a pencil, and a weary character struggling to use a paintbrush so large that it reaches the top of his head.

The special combination of ripped and folded porcelain, sketchy lines of the comics, and theme of identity gives these works an exciting and multilayered complexity. It can be hard to invent something new when working with an ancient material, yet Baird has succeeded in conveying a unique and contemporary visual language through his deft handling of clay. Hitting a nerve that feels universal, these works capture the mechanisms and fragility of the artist’s identity, and by extension the mysterious nature of identity in general.

Trevor Baird’s exhibition A Satyr in the Creamery is on view at Arsenal Toronto from January 26 – March 30, 2019. Recent exhibitions include the group show Clay Today at The Hole in New York City. Upcoming exhibitions will take place at the Chromatic Festival in Montréal, and the Material Art Fair in Mexico City in February 2019.

Trevor Baird, Large Vase 4, 2018. Underglazed Porcelain, Glaze. 21 x 11 x 11 in.


Trevor Baird, Work, 2019. Underglazed Porcelain. 7 x 10 ¼ in.


Trevor Baird, Large Vase 6, 2018. Underglazed Porcelain, Glaze. 21 x 11 x 11 in.


Trevor Baird, detail.


Trevor Baird, installation of A Satyr in the Creamery at Arsenal Toronto, 2019.

Fluid, Data, Blood: New Sculptures by Michel de Broin

Fluid, Data, Blood: New Sculptures by Michel de Broin

by Anna Kovler

Michel de Broin is known for using everyday objects to reveal relationships between mechanical and social bodies. Whether adopting a power drill, bicycle, artillery gun or light bulb, his alterations to these tools point beyond objects to the people who use them, becoming metaphors for the flesh-and-bones human body. In his latest sculptures, knots appear as if by magic in otherwise straight copper pipes, twisting and bulging like veins or intestines. de Broin takes the flow of electrical signals as inspiration. According to the logic of electricity, a resistor only resists if power is running through the network. These metallic clusters resist the force of whatever runs through them, signaling a complication in flow; a loop where fluid must slow down like blood clots or rush hour traffic.

“I’ve been trying to bring out the body underlying mechanical or technical objects,” says de Broin, “and incarnate machines as though they are alive.” Indeed in these works the machinic collides with the organic in a movement that both humanizes the hard machine, and mechanizes the soft body. Although typically used to carry water, these copper pipes entail other kinds of flow too, from oil and gas, to bodily fluids, capital, immigration, dreams and desires. The Anomalies as he calls them, elicit a sense of empathy. We imagine the pipes might feel some pain or discomfort from being all tangled up.

Displayed on a plinth, the work titled Universal Plug In Play represent the opposite formation of a knot. Clusters of square and cylindrical openings grow in star shapes like crystals do out of the ground. Resembling technical attachments or adapters, the sculptures accommodate a grand imaginary network. “I was influenced by the Internet protocol that allows different devices to connect together with ease,” remarks de Broin. Rather than slowing down a substance, these universal adapters would allow for faster flow from a variety of inputs. Like much of de Broin’s work these objects point outward at the larger systems they belong to.

In a climate where fuel, water, and data rule global politics, de Broin’s knots and ports suggest looking more closely at these flows and the roles of individual bodies. As the world hits record highs for carbon emissions, Russia is busy installing a natural gas pipeline under the Black Sea, and the Unites States plans to open new public lands to oil and gas drilling. Resistance seems futile amid the interests of powerful industries, and yet individuals do take to the streets, amassing into blockages and influencing policy. While de Broin offers no answers, the knotty sculptures can be see as an attempt to resist the current, and foreground the human body as a locus of power, potential, and social responsibility.

Michel de Broin’s new sculptures were on view at Division Gallery in Montréal from September 13 – November 17, 2018. Upcoming exhibitions include an installation of de Broin’s Thresholds (2017) at Âjagemô in Ottawa, and Deviations, an intervention in three of Vancouver’s parks for the 2018-2020 Vancouver Biennale.

Michel de Broin, Universal Plug and Play, 2018. Polymer, fiberglass, epoxy, nylon fiber, steel base.

Michel de Broin, installation shot at Division Gallery, Montréal, 2018.

Michel de Broin, Twilight #403, 2018. Light bulb, wood acrylic.

Michel de Broin, Anomaly IV, 2018. Melted bronze, galvanized steel, copper plating.

Fire Indulgence: The Paintings of Laura Findlay

Fire Indulgence: The Paintings of Laura Findlay

by Anna Kovler

Laura Findlay’s latest body of paintings takes the primordial world of volcanoes as its subject matter. Plumes of fire ascend from dark mountains as magma sleeps then awakens under the surface, bursting forth in magnificent colors. At times, the movement of her brush strokes follows the logic of fire and sky, inching upwards in thin washes but then, unexpectedly, another mark moves sideways, making us fixate on the painted surface and the movements of her hand.

How a painting differs from, enhances, and mutes lived reality is at the crux of these works. Arguably nothing on this planet is as intense as an active volcano. The extreme heat of magma in the earth’s crust, explosions caused by sudden cooling, and the racecar speed of volcanic ash traveling down a mountain toward life below are phenomena beyond human comprehension. Life forms die in a flash near an eruption. Mountains form. Islands form. Massive chunks of earth bend and shift as sulfuric gasses hiss and stain the oceans and skies. At these magnitudes, the only way humans can understand these things is as abstractions, ideas, stories, and images. A human life is about 70 years; the average volcano is millions of years old.

The image of a volcano then – whether it’s a postcard or large painting – is closer to an idea than anything else. It’s therefore a little ironic to paint a volcano. It also brings to mind the generative magic attributed to cave paintings of bison and aurochs in prehistoric caves. Perhaps an image can brew some good luck, or at least tame the threatening beast. Both are speculation. Nonetheless, humans are constantly watching, recording, and monitoring volcanoes, and this is where Findlay seeks out visual material to manipulate, from cameras pointed at volcanoes by scientists. Unlike scientific images though, her paintings are half-imagined, populating the world of dreams and fantasies more than of seismometers and computer screens.

Not everyone who watches volcanoes is a scientist. Findlay is interested in a community of volcano enthusiasts who believe them to be supernatural or extraterrestrial. Sometimes a camera streak or lens flare is taken as proof that fairies, pixies and demons are at work near an active volcano. “People want to see what they want to see,” remarks Findlay, “which I think is faith.”

The special combination of Findlay’s raw washes of paint and such iconic, powerful imagery results in a conversation about paint itself, the image as such, and what it means to look. To paint a volcano is to take it as an object of thought, yet its magnitude can never be contained in thought or image, and it remains inherently mysterious. As meditations on the aesthetic sublime and the earth’s primordial, elemental forces these paintings affirm the prevalence of magic and mystery in our world despite the seeming totality of scientific knowledge.

Laura Findlay’s exhibition Tuff will be on view at Arsenal Contemporary in Toronto From January 26 to March 30, 2019.

Laura Findlay, Gills, 2018. Oil on panel, 9.5 x 11”.


Laura Findlay, Brista, 2017. Oil on panel, 17 x 19”.


Laura Findlay, Magic Mountain, 2015. Oil on panel, 24 x 24”.



Body at Zero Gravity: Juliana Cerqueira Leite at the Naples Archaeological Museum

Body at Zero Gravity: Juliana Cerqueira Leite at the Naples Archaeological Museum

by Anna Kovler

Juliana Cerqueira Leite has described her working process as being similar to that of a worm. Working frequently with massive amounts of clay, she literally burrows inside of the heavy material, sometimes at the risk of being crushed. This line of thinking began for her as a student at the Slade School of Fine Art in London where she decided to challenge the idea of an artist “mastering” their material. What if the material crushed the artist? And, by extension, what are the dangers of perpetuating the master-slave relationship within artistic practice? Her answer came in the form of continual struggle, a realistic negotiation of power between artist and material imprinted into the clay itself.

The body is the focus of Leite’s sculptural production, the basic unit where human struggle takes place. Unlike her previous work where the body exerts force from semi-conscious movements like hand gestures, her newest research looks at involuntary physical movement. Pompeii is the starting point of this investigation. Leite is fascinated by the mummies unearthed at Pompeii, where the eruption of Mount Vesuvius created a unique scenario for the preservation of the body. Found in a fetal position, the corpses of the dead were covered in ash, which solidified before the body had decomposed, creating a mould. It was initially believed that the fetal position of the corpses recorded the moment of death, but later concluded that it was in fact the involuntary position taken by the already-dead body when exposed to heat. It is the natural contraction of human muscles.

The fetal position is not unique to the Pompeii mummies. Leite identified a formal similarity in a famous dance move, the trademark pose of dancer Martha Graham, and the “Neutral Body Posture,” the form of the human body at zero gravity, and the basic shape NASA uses to design spacecraft. For her upcoming exhibition at the Archaeological Museum in Naples, Leite will connect these three instances of the human body as it is reduced to pure physics and anatomy. She will work with dancers, recording their interpretation of the fear freeze response with motion capturing technology, and use this data to create a sculpture. The exhibition will also include a series of photographs showing the connection of patterns between the iconic dancer, NASA, and the mummies of Pompeii, a series of body casts, and a live dance performance.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite’s exhibition at the Naples Archaeological Museum is scheduled to open in spring of 2019. Her exhibition “Until Different” was recently on view at Arsenal Contemporary New York.


Mummies of Pompeii, Ancient Rome, 6th Century BC- 79 AD. The Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

Martha Graham Dance Company. Graham pioneered the “Contraction and Release” principle in modern Dance.

NASA’s “Neutral Body Posture”, developed in Skylab studies.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite in her Brooklyn studio, 2018.

Of Earrings, Tears and Jewellers: The Sculptures of Vanessa Brown

Of Earrings, Tears and Jewellers: The Sculptures of Vanessa Brown

by Anna Kovler

Resting somewhere between dream and reality, Vanessa Brown’s sculptures test the boundaries of the familiar. What we normally encounter on a small scale, like a pair of earrings or a cigarette, take on impossibly strange proportions in her metal and glass works. The oversized earring clasp jumps out first. Immediately recognizable as that loop that enters the earlobe, securing ones earrings in place, the detail stirs uncanny feelings, suggesting another dimension where objects mysteriously bend and shift. Unanswered questions arise. Are these still earrings? Even at that scale?

It is said that jewellery says something about a person. Standing nearly ten feet tall, Stained Glass Earrings + Stand (2018) might feel imposing if not for its pastel shapes and slender steel lines. Yet below the soft surface other meanings dwell. On one earring, the shape of an eye discreetly cries light blue tears, hinting at more complex realities below the surface of objects of costume or decoration.

Brown’s sculptures hail from a liminal space, like the moments between a state of sleep and wakefulness, when the dream you are in isn’t fully over but you’re not in the real world yet. Her oversized ashtray earrings refer to the similarly ambiguous space of a cigarette break. “I always understood smoking as a break,” she notes, “the break would be my little way of going outside and pulling aside the zipper of reality. I think of this installation as ways to access other places, like a portal, and communicate from those spaces as well.”

Working with metal on a large scale and embarking on collaborations with jewellers, Brown’s practice addresses the gendered history of artistic labor. For her 2016 exhibition The Hand of Camille, the artist took inspiration from Camille Claudel, a sculptor known for the emotional intensity and heroicism of her figures. During her career however, Claudel was limited in the scope and scale she could work on, as women artists were still severely disadvantaged at the end of the 19th century.

The exhibition currently on view is part of the installation Late Night Trip to the Jewellers, which was shown at the Esker Foundation earlier this year. As the enigmatic title suggests (what can one possibly do at the jeweller’s at night?), these works offer playful, surreal and sincere mediations on everyday objects and the psychic spaces they inhabit.

Vanessa Brown’s Pages From Late Night Trip to the Jewellers opens at Arsenal Contemporary Toronto on October 26, 2018 as part of the Art Toronto West End Gallery Crawl and runs until December 22, 2018. It was produced with support of the Esker Foundation Commission Fund.

Vanessa Brown. Stained Glass Earring + Stand, 2018. Steel, stained glass, oil paint, copper foil, copper wire.


Vanessa Brown, Engraving Board, 2018. Steel, MDF.


Vanessa Brown, Ashtray Earrings. Steel, oil paint.

Installation view of Pages From Late Night Trip to the Jewellers

The Cave: Sarah Anne Johnson’s Haunting Performance at Julie Saul New York

The Cave: Sarah Anne Johnson’s Haunting Performance at Julie Saul New York

by Anna Kovler

The interior of Julie Saul Gallery in New York is one season ahead of the city. Transformed into an immersive ice cave by Sarah Anne Johnson, visitors are sent on a serpentine walk through a white snowy tunnel before reaching a stage. Florescent lights buzz above a twirling couple. Held in the arms of a cold-faced doctor, a life-size patient is forced to dance with her captor. It takes a moment to realize we are looking at two dolls with the artist moving them both. Johnson is inside the doctor’s costume as she dances the Waltz with her patient. She animates both positions. She is authority figure and lifeless ill body, dominant male and docile female.

It is said in hindsight we can see with 20/20 vision, and from many positions at once. The Cave embodies Johnson’s looking back at her grandmother’s life as a test subject for MKUltra, the CIA’s infamous secret medical study. Over the past ten years, Johnson has made several bodies of work in response to her grandmother’s experience.

Velma Orlikow checked into the Allan Memorial Institute in Montréal in 1956, seeking help for post-partum depression. Her family could have never known what was to happen to her inside the icy walls of the hospital. The treatment Johnson’s grandmother received included “sleep therapy,” where individuals were asleep for months at a time, “depatterning,” which required electroshock and many doses of LSD, and “psychic driving,” which involved heavy sedation and special rooms where patients were played repeating messages thousands of times from speakers in their pillows. The CIA hoped these methods could be used to turn Soviet spies into double agents.

Johnson’s grandmother was never the same again. Deeply traumatized, she became unable to do the things she loved, living her life as a pale version of herself, trapped in the clutches of the doctor who tortured her.

In the absence of Johnson’s live performance, a sculptural version of the doctor and patient spins endlessly on a rotating base set in the gallery’s floor. Outside the cavernous ice cave, smaller sculptures and photographs explore the same theme, including a series of bronze figures portraying Johnson’s grandmother in various states of dysfunction. To express the effects of the medical experiments on her ability to function she is shown with her head exploding into a mushroom cloud, with a long twig stuck in her mouth, and with boxes over her arms and head.

Johnson’s haunting performance and installation prove that Velma Orlikow’s treatment and the CIA experiments may be long gone but the event still ripples through her family. Animating a disturbing history and its lasting effects, the project is not only a cry for justice but also a testament to human endurance in the face of incomprehensible cruelty.

Sarah Anne Johnson’s “The Cave” is on view at Julie Saul Gallery in New York from November 8 – December 15, 2018. Her work on this theme is currently part of the group exhibition “Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy”, on at The Met Breuer through January 6, 2019.

Sarah Anne Johnson, Dancing With The Doctor (1, 2, 3), 2018. Porcelain, fabric, rotating wooden base.

Sarah Anne Johnson, The Cave, 2018. Mixed media.

Sarah Anne Johnson. Black Out, 2008. Bronze and cardboard. Ed 3/3. Image courtesy of Julie Saul Gallery.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Poison Branch, 2008. Bronze and twigs. Ed 3/3. Image courtesy of Julie Saul Gallery.

Ill Drones: In the Studio With Amanda Boulos

Ill Drones: In the Studio With Amanda Boulos

by Anna Kovler

Finding a loose seed on the ground, it is almost impossible to tell what plant will sprout if one planted the mysterious seed. It’s not that the seed is invisible – it is in plain sight – but only the transformation will tell. Amanda Boulos’ paintings are teeming with seeds. They come in various guises, as water droplets, drones, breasts, eyes, mountains and animals. They are seeds of surveillance, destruction, migration and new beginnings.

When her grandfather left Palestine for Lebanon he expected to go back, cataloguing all his domestic possessions in his mind’s eye. Boulos’ paintings contain this haunting pull of leaving somewhere in a hurry. A mountain range one used to see from the window, an archway between a neighboring courtyard, a room. Using infinite layers of oil paint, Boulos reveals and obscures her repertoire of symbols drawn from her Palestinian heritage, contemporary life, and the imagination.

In the Morning (2017), which won the RBC painting competition this year, shows a dreamlike mass of flowers, hands, and animal horns amassing into a mountain shape. The formation is both ominous and beautiful at once. Boulos describes it as the final resting place for Mabid, a fictional character she uses to represent real characters that died during the Lebanese civil war.

One disturbing motif in her paintings recalls the Surrealist or Futurist manifestoes. A drone with numerous bulging breasts flies above landscape and sea. Capable of information gathering, dropping bombs, but also delivering aid, drones represent the technologically advanced nations of the world and their various tensions. “The drones with bosoms speak to the notion of vision and privilege,” explains Boulos. “The privilege of being able to see certain things. The drone has a vantage point not everyone had access to, that’s why it is there in my paintings, a figure that can see things but not touch things. Like the drone, the bosom gives things to the earth without touching it.”

Replete with symbolism and luxurious layering of paint, these paintings engage the mundane as much as the unforgettable. Boulos treats her paintings like memories, arenas where layers of new information continuously hide and reveal what has come before. Here, the realm of vision is not simply what we see, but what we remember and wish for and dream. A glimpse out the window can one day remind you of your homeland’s mountain range, and another day form a brand new memory, a new home.

Amanda Boulos is the national winner of the 2018 RBC Canadian Painting Competition. Her painting In the Morning (2017) received the grand $25,000 prize and is now part of the RBC Corporate Art Collection. Upcoming engagements include a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and an exhibition at Untitled Art Society in Calgary, Alberta.


Amanda Boulos, In the Morning, 2017. Oil on panel, 42 x 40”.

Amanda Boulos, Hanging Up the Blue Eye, 2017. Oil on Panel.


Amanda Boulos, Pouring Boys, 2016

Photo Documentation by Laura Findlay

Abbas Akhavan’s “Folly” at VIE D’ANGE, Montréal

 Abbas Akhavan’s “Folly” at VIE D’ANGE, Montréal

 by Anna Kovler

In the centre of what used to be a car mechanic’s shop, but functions now as an art gallery, Abbas Akhavan’s sculpture takes up as much space as a car might have. Comprised of a large mossy boulder, a vintage fur coat and a yellow plastic bag, the conglomeration fuses into a single organism on account of a watering system that leaves the entity constantly wet and dripping. Hoses running along the ceiling periodically mist the sculpture from above, and water sources hidden in the coat send a constant stream trickling from its sleeve, tapping a rhythmic sound in the gallery similar to a garden fountain. The entity almost seems to be alive.

Slumped over the boulder like a ghost in eternal embrace, the wet coat elicits feelings of sadness and unease, recalling either a missing person or the raccoon killed for its fur. At the sculpture’s base, the plastic bag evokes a different time scale and provenance, as something that breaks down at a slower rate than the rock’s coverings. This grouping of allusions – to decay, luxury, wastefulness, and resource extraction – is aptly embodied in the exhibition’s title “Folly,” meaning both foolishness, and a type of decorative, useless architectural structure. Found commonly in the British countryside, architectural follies often recreated gothic or classical ruins, eliciting nostalgia and mourning in visitors walking through the garden, and serving no functional purpose other than stirring the emotions.

Akhavan’s playful confusion of form and function marks the entire exhibition. In many of the works, reality is shifted either slightly or in a manner that surprises the viewer. The assisted readymade, Claim, consists of real 24 karat gold gilding on the existing metal security bars on the gallery’s window. Security measure slips into decoration here without gaining any extra security, and on the contrary, poses an increased threat of theft (the gold would in fact be worthless if stolen, as it can’t be separated from the bars).

Along one wall of the gallery, a sculptural installation recalls a greenhouse. Large pieces of tempered glass lean on the wall, providing cover for a few printed digital images while they are misted by a watering system above. Once an hour, the glass becomes soaking wet, creating an uncanny ecosystem of moisture, image and glass, giving the impression that perhaps, in another dimension, the photographs would begin to sprout, unfurling into a grander form. Pictured in the images, all sourced from the net, is an array of natural and cultural specimens particular to the history and ecology of the exhibition’s location. Among other things, we see a Scotch Thistle (an invasive species to the region), the monument to Queen Victoria that was blown apart by the FLQ in Quebec City in 1963, and an image of the controversial work of Pierre Ayot from 1976 of a giant cross on its side that was ordered to be destroyed by then-mayor Jean Drapeau.

Eliciting a multiplicity of emotions and associations, Akhavan’s works give the feeling that something profound has been stated, and yet when one tries to pin down a single concrete meaning, none seems possible. “I’m trying to make things coexist simultaneously,” explains Akhavan, “without leading to a single narrative. There is no ‘message,’ that’s not the objective.”

Among the two pieces that will stay permanently installed at VIE D’ANGE is the measurement “764 feet” spelled out on the rooftop of the gallery, referring to the height of Mount Royal without the Mount Royal Cross. Bringing to mind both Ayot’s censored sculpture from the seventies, and the replica of the work installed in Jeanne-Mance park in 2016, which faced an almost equally hostile response, (the mayor nearly withdrew a grant promised for the project), the installation suggests that the histories and stories of a community and city are indispensable tools for seeing, understanding, and emotionally processing our present moment.

Abbas Akhavan’s solo exhibition “Folly” is on view at VIE D’ANGE in Montréal until October 10, 2018. Recent exhibitions include “A Kiss Under the Tail” at Arsenal Contemporary New York, and a new site specific work developed for the Fleck Clerestory Commission Program at the Power Plant in Toronto.

Abbas Akhavan. sept cent soixante quatre pieds. 2018. Paint on VIE D’ANGE rooftop. 975 x 1158 cm.


Abbas Akhavan. Untitled. 2018. Tempered Glass, Laser Printed Photographs, Cellophane Tape, Misting system, Water, Wood Shims. 538.5 x 244 x 61 cm.


Abbas Akhavan. 2018. Claim. 24 Karat Gold Leaf on Existing Window Security Bars.

122 x 90 x 6 cm.


A folly typically looks like it has or once had a function, but in fact does not. These false ruins of a gothic church were built as an ornamental garden feature in Sydenham Hill Wood, London, England. Image by Steve Grindlay.

Abbas Akhavan. Study for a Garden. 2018. Cedar Tree. 40 x 127 cm.

Echoes of the Ocean: Maskull Lasserre at the Vancouver Biennale

Echoes of the Ocean: Maskull Lasserre at the Vancouver Biennale

by Anna Kovler

Standing on the western edge of the North American continent, by the boats docked at a Vancouver Marina, Maskull Lasserre’s enormous steel sculpture takes a shape that most viewers might hardly recognize. This monumental single-horn anvil, 25 feet long, and about 800 times larger than a normal anvil is perplexing and mysterious. Did it fall from the sky onto a Loony Tunes character? Or is it waiting for its blacksmith of gigantic proportions? Getting closer reveals the anvil to be an amplifier, outfitted with a recording of the sound of the ocean, which can be heard through musical “F” holes (like the ones on a violin,) cut into the sculpture’s side.

A tool whose flat top supports an object as it’s struck by metalworkers, the anvil was once commonplace but now elicits more cartoon associations than industrial ones. Indispensable for centuries, anvils were used to form all kinds of metal objects including chain, saws, and wheels for carriages. “Blacksmiths and their tools,” reflects Lasserre, “were the Fords and Toyotas of civilization, because they were putting the shoes on horses that moved goods and carried the mail. That was transportation, and for a time they were highly valued for that contribution.” With mechanized production supplying most of our goods now, anvils are used primarily for custom metal work.

Anvils are uncommon musical instruments, but this is not the first time an anvil has been used acoustically. Ringo Starr played one in the song Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, and composer Richard Wagner used 18 tuned anvils in a cycle of operas in 1869. With fourteen years of classical violin training, Lasserre is frequently drawn to musical instruments as sculptural material. His version of the anvil as instrument ties it to the more delicate violin while recalling Vancouver’s industrial history in a string of associations that remains porous and open-ended.

Added to its ambiguous meaning, the sculpture has a mystifying effect on those who stand near it. “People think the sound is air passing through the column,” Lasserre notes, “kids say it’s breathing. Many layers of interpretation emerge beyond just the sound of the ocean.”

Lumbering and poetic, Lasserre’s acoustic anvil stands in a landscape that has changed around its ancient, genius design. A stand-in for all the remarkable tools civilization used to arrive at the current moment, the tool/instrument both celebrates and questions technological progress, giving the impression that our tools are often impressive, but also asking at what cost, and to whom. Equal parts lullaby and monster, Lasserre’s sculpture provokes without judging, offering up questions without prescribing all the answers.

Acoustic Anvil: A Small Weight to Forge the Sea is installed in Vancouver’s Leg-In-Boot Square until July 2020 as part of the Vancouver Biennale. His sculptures are currently on view at Arsenal Contemporary Toronto until October 18, 2018.

Maskull Lasserre, Acoustic Anvil (A Small Weight to Forge the Sea) and False Creek, Vancouver, BC, 2018. Steel, electronics, solar panels. 25 x 13 x 9 feet. Image courtesy of Maskull Lasserre.


Maskull Lasserre, Acoustic Anvil (A Small Weight to Forge the Sea) in Leg in Boot Square, Vancouver, BC, 2018. Steel, electronics, solar panels. 25 x 13 x 9 feet. Image courtesy of Maskull Lasserre.


Maskull Lasserre, detail – view through the sound hole of Acoustic Anvil (A Small Weight to Forge the Sea), 2018. Steel, electronics, solar panels. 25 x 13 x 9 feet. Image courtesy of Maskull Lasserre.


Maskull Lasserre working on Acoustic Anvil. Photo courtesy of Roaming the Planet and Maskull Lasserre, 2018.

Rough Edges: Sojourner Truth Parsons & Nadia Belerique at Daniel Faria Gallery

Rough Edges: Sojourner Truth Parsons and Nadia Belerique at Daniel Faria Gallery

by Anna Kovler

Electric lights dot the walls of Nadia Belerique and Sojourner Truth Parsons’ exhibition at Daniel Faria Gallery. Illuminating the spaces between paintings, Belerique’s orbs double as a second sun, echoing the flat yellow circles in Parsons’ paintings. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the light bulb, hoped that eventually humans could overcome their natural rhythms and stay awake all night under artificial glow. Like a light bulb flattening and reducing the intensity of the sun, the works in the show act as a series of translations, referencing the rhythms of seasons and perception.

Manuel Rocha’s garden across the street inspired the exhibition. “Last summer we were walking by and I was taken aback with how beautiful the garden was,” Parsons recalls. “His garden felt very sincere, and I just thought: wow, this man is an artist, and I wanted to talk to him about how his garden is an artwork, the ultimate public artwork, and a gift to someone who walks by.”

The garden reaches its zenith of reproductive prowess in the late August heat. Through air heavy with moisture, the pink zinnias, orange marigolds, and purple dahlias open to their fullest. The hydrangeas bend under their own weight, and the amaranth standing over a meter tall drapes its wispy strands like a horse’s tail. Bees and butterflies come constantly. When viewed through the window of the gallery, the fullness of Rocha’s garden flattens, its thicket compressing into a flat postcard image similar to Belerique and Parsons’ works. Two sculptures on the floor are the collective work of all three artists, concrete planters identical to the ones Rocha made for his own garden.

Animal eyes peek through foliage in Parsons’ large paintings. Butterflies in pastel pinks and purples, yellow sunflowers and her trademark dogs populate the paintings, pink tongues hanging out eager to lick their owner’s face. Similar to her previous figurative cutouts, Belerique’s one-way mirror occupies the backroom like an actor that must be negotiated. On the backside, scratch marks, magazine clippings and vitamin D gel caps can be inspected and compared to their flattened image as seen from the front. Referencing photographic processes and exposure to light, these emergent objects echo the movement between subconscious and conscious knowledge, and the difference between how things are and how they look from a certain angle.

For Belerique, slight shifts are everything. “A sliver of depth is already doing something,” she notes. “It’s about the viewer and the relationship of the body to the work, and how something so simple, like putting objects on glass, can shift perspective so profoundly. I’ve always been interested in tactility and scale shifts, like a Russian nesting doll, creating a space within a space within a space.”

Parsons and Belerique show painting and sculpture as cannibalistic mechanisms, swallowing, digesting, and producing things akin to, but not identical with what they consumed. Scale shifts, interpretations, and representations draw crisscrossing allusions between the works themselves, the garden, and the artists’ own oeuvres. An embodied experience of patterns noticed and associations made, this poetic exhibition urges us to look more carefully at flowers in gardens, at our neighbors, and at image making. By the show’s closing date, Rocha’s garden will die back and shift gears into fall, waiting to be resurrected next summer under his attentive hand, beginning the cycle again, anew.

Don’t Tell Me That The Flowers Must Die, I Know is on view at Daniel Faria Galley in Toronto until September 8, 2018.

Install shot with Nadia Belerique’s Sun Lamp (2) 2018 and Sun Lamp (3) 2018, Sojourner Truth Parsons’ Black and white bitches lose their minds (2018), and Cradles from Rocha (1), 2018 by Manuel Rocha, Nadia Belerique and Sojourner Truth Parsons. Image courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery.

Install shot with Nadia Belerique’s Sun Lamp (1) 2018 and Sojourner Truth Parsons’ She’s got little bit of babies in her hand, 2018. Image courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery.

Install shot with Nadia Belerique’s Sun Lamp (4) 2018, Sojourner Truth Parsons’ For Susan Burton’s Son (2018), and Cradles from Rocha (1) 2018 by Manuel Rocha, Nadia Belerique and Sojourner Truth Parsons. Image courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery.

A bumble bee on a marigold in Manuel Rocha’s garden, 2018.

Nadia Belerique, A Mirror For Your Feet On The Floor (reprise), 2017. One-way mirror, steel, collaged paper, pouring medium, pressed flowers, vitamin D, lights. Image courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery.

Close up of the backside of Nadia Belerique’s A Mirror For Your Feet On The Floor (reprise), 2017.


Manuel Rocha’s garden as seen from Daniel Faria Gallery.