Entering the sterile space of the Scrap Metal Gallery can cause visitors to dismiss and disengage with the content as if it were just another white cube, impenetrable contemporary art gallery.However, We are safe and all is well in our world not only uses this impression to enhance its theme but challenges us to think deeper about practice, curation and display. Focusing on just four key artists that have been affected by AIDS crisis of the 1980s to some degree, this exhibition explores ideas of abstinence, sexuality and pain. Through the exhibition booklet and accompanying mini-bookstore at the gallery entrance, tools are available that provide deeper insight that greatly enhances the experience of the show.
Sterility is used as a form of communication, the floor is covered in plastic – a choice made by curator Rui Mateus Amaral to explore the medical approach to the crisis in the 1980s.Plastic wrap is also used to protect fragile things, and this choice by Amaral to become a creative collaborator with the exhibit seems to put the historic responsibility of care back into curatorial practice.The space wants you to be aware of your body, stepping on plastic in such a quiet space forces you to hypersensitivity.Time and meditation is encouraged, inviting you to consider what is commonly overlooked.The commonly unused dimension of the floor challenges us to also utilize all tools we have at our disposal, our time and ability to reflect.
This concept manifests in an exploration of flowers and bouquets, a common motif to symbolize sympathy and loss brought to people on their deathbeds.Paul P.’s Untitled (2004) quotes Manet’s series of bouquets that he completed during the last months of his life where he was confined in the French countryside in an attempt to ease his loneliness and confrontation with mortality.Recontextualizing the history of bouquets, transience and death, Paul P. begins to unpack what this gesture means to communicate.Robert Mapplethorpe’s Calla Lily (1984) located at the back of the gallery further interrogates what we do for the dead and dying and how the fleeting life of flowers has become a stand in for spending time with and connecting to vulnerable loved ones.
Installation view of We are safe and all is well in our world with Robert Mapplethorpe’s Calla Lily, 1984 (on the wall) and Chris Curreri’s installation, Proud Flesh, 2011 (front) Scrap Metal Gallery, 2017
Amaral uses the phrase “imagined by” instead of the commonly used “curated by”, which seems to also build on the idea of utilizing uncommon dimensions to move beyond typical languages.Queer artists have produced significant works through significant periods in history, and the art world has only scratched the surface in exposing and exploring their meaning.This task requires work and care, an active and engaged curator to elevate voices that have been overlooked and underappreciated.Curators must bring together objects into a space to exhilarate ideas, objects that have been hidden or exposed through different times and spaces.This exhibition explores these themes successfully, guiding visitors through a story to engage and reveal.A time and a place is presented, revealing how the AIDS epidemic produced a vast body of art and humanity and new ways to communicate that are still not entirely understood.
As Amaral states in the exhibition catalogue:“Words do not always adequately communicate ambiance and emotional texture.Sometimes, there are so many words, or so much to say, it overpowers one.”
Text and photo:Alexis Moline
*Exhibition information:We are safe and all is well in our world, s group show by Chris Curreri, Robert Gober, Robert Mapplethorpe & Paul P., January 20 – April 15, 2017, Scrap Metal Gallery, 11 Dublin Street, Toronto. Gallery hours: Fri & Sat 12 – 5 pm.