Refiguring Worlds / Birch Contemporary

Refiguring Worlds, curated by Rebecca Travis transports us to a space in transition where uncanny objects and scenes are caught shifting from the familiar to the peculiar. Each work of art is a fragment from a different realm, where their respective artist has formulated some form of intervention to develop or unpack the common and banal into the spectacular and strange.

The show features five captivating artists, practicing in a wide variety of different mediums.

The work of Ginette Legaré are assemblages of found objects and materials, that radically transform, often mundane, components into bizarre sculptures that evoke elements of living creatures or surreal hybrids between object and organism. Close-up is a mechanical contraption that, with its extended magnifying glass, invites the viewer to inspect it closely, only to be confronted with a visually enlarged set of menacing jagged teeth emerging from an architectural circular moulding attached to the gallery’s wall. The piece is visceral and nightmarish, yet nostalgic in its industrial design and physicality.

Ginette Legaré, Close-up (Painter’s Stroke series), 2004, 14 ¼” × 22″ × 10 ½”, metal, wood, rubber, magnifying lens and customized paintbrush. Courtesy of the artist and Birch Contemporary

Another work of Legaré, Démantelée, is an elegant piece that simply combines a long umbrella handle and green, leather, sequin fabric, and by merging them manages to draw out both of the elements of reptilian or fish-like features, transforming it into a bourgeois-looking abstract lizard. Recount is an installation that takes what appears to be a domestic and culinary utensil, the salad serving fork, and extrapolates it into an ornamental design that dissolves the single functional object, through multiplication, into an abstract pattern of wooden prongs that sometimes remind us of upturned palms.

Ginette Legaré, Recount, 2004, cherry wood and screws, 96″ × 102″ × 6″ and Démantelée (Complements direct series), 2018, leatherette on tulle, metal, plastic umbrella handle, 38″ x 12” x 9”. Photo: Nathan Flint

The works of Sarah Davidson combine otherworldly botanical or amoebic forms and abstract decor pattern. From afar the edge effects resembles cut out paper collages suspended on parchment like a large vertical banner, but upon closer inspection you discover that the pieces are mixed media paintings filled with intricate details that depict organic textures and animalistic features. A beautiful depiction of a microscopic, fantasy world; the piece plays with the clinical depictions of botanical samples and diagrams by adding whimsical creatures and shapes.

Sarah Davidson, edge effects, 2017, watercolour, ink and pencil crayon on paper, 62″ × 35″. Courtesy of Birch Contemporary

Similarly, in hide and seek, Davidson uses her masterful skills of wet and dry mediums to depict dense vegetation that overlaps and entangles itself. The inclusion and transparency of amorphic forms adds a level of surrealism where these flat geometric shapes are penetrating their way through the image. The use of flatness and depth makes the work exciting to explore.

Sarah Davidson, hide and seek, 2018 ink, watercolour, flashe, graphite, pencil crayon on paper, 46″ × 51″. Courtesy of Birch Contemporary

Visually comparable to the work of Davidson are the analogue collages of Maryse Larivière. Using a traditional cut and paste technique, Larivière composes surreal landscapes that predominantly feature her main subject of the collection, the hummingbird. Accompanying her framed artworks is her collection of poetry and prose, Hummzinger, that was inspired by the Royal Ontario Museum’s hummingbird collection.

Maryse Larivière, Red Mountain, 2017, collage, 16 ½” × 11 ½”. Photo: Nathan Flint

Continuing with the exhibition’s theme of reforming places and things, Brendan George Ko’s photography takes two distinct and distant locations, Hawai’i and Toronto, and places them beside each other to create an imaginary landscape in between adjacent frames. Ko’s style is reminiscent of a cinematic dreamscape with its unnatural lighting palette and deceives the audience into believing the images were taken in similar locations and time, despite the reality of their vast differences. The work proves to be a fun challenge for viewers to guess which photo came from which country and questions our knowledge of indigenous species.

Brendan George Ko, Lauhala Pattern, from Scrapbook IV: strangerintwoworlds (left) and The Day The Fungi Took Over, from WIP Scrapbook V (right) both 2017, C-print, 24″ × 20″. Photo: Nathan Flint

The exhibition contains a video screened on a television monitor by artist Ed Pien. The work, titled Wallpaper, abstracts flowers and other flora into kaleidoscopic images that oscillate in fluid movements, as if breathing. The piece is constantly taking new forms in short vignettes of moving patterns and configurations. The arrangements are beautiful and captivating, compelling the viewers’ eyes to deconstruct the mirrored imagery in order to figure out what the source of the original image might be.

Ed Pien, Wallpaper, 2012, video stills, 16:00. Courtesy of the artist and Birch Contemporary

Overall, the exhibition is a well curated show that creates fascinating conversations between artists working in a variety of mediums. It approaches to a unique subject matter that is evidently relevant to each of their practices and creates a challenge to the eyes of the beholder.

Nathan Flint

Featured image: Sarah Davidson, detail of edge effects, 2017, watercolour, ink and pencil crayon on paper, 62″ × 35″. Courtesy of Birch Contemporary

*Exhibition information: REFIGURING WORLDS: SARAH DAVIDSON, BRENDAN GEORGE KO, GINETTE LEGARÉ, MARYSE LARIVIÈRE, ED PIEN, July 19 – August 25, 2018, Birch Contemporary, 129 Tecumseth Street, Toronto. Gallery hours: Wed–Fri 10 am – 6 pm, Sat 11 am – 5 pm.

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