Vacancies 

By Anna Kovler

In one of the few remaining light industrial neighborhoods in Toronto, a massive studio building houses Towards, an emerging independent art gallery. “Vacancies” is the seventh show at the gallery, a three-person exhibition featuring ceramic sculptures by Sameer Farooq, etchings on glass by Joshua Vettivelu, and a sculptural installation by Abbas Akhavan.

Placed on white shelves running down a long wall in the gallery are Sameer Farooq’s pale copies and imprints of museum packaging materials. What are generally considered practical, unprecious materials that support the “valuable” artwork – plastic wrap, tissue paper, and air-filled tubes – transform into the artwork through the artist’s intervention. Farooq creates traces of these objects by casting them in porcelain or using paper clay, which he folds almost like a skin over wads of museum wrapping tissue. Displayed unpreciously as an inventory of things, the white copies sit, numbered and patched in places, like wounded ghosts or death masks resting on a scientist’s shelf.

Displayed on the floor beside Farooq’s pale sculptures is Abbas Akhavan’s after Untitled, a white 2-ply tissue paper the size of a queen-sized blanket. The installation is Akhavan’s homage to Felix Gonzales-Torres’ haunting photograph of an empty bed. And yet the oversized Kleenex, thin and vulnerable on the floor, cannot keep anyone warm, but could perhaps catch the tears of many people in a moment of overflowing collective grief. Both Farooq’s inventory of undocumented objects and Akhavan’s large tissue evoke meditation on recent global conflicts, the refugee crisis, and flow of undocumented, hidden people across the world’s borders, and the allowance to cry for these unfathomably sad events, to mourn.

Upon a tall plinth are Joshua Vettivelu’s drawings of gay white supremacists, etched onto glass. Arranged in a circle, the glass rectangles show men engaging in a variety of activities, some erotic, others violent. Appearing shirtless and muscular, the men play out archetypes of “strong” masculinity, a performance the artist subverts by placing the men onto glass, a see-through and fragile material. Vettivelu’s disturbing yet poetic sculpture allows us to see right through displays of racist aggressive masculinity, as nothing more than a reaction caused by these men’s deep vulnerability.

A sense of thoughtful sadness pervades the exhibition. Taken together, the works evoke the different kinds of ghosts that haunt us, the ghosts of both loved ones and those whom we denounce, of institutions and their blind spots, of the sacred and of the mundane.

“Vacancies” is on view at Towards gallery at 87 Wade Ave. Suite B1 in Toronto from December 7 – January 6, 2018.