Order of Operations marks a first solo show at Narwhal for artist Noel Middleton, who has been exhibiting with that gallery for seven years. The works are, in a sense, site-specific, for they incorporate Middleton’s finds during a renovation of the gallery space. Inspired by the process of demolishing walls, peeling off layers of old flooring and remaking the rooms, Middleton remodels his experience into a complex narrative, complete with archetypal characters and enigmatic symbols, the significance of which he explained in a public talk on January 24th.
Middleton’s art practice is heavily based on discarded items and objects closely at hand, which he “harvests” daily, a process he jokingly characterizes as an “ongoing game.” The classicizing air of the show is inspired by a chance encounter: Middleton found a discarded art book, “The Acropolis,” while renovating the gallery building. He was particularly intrigued by the aesthetic of certain photographs showing antique sculptures in museums or at archeological excavations.
Middleton is fascinated by the imperfections he uncovers through working closely with the various materials. In the case of this show, he intimates that as he was wrecking the walls apart, he discovered an “elevated sense of workmanship,” for each contractor applied a different touch in their past renovations, revealed in the details. Connecting the antique aesthetic with these modern-day excavations, Middleton made busts representing various contractors’ trades and chose to imitate the display of antique statues in museums with some additional sculptures.
Middleton confesses that he never knows what the final results will be like. Working from a rough sketch, he explores the qualities of materials that he finds, allowing them to guide his work through “encouraging compulsions.” Notably, he impresses found materials such as fruit cardboards or bubble wrap to shape the wet plaster. The choice of impressions is guided by an intuition of what material would be fitting for each statue. Certain materials leave traces of their coloring: the shaping process itself produces a subtle reference to the archeological discovery of the original coloring of Green and Roman statues. Just as Middleton discovered the history of the building through layer after layer of past renovations, the viewers are encouraged to uncover layers of significance in his work and reflect on the gallery space.
Text and photo: Elena Iourtaeva
*Exhibition information: January 10 – February 7, 2015, Narwhal, 2104 Dundas Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed – Sat, 12 – 6 p.m.