Somebody Everybody Nobody, Scrap Metal Gallery, Toronto | esse arts + opinions

Somebody Everybody Nobody, Scrap Metal Gallery, Toronto

Scrap Metal Gallery
  • Installation view, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Untitled (Last Light), 1993. © 2015 The Felix Gonzalez-Torres Foundation, courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York and Scrap Metal, Toronto. Miroslaw Balka, 186 x 10 x 10, 2000. Courtesy of the artist and Scrap Metal.
  • Iris Häussler, Klasse 6b, 1992-2014. Photo: courtesy of the artist, Scrap Metal and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto.
  • Installation view, Somebody Everybody Nobody, 2014-2015. Photo: courtesy of Scrap Metal, Toronto.
  • Installation view, Somebody Everybody Nobody, 2014-2015. Photo: courtesy of Scrap Metal, Toronto.
  • Iris Häussler, Body Casts, 2003-2014. Photo: courtesy of the artist, Scrap Metal and Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto.

Somebody Everybody Nobody, Scrap Metal Gallery, Toronto
October 24, 2014 – March 28, 2015

Minimal, thoughtful works, arranged to respond to spatial concerns with a regard for liberal breathing room, characterizes Toronto-based curator Rui Amaral's emerging style. His most recent exhibition at Scrap Metal, Somebody Everybody Nobody, is consistent with this hallmark sensibility, offering poetic undertones and a certain veil of melancholy. Amaral's approach certainly isn't formulaic. His distinct curatorial pace and rhythm feels refreshingly out of step with the city's scene.

Somebody Everybody Nobody benefits greatly from the international import of its artists. The exhibition's reach feels timely, vast and hits a nerve. It begs for a much-needed shift in Canadian programming, a call to embrace artists from beyond its borders. It seems important to note that Scrap Metal can support experimentation because it has the distinct advantage of not being constrained by the financial limitations faced by public institutions or commercial spaces. This allows for robust, challenging and likely expensive shows. The unique strength of the gallery lies in its seemingly effortless capacity to marry the undoubtedly expansive private collection of Joe Shlesinger and Samara Walbohm with works borrowed from international networks such as Dusseldorf and New York.

In this exhibition, approximately half of the roster is composed of Canadian artists, of which only three are still based in the country. The groupings that emerge, either through thematic resonance or material proximity, radiate outwards, connecting various spaces and times – tomorrow's burned out light bulb is placed in relation to a Polish concentration camp while Washington Irving's imagined Catskills are echoed in Shannon Bool's reconstructed Florentine piazzas of today. Each link crafts elaborate crystalline spheres and invisibly ties the specific to a greater whole.

The strongest current within the show centers on the accumulation and inevitable erosion of the body – bodies wrapped in time and the physical manifestations this produces. We are given the impression of memories and the corporeal shape of lived experience as well as the incomprehensible shared weight of human suffering, visible only in short bursts and glimmers. This narrative is most poignantly illustrated by the grouping of works by Miroslaw Balka, Felix Gonzales-Torres and Iris Häussler found at the far end of the gallery

Balka's indexical sculpture 186 x 10 x 10 is composed of used bars of soap, illustrating the way in which everyday objects tell stories. Threaded onto stainless steel wire and suspended across adjoining walls, the bars create an oversized necklace of organic forms similar to rocks or shells, all of which are made smooth by the same source. In various states of decay – or rather, use – each cake suggests a distinct life within a collection of bodies (singular or multiple "somebodies"). Traces of human hair and dirt are visible, reminding us of the transference that occurs through daily washing: soap onto the body and the body onto soap. A heavier narrative links Balka's practice to Holocaust histories in Warsaw and provokes a collective sentiment of longing and loss, a dull ache of lifelong mourning that we carry with us as sediment, unnoticed until stirred; a disturbance that stings, swirls and slowly settles. Similar themes and formal qualities are found within Gonzales-Torres' iconic light installation Untitled, Last Light that is strung nearby.

Häussler's Klasse 6b, a collection of archival materials related to her lost project of sugar-cast portraits, is displayed in a vitrine and complemented throughout the gallery with a selection of the artist's body casts – bodily forms cast in white plaster that delicately emerge from the gallery's walls through plays of light and shadow. Notably, nowhere in the exhibition text are the body casts identified as Häussler's – a gesture in keeping with the artist's propensity to construct secretive and elaborate narratives, and casting doubt on the validity of Klasse 6b's supposed destruction by an invasion of ants and its "missing" presence from the artist's online archive. Similarly, Lois Andison's Timeline harnesses the power of the archive to produce a portrait by collecting documents spanning a decade (from 1990 to 1999). Held between Plexiglas, the papers – financial statements, handwritten notes, health records – have been organized chronologically and, akin to Balka's project, evoke the kind of self-portrait that our detritus might produce in our absence. The expanse of a life, lived in paper, seems suddenly, surprisingly small.


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