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.

Slow Time: Patrick Coutu at Magasin Général

Slow Time: Patrick Coutu at Magasin Général

At the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, near the small community of Rivière-la-Madeleine on the Gaspé Peninsula, Patrick Coutu is working on a series of direct casts of mountains. This is no easy task, as he balances on steep cliffs surrounding a waterfall to adhere the casting material – paper pulp – to the surface. His choice of material evokes the location’s industrial past, once part of the booming network of pulp and paper mills, foundries, textile factories, and aluminum smelters that operated along the St. Lawrence in countless numbers. The Great Eastern Paper Company is long gone from this location, but the rocks of the Appalachian Mountains are still here, fixtures that change at a slower pace than industry and its fickle cycles.

Coutu cast those parts of the rock face where fault lines run like veins through the vast mountain formations, signaling the sudden shifts or long-term erosion, which change the surface of the earth. Like a scar that unmistakably suggests something has occurred, points of cleavage mark a moment of change and reveal the rock’s interior structure. The series of casts connects the mountains with the trees that surround them, and thus geological changes with industrial ones.

Indeed changes in land formations mirror the changes in towns and industries, only at a different time scale. It was 134 years from the time when the first Canadian wood pulp mill was established in Québec in 1866 until the year 2000 when the paper industry entered its sharp decline. The Appalachian Mountains formed about 480 million years ago.

The building where Coutu’s series of casts is on view speaks to yet another shifting landscape. His project is part of a residency at Magasin Général, an international residency program and exhibition space occupying a 19th century building, originally the village’s general store. With the paper mill gone and the town no longer a “boom town,” new kinds of economies emerge, and an outdated business like a general store transforms into an international residency. Retaining the building’s original name is a bit like looking for fault lines in the mountain; we are drawn to know the history of a town and a landscape, and to wear our scars proudly.

Patrick Coutu’s new series and the exhibition “Natural Loci” was produced as part of the residency at Magasin Général Studio International en creation multidisciplinaire in Rivière-la-Madeleine, Québec, and is on view until August 12, 2018.

Upcoming exhibitions for Coutu will take place at at Choi and Lager in Cologne, Germany in December, 2019, and at Musée d’art de Joliette in fall of 2019.

Patrick Coutu, Flux III, Fosse, 2018. Enamel and acrylic on paper.


Patrick Coutu, Flux I, Grand Sault, 2018. Enamel and acrylic on paper.

Patrick Coutu adhering paper pulp to the mountain in Rivière-la-Madeleine on the Gaspé Peninsula, 2018.

Patrick Coutu adhering paper pulp to the mountain in Rivière-la-Madeleine on the Gaspé Peninsula, 2018.

Magasin Général Studio International en creation multidisciplinaire in Rivière-la-Madeleine, Québec.

Archival image of the machine room at the Canada Paper Company in 1894.

To Paint a Love Poem: In the Studio with Ambera Wellmann

To Paint a Love Poem: In the Studio with Ambera Wellmann

By Anna Kovler

Historically, the Minotaur is always the pinnacle of violence and brute strength. In ancient Greek statues, for instance, the figure is depicted as an ominous bull’s head emerging from a muscular human torso, tense and ready for battle. In Picasso’s suite of etchings, the mythological creature is often bursting out of the frame, swollen and crazed as it devours helpless women.

Pinned to the wall of Ambera Wellmann’s studio, a small drawing of a Minotaur alternatively shows the mythic beast in a soft embrace with a voluptuous woman. The pose of the Minotaur here is not in keeping with its character. The lovers’ limbs wrap softly around each other’s bodies as her legs rest over his mighty back. Their bodies merge like two halves of a yinyang symbol, his dark furry texture contrasting her pale skin as he cradles half-moons of her flesh. His soft and vaguely rendered eyes gaze into his lover’s face as his hoof gently holds the back of her head. Bull-headed, dangerous beast transformed into careful partner.

“Picasso’s Minotaur drawings are very aggressive and hetero-masculine,” explains Wellmann, “The narrative is about the sacrificial use of women, offering them to the Minotaur to maintain peace. I wanted to explore the story from the female’s perspective, and have been working on this mutual, shared experience between both of them that is much more tender and visceral.”

All of the paintings of lovemaking in Wellmann’s studio depict the sexual act at its most caring and sweet. Some small works depict interracial bodies in erotic positions, the simplified paint marks distilling intense emotions of love into large gestures that mirror the way detail tends to disappear in sexual moments. The state is trance-like and blurry. Wellmann’s portrayals of the violent Minotaur enact a reversal of his character, with typically masculine, aggressive traits becoming soft and responsive. Where one might have been normally repelled by the threat of certain bodies, the sight of these embraces produces a strange desire to be held by them. Like a series of love poems, the feminist perspective of Wellmann’s paintings represent people, emotions, and bodies as brave, tender, and full of appreciation.

Upcoming exhibitions for Ambera Wellmann include group shows in July at Kraupa Tuskany Zeidler in Berlin and at CRAC in Sete, France; group exhibitions at Office Baroque in Brussels in September, 2018, and at T293 in Rome in October, 2018; and solo exhibitions at Projet Pangée in Montreal in October, 2018, and at Lulu in Mexico City in February, 2018.

Ambera Wellmann, Minotaur I, Charcoal on paper, 2018.

Ambera Wellmann, On Green, Oil Acrylic and Soft Pastel on Paper, 2018.

View of Minotaur I in Ambera Wellmann’s Berlin studio, 2018.

View of On Green in Ambera Wellmann’s Berlin studio, 2018.

View of Ambera Wellmann’s Berlin studio, 2018.

View of Ambera Wellmann’s Berlin studio, 2018.

Lore Of The Mount: In the Studio with Simon Hughes

Lore Of The Mountain: In The Studio With Simon Hughes

Looking out of the windows in Simon Hughes’ studio we see Winnipeg in two cardinal directions, its low-lying buildings and flat terrain stretching far into the horizon. Inside, however, the artist is painting mountains. Proficient in the medium of watercolor, Hughes is trying his hand at painting on canvas, a preoccupation marked as much by a history of male artists “conquering” new heights as the history of mountaineering. Hughes enters the territory cautiously, with a good dose of satire, and self-reflection.

A magazine page tacked to the wall beside his largest painting pictures the Sierra Nevada where the peaks of snow capped mountains kiss a peach-colored sun. Mighty nature is shown as dangerous, pure, desolate and awesome. But inside the space of Hughes’ paintings, the rugged power of the mountain begins to fall apart. Clippings from books and magazines mingle with painted triangle shapes on the canvas, like rows of shark’s teeth pointing to the sky.

Collaged inside the mountain are images of nearly all of human history – fighter jets, cityscapes, mountain ranges, vintage cars, a bulldozer, cave men, famous artworks and ancient pottery. Jutting out flatly like theatre set paintings, the kaleidoscopic pieces amount to everything the symbol of the mountain can offer, athletic challenge, resource extraction, and now, environmental collapse. Multiple realities coexist in the painted formations, competing and surviving all at the same time.

The history of Romantic landscapes collides with technology and industry in this series. “If you pan over from a Caspar David Friedrich painting,” muses Hughes, “you’d probably see an open pit mine.” Indeed the mountain – with its rich deposits of coal and slopes for skiing and climbing – has for centuries been the site of both heavy industry and fantasies of rugged untouched purity. In his variety of collaged imagery, Hughes shows these binary concepts without prioritizing one over the other. The manmade is now an inextricable part of nature, and there is no going back.

Simon Hughes’ upcoming exhibition opens June 23, 2018 at Division Gallery in Toronto.

Simon Hughes, Nocturne, 2018. Acrylic and collage on linen.

Simon Hughes, Vision Quest, 2018. Acrylic and collage on linen.

Simon Hughes in his Winnipeg studio, collecting found imagery from magazines and books, 2018.

Two paintings in progress and stacks of collage material at Simon Hughes’ Winnipeg studio, 2018.

Unknown Past, Unknown Future: An Te Liu at MARSO Foundation, Mexico City

A crumbling Porfirian-era mansion in the centre of Mexico City houses NEW LIFE, An Te Liu’s first solo exhibition in the city. Shielded from the street by dark iron gates and old trees, the grandiloquent house stands as a vestige of the architectural boom and modernization project executed by infamous dictator Porfirio Díaz in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its cool and wide stone staircases open up to terraces lined with classical colonnade railings and ornate arched doorways, leading to a series of interconnected galleries where Liu’s recent bronze sculptures stand atop plinths. In one of the rooms a series of Liu’s early photolithographs from 1999 hangs on the wall, tracing connections between the different styles of his artistic career and with the multifarious architectural style of the gallery itself.

The photolithographs show composite images of computers Liu rescued from a garbage in the late 90s. Each image is a collage of several original boxy machines like the Mac Classic, the Quadra, and the Mac II SE, their outdated shapes further obscured by their new amalgamations. Technological progress has a way of making once cutting edge objects now seem clunky and hapless; with the passage of time, it becomes difficult to even imagine what functions these devices ever had. “It’s about the cycles of progress,” Liu explains. “These objects keep arriving, and then they leave our lives, and if someone finds them later they might not know where they came from. I imagine if a young person found a VCR today they wouldn’t know what it is, and it would probably be this mysterious thing.”

The architectural style of the mansion, now MARSO Foundation, reflects dictator Porfirio’s obsession with European architecture. This obsession resulted in buildings combining several European styles from disparate epochs to create new forms. Here Neoclassical symmetry mixes with Art Nouveau ironwork and Baroque mouldings that recall the Colonial period. While such buildings served as symbols of modernism in Mexico City a century ago, today they stand partly ruined, dreamy and overgrown, their original uses forgotten after the upheavals of the Revolution. Little is known about what life the mansion has had, except that it once functioned as the temporary office for a political party and much later as an Internet café – another phenomenon, like the video rental store, that quietly slipped into obsolescence.

Liu’s sculptures have a similar quality of combining different epochs, styles, and materials to create forms that recall several things at once while remaining mysterious. The simple shapes of his Eidolons (2014) bear features of Styrofoam packaging, like its pocked surface and curved openings, while also resembling futuristic robotic creatures on tiny legs. With spike-shaped protrusions along the sides of their bodies, they wear the stamps found on Styrofoam packaging like a series of birthmarks. Rather than providing a straightforward statement, these sculptures function as a series of suggestions, inverting materials and displaying contradictions. The negative space of packaging becomes the positive space of the sculpture, the inanimate seems to be its own species of life, and the futuristic creatures wear a tarnished patina as though they have been dug out of an ancient tomb.

Especially poetic is the work’s suggestion that time is neither linear nor cyclical, but simultaneous. In the imagination, like in Liu’s sculptures, prehistory, the present, and the distant future travel along the same synaptic pathways, capable of occupying a single written line or a unified sculpted surface. Like bubbles in a pot of boiling water, styles emerge, fade, and re-appear in single volume. The specter of modernism looms in these sculptures as Liu attempts to come to terms with a technological present constantly moving towards the future. Both sculptural modernism and the Porfirian mansion that these works occupy were once potent symbols of modernity. Now they are relics slowly crumbling from the wear of rain and wind and flow of new ideas.

An Te Lui’s solo exhibition NEW LIFE is on view at MARSO Foundation in Mexico City until June 16, 2018.

By Anna Kovler

An Te Liu, installation view at Marso Foundation of Eidolon IV-I, 2017, Eidolon VI-V, 2017, and Mutation (III), 2018. Bronze.


An Te Liu, Untitled, 1999/2015. Photolithographs on Rives BFK.

An Te Liu, Eternal Return, 2017. Bronze.

View of MARSO Foundation, Mexico City. 2018.

Earth/Air/Fire/Water: Wanda Koop at Arsenal New York

In the exhibition STANDING WITHSTANDING, Wanda Koop presents a selection of works encompassing some of the major themes of her career. A clear path emerges, connecting a video-installation presented at the 2001 Venice Biennale to a body of paintings made this year. While Koop’s references are specific – the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, an albino gorilla, a SpaceX rocket launch – the ethereal and minimal compositions of the paintings take on a universal, timeless character. Painted with thin washes of indigo, lavender, and mauve and accented with neon orange and electric pink, the series features Koop’s unfussy, confident mark-making and her personal lexicon of symbols. Depictions of earth, air, fire, and water are complicated by traces of heavy industry and the social, environmental, and emotional costs of ravenous development.

Installed in an intimate viewing room at the back of the gallery, the video loop Gorilla (2001) is projected down into a pool filled with water showing Snowflake, an albino gorilla that lived at the Barcelona zoo. Upon hearing of its existence, Koop was on the overnight train to see him. From hours of footage it became clear that Snowflake’s behavior displayed the repetitive, anxious quality of highly intelligent animals in captivity. He would splash around in a small pool before going to hide in his enclosure. A few other movements in between masked this repetition for onlookers only briefly seeing the gorilla, but upon longer inspection his torment was unmistakable. Footage condensed into a 30-second loop amplifies Snowflake’s fixated actions. The video renders his splashing and subsequent withdrawal into an infinite cycle, his magnificence reduced to a set of movements out of and into resignation.

A small recent painting at the entrance of the gallery depicts a gorilla on a muted green riverbank guarding a large orange flame. Presiding over both the entrance and darkest corner of the space, the animal’s two appearances turn the gallery into a loop of its own. As visitors make the rounds from front to back and out again, there appears to be little difference between the movements of Snowflake in his enclosure and ours in the gallery. “We are nature,” Koop remarks, “and we are doing this to ourselves.”

Some paintings in the exhibition point to the damaging effects of colonialism and development on the landscape and its inhabitants, while others celebrate the elegance and beauty of human inventions like towering urban skyscrapers. A painting of an oil refinery titled Northern Alberta (2017) ambiguously looks both looming and majestic. Despite taking on polarizing political and environmental themes, the exhibition shows the issues as complex, resisting the pitfalls of black and white ideology. “It’s all horrific and fantastic at the same time,” Koop explains, “all of these elements are us – we’re fragile, we’re beautiful, and we’re terrifying.”

by Anna Kovler

Wanda Koop’s STANDING WITHSTANDING is on view at Arsenal Contemporary New York from May 1 – June 17, 2018.

Wanda Koop, Gorilla, 2018. Acrylic on canvas. 16” x 20”.

Wanda Koop, Gorilla, (shot in 1991, presented during the 2001 Venice Biennale at the Thetis Foundation in the Arsenal, and recreated at Arsenal Contemporary NY 2018). HD Video, plexiglass pool, water. 80” x 53”

Wanda Koop, installation view of STANDING WITHSTANDING at Arsenal Contemporary New York.

Wanda Koop, Northern Alberta, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. 40” x 30”.

Wanda Koop, Dusk Blue + Brilliant Orange, 2017. Acrylic on Canvas. 40” x 30”.

Life, Death, and Heavy Metal: In The Studio With Paul Butler

Paul Butler has worn many hats in the art world. He has tried his hand at nearly every art-related occupation available to somebody who showed early promise as an artist (in public school he avoided being bullied on account of his flawless drawings of Iron Maiden and Metallica logos, which he was commissioned to draw on skateboards and denim jackets). Lately Butler has narrowed his scope back to just being an artist, and back to the reasons he got into art in the first place. The excitement of working on something feverishly all night and then talking about it to a friend, or the freedom to try something new and fail, have found their way back into his practice. So has the grade-school imagery. In his new series of collages, to be shown at Division Gallery Toronto in May, a heavy metal guitarist shreds against a backdrop of stained glass, and 80s sports cars hover over a tropical beach. References to getting high and drinking alcohol are joined in the series by pink flamingoes, hockey players, and a Duchampian BMX wheel on a white stool.

It has been 20 years since Butler began his Collage Parties, collaborations between the artist and the public in which everyone gets to work making collages with magazines and material provided by Butler. “I like the atmosphere of people around me, almost like art school,” he explains, “it’s my opportunity for growth.” The latest iteration of Collage Party was a month-long undertaking at Project Gallery last February where Butler played host and honed his latest collages. On the horizon is a plan to open a permanent space in Toronto where Collage Party can continue on a regular basis.

Aside from returning to his childhood inspirations of metal, mullets, and hockey, Butler’s new collages touch on larger questions in life. A puff of white smoke on a blue background has the word “Death” adhered to it, and an image of a couple hugging is subtitled with the word “Feelings.” There is no single way to interpret his pairings of text and images, and Butler himself does not dictate their meaning. He has been focused on working intuitively, from the gut. “I’m like a vehicle,” he says, “I try to get out the way.”

As Butler is the conduit for the collective experiences at Collage Party, so too does the collective feed back into his own work. He often ends up using scraps that are created at Collage Parties, finding shapes on the floor he would never think to cut himself. “I’m like a garbage picker,” Butler explains, “I find a scrap and I like it, and I don’t really know why.”

Paul Butler’s new collages will be on view at his next solo exhibition which opens May 17th 2018 at Division Gallery in Toronto.

Written by Anna Kovler

Paul Butler, feelings, 2017. Collage based C-print mounted to aluminum. 16 x 20 in.

Paul Butler, Saint Maurice, 2015-18. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 24 x 30 in.

Paul Butler, MIAMI, 2018. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 24 x 32 in.

Paul Butler, Death, 2017. Collage based C-print mounted on Plexiglas. 20 x 24 in.

On MKUltra, LSD, and Generational Trauma: The Upcoming Performances of Sarah Anne Johnson

For the last ten years, Sarah Anne Johnson has been making work in response to an unusual and deeply traumatic event in her family’s history. In 1956, nobody in the family suspected that Johnson’s grandmother, Velma Orlikow, was part of a secret medical study funded by the CIA. When she checked into Allan Memorial Hospital in Montréal, with what now would be diagnosed as post-partum depression, she unknowingly became a test subject in a subproject of MKUltra. The insidious medical study headed by Dr. Ewen Cameron at McGill subjected patients to electric shock therapy, sleep deprivation, heavy sedation, and large doses of LSD. The clandestine American agency hoped that the psychedelic drug could be used to psychologically control and extract information from individuals of national security interest at the height of the Cold War.

The psychological damage to the family was permanent and cyclical. “What happened to my grandmother,” Johnson explains, “is this horrible thing that never resolved. It got passed to my mom and to me; in my memory what the doctor did is a continual thing that’s still going on.” In a multidisciplinary body of work, Johnson reflects on this trauma by roleplaying as both her grandmother and the doctor. In the installation Hospital Hallway, which will be shown at Arsenal Contemporary New York in fall of 2018, Johnson performs the desperate acts of a medical patient. Wearing a mask of her grandmother’s face, her intense choreographed dance struggles against the walls of a custom-built octagonal hallway, her body following a loop without exit.

The Cave, which will be shown at Julie Saul Gallery in New York, is a frozen, icy room at the heart of the imaginary house Johnson built for her grandmother. What should be the kitchen, or the warmest room of the house, has been damaged by the psychological effects of MKUltra. Inside The Cave, Johnson is dressed in a doctor’s uniform, performing a circular dance with a languid, nude doll whose head periodically rolls back. “He’s in the lead. The doctor is in control and she’s vulnerable,” Johnson notes, “he’s just dancing around at her expense.” It is a slow, depressing waltz without music that digs itself under the skin. As onlookers, our detached view makes us complicit in the torture before us, like those scientific gazes that witness and carefully chart a woman’s suffering from behind glass.

Sarah Anne Johnson’s upcoming exhibitions include “Rosy Fingered Dawn” at Julie Saul Gallery in New York, which opens May 5th, 2018; a group show at the MET Breuer in September 2018; and parallel presentations of The Cave and Hospital Hallway at Julie Saul.

Written by Anna Kovler

Sarah Anne Johnson. Velma Orlikow. 2008. 20 x 26 in. Graphite on Inkjet.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Hospital Hallway, displayed with monitors between live performances. Upcoming installation and performances at Arsenal Contemporary New York, fall 2018.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Performing Hospital Hallway. 2015.


Sarah Anne Johnson. Stills from The Cave, 2018. To be performed at Julie Saul Gallery New York, September 2018.


A Future We Do Not Yet Know: In The Studio With An Te Liu

by Anna Kovler

In a defunct, light-filled car garage, An Te Liu is wrapping up production of his new bronze sculptures in preparation for the Armory Show in New York. Casts, molds, and waxes lie on the floor amid dozens of slender plinths casting their shadows on the white concrete floor. Working in a renovated mechanic’s shop, with its original brick walls and garage doors, perfectly suits Liu’s fascination with the aesthetic of ruins and the inevitability of change.

His forms hover between identifiable objects and strange, mysterious artifacts. A small sculpture vaguely recalls a skull, while another references a partial body in motion. Next to those, a blackened disco ball hangs from the ceiling. Another bronze looks like a piece of petrified Styrofoam, and two works resemble orphaned car parts. Whether organic or technological, all things decay; the solids and metals with which we build our worlds perhaps are just ways of buying time. Like a science fiction novel, Liu’s sculptures propose what our objects might look like if unearthed thousands of years from now, their surfaces tarnished as if from fire, or polished like pebbles in the sea.

I’ll Be Your Mirror (2018) reminds me of something, but I can’t quite tell what. Like thunderbolts, two rust colored bronze pieces emerge from the plinth, connected in the middle by something resembling a stick. “I’ve been looking at driftwood,” Liu explains, “how something just erodes away after millions of years.” The shape of the sculpture comes from the taillights of the new Honda Fit, a modest but sporty hatchback. As though fossilized or petrified, the taillights have fused together with the driftwood at centre. A picture comes to mind of a forest floor on which the roots of a powerful tree have subsumed or punctured the Honda, forcing its tendrils into the car’s plastic and glass.

Liu’s references are as diverse as his inspirations. He has been recently looking at the tortured figures in Francis Bacon’s paintings with their shifting planes, deformed expressions, and otherworldly features. The influence of Futurist sculptors like Brancusi and Boccioni is also strongly felt. But unlike the Futurists, whose unwavering embrace of technological innovation spurred an imagining of new futures, Liu’s sculptures carry a heavy awareness of our civilization’s decline, its wreckage and foreclosure. Standing before his corroded disco ball or relics of taillights, one feels a bit like one of the travelers in a Romantic or Neoclassical landscape painting, stumbling upon the ruins of a coliseum, temple, or castle. Feelings of awe and melancholy arise in equal measure, calling forth a future we do not yet know, or one that has already passed.

An Te Liu will be exhibiting at the 2018 Armory Show in Booth #P16 of the Presents section from March 8 – 11. Upcoming exhibitions include “Nothing Stable Under Heaven” at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from March 3 – September 16, 2018, “The House Imaginary” at the San Jose Museum of Art from April 20- August 9, 2018, “bust/boom” at the New Gallery in Calgary from May – June 2018, an exhibition at Marso Gallery in Mexico City and a solo exhibition at Division Gallery in Toronto which opens September 6, 2018.

An Te Liu’s Toronto studio, 2018.


An Te Liu, The Party’s Over, 2017. Bronze, 12 inches diameter. Ed 3 of 4.


An Te Liu in his Toronto studio, 2018.


An Te Liu, Halcyon Drift (Bubba), 2018. Bronze, 17 3/8 x 18 x 13 ½ in. Ed 1 of 3.


An Te Liu in his Toronto studio, 2018.


An Te Liu, Nonorganic Life, 2017. Bronze, 12 x 5 x 6 in, Ed 4 of 5.