Tim Whiten:  Elemental Fire

Adam Lauder
Art Gallery of York University, Toronto
September 15 – December 2, 2023
Tim WhitenTim Whiten: Elemental Fire, exhibition view, Art Gallery of York University, Toronto, 2023.
Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid, courtesy of Art Gallery of York University, Toronto
Art Gallery of York University, Toronto
September 15 – December 2, 2023
Guest curated by Liz Ikiriko, Tim Whiten: Elemental Fire concludes a multi-venue quartet of exhibitions honouring the four elements and their role as alchemical agents in Whiten’s art. Fire is the organizing principle of the fourteen works assembled for the Art Gallery of York University’s installment in this cycle, but, because it is a perennial scourge to art galleries, it is unsurprising that fire itself is nowhere to be seen — at least, not literally. True to Whiten’s long-standing exploration of heightened states of perception, viewers are instead invited to seek out material traces of fire’s transformational capacity in his “cultural objects,” as he prefers to call his creations.

The changes of state ignited by fire are strikingly embodied by the omnipresence of glass. A medium sculpted by fire, glass is fluid when heated and, perplexingly, maintains some of its liquid properties when cooled. Whiten wittily alludes to fire’s enduring imprint on the molecular (dis)organization of this favoured medium through the air bubbles trapped in a glass block that seems to boil beneath the cast-iron frying pan of Elemental (1992 – 93). That work’s alchemical synthesis of physical states and gendered signs establishes a primary conceptual axis of the exhibition. These connections are amplified through Elemental’s alignment with other works occupying the central line of sight through the gallery’s undivided expanse. In effect, these objects describe viewers’ potential journey of transformation.

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This article also appears in the issue 110 - Agriculture

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