Michelle Forsyth at Open Studio

“I live, for the most part, in silence. Or, at least the kind of silence peppered by ambient sound.” Thus begins the written paragraph in Notebook (2021), a photographic print in Michelle Forsyth’s solo exhibition at Open Studio. Titled In this moment, there is no sound, Forsyth’s exhibition features ten photographs that reflect her solitary experience of the pandemic by documenting “her performative engagement with objects made and collected during [it].”

Notebook (from the series Easily Overlooked, yet carefully arranged), 2021, archival pigment print, edition 1/3, 24” x 24”. Image courtesy of Open Studio

As an artist living with a progressive disease, Forsyth examines this anomalous point of history through the lens of time and change. Textiles, found objects, notebooks, photographs—these are the diaries Forsyth uses to document life. Irregularities and imperfections in the artworks aren’t mistakes but treasured for their own sake. Time is precious, but change is inevitable.

Installation view of In this moment, there is no sound. Image courtesy of Open Studio

Notebook, a photograph of a lined notebook with a single paragraph of written text, introduces audiences to the lonesome headspace of Forsyth’s pandemic. Lines such as, “I no longer go beyond the walls of my apartment very often,” are painfully familiar. Herringbone Jacket (2021) introduces the next fundamental element of the exhibition: herringbone pattern. In this image, a folded herringbone jacket sits on a painted herringbone backdrop. The resulting visual is reminiscent of the “Magic Eye” illusion books — ‘unfocus your eyes and the picture will appear.’

Herringbone Jacket (from the series Easily Overlooked, yet carefully arranged), 2021, archival pigment print, edition 1/3, 24” x 24”. Image courtesy of Michelle Forsyth.

Like in most of the works in this exhibition, from afar one can only see repetitions of herringbone. Up close, the details reveal the story. The uneven stitching, imperfectly painted backdrop, tiny wisps off the surface of the material; these are reminders of the artist’s hands and the living, breathing, changing human being behind the artwork.

Dried Flowers on Herringbone Backdrop 1 (2021) is an image of orange-yellow flowers, drooped in various stages of life. Against the hand-painted backdrop, the flowers are strikingly hyperreal in comparison. Yet, they too are products of the artist creation; dried and preserved, positioned into various stages of life, and then preserved again by photographic design. These dried flowers appear again in Dried Flowers on Herringbone Backdrop 2 (2021), this time up close and in crisp focus against a blurred herringbone background.

Dried Flowers on Herringbone Backdrop 1 (from the series Easily Overlooked, yet carefully arranged), 2021, archival pigment print, edition 1/3, 24” x 24”. Image courtesy of Michelle Forsyth.

Dried Flowers on Herringbone Backdrop 2 (from the series Easily Overlooked, yet carefully arranged), 2021, archival pigment print, edition 1/3, 24” x 24”. Image courtesy of Michelle Forsyth.

In Improvisation 3: Herringbone Jacket #1 (2021), the artist stands against the herringbone backdrop wearing the herringbone jacket. The only visible parts of Forsyth are her hands, holding a black and white patterned textile in a bundle to obscure her head. In this image, the face is not the symbol of identity; only the hands have that privilege.

Once again, hidden treasures are in the details. The stitches on the cuff are mere centimeters away from the hands, closely connecting the creator and the created. The patterns on the jacket and on the backdrop, as before, are imperfect. A tattoo on the artist’s wrist peeks through the cuff—accidental or planned—adding another handcrafted artwork to the mix.

Improvisation 3: Herringbone Jacket #1, 2021, archival pigment print, edition 1/3, 24” x 24. Image courtesy of Michelle Forsyth.

Repetitions are in every facet of the exhibition. The herringbone pattern is repeated on the jacket and the backdrop. Objects are shared across photographs. The pattern itself is a repetition. Even Improvisation 3: Herringbone Jacket #1 is presented twice, once in a white frame and once in a black frame. These frames call attention to the light and dark elements of the works, respectively, a reminder that art does not exist in a vacuum.

Installation view of In this moment, there is no sound. Image courtesy of Open Studio.

In this moment, there is no sound is both a documentary and an exploration. Forsyth records a specific range of time while also examining the concept of time as a finite resource. She captures the ephemeral, literally grasping and exhibiting a moment in her hands. She then completes the documentary ritual by photographing the performance.

We often mark the passing of time by the development of our worlds: the sun, the weather, the workplace, the people around us. But when the external world is on hold, we are left with only the changes in ourselves which loom large in comparison. In this moment, there is no sound is a space to digest these ideas and see them digested in turn.

Time is precious, and change is inevitable.

Installation view of In this moment, there is no sound. Image courtesy of Open Studio.

Olivia Mariko Hsuen-Ferris

*Exhibition Information: In this moment, there is no sound, October 29 – December 18, 2021, Open Studio, 104-401 Richmond St W, Toronto. Gallery hours are Tue to Sat, 11 am – 5 pm. Michelle Forsyth would like to thank the support of the City of Toronto through Toronto Arts Council.

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