The Artist’s Studio is Her Bedroom
Steven Brekelmans, Justine A. Chambers, Brady Cranfield, Maura Doyle, Claire Greenshaw, Leisure (Meredith Carruthers & Susannah Wesley), Annie MacDonell, Erica Stocking, Damla Tamer
B.C. Binning and Alvin Balkind Galleries
January 24 – July 5, 2020
The Artist’s Studio is Her Bedroom begins from the premise that the patriarchal conditions we inherited from modernism have profoundly shaped assumptions about where and by what means “serious” artwork gets produced. This exhibition shares the perspectives of ten artists whose practices are attentive to these assumptions, and to the very real temporal, spatial and monetary constraints that bind and shape their work. Their contributions to the show address a multitude of labours—whether physical, emotional, reproductive or otherwise—that are often inextricable from artistic production. Some question myths of the studio and the “magical” labour of the artist. Others explore unconventional models of authorship, including the entanglement of childcare and creative work. Each, in different ways, asks how we navigate (or resist) our artistic and political inheritances, and how we might seek out alternate role models and alliances through which to better strengthen our creative communities.
The exhibition takes its name from the title of Erica Stocking’s sculptural installation and theatrical performance, which offers an anchor point in the show. The Artist’s Studio is Her Bedroom: a choreographed statement on autobiographical art making (2019) extends to visitors a participatory framework through which to explore the porosity of subjecthood from the perspective of a woman practicing art alongside motherhood. Stocking’s artistic practice is emphatically enmeshed in her domestic life. Her subject matter, materials and collaborative process all draw from that which is close at hand. Within the installation, visitors can don dazzle-patterned costumes and self-organize to rehearse the script. Collapsing time, space and psyche, the play offers an allegory through which Stocking weaves meditations on her own experience together with references to historic women artists whose undervalued, boundary-defying practices figured prominently in her own artistic development.
The wry, conceptually-driven work of Maura Doyle similarly considers her own life as the subject of exploratory, material-based investigations. Doyle has been working in clay since she became a single parent; her early work in the medium saw her hand-forming replicas of things that populated her home (bottle of olive oil, can of tomatoes, dish soap). The creation of such modestly-scaled objects in her kitchen could be accomplished as time permitted while minding her son, and enacted a subtle resistance to presumptions about how and at what scale a critically-engaged art practice is sustained. Pot Experiments (2014-2019), with surfaces blackened from the smoke of open barrel-firing, is part of the artist’s ongoing series Who the Pot? (2014-present) and considers this ceramic form as a mode of self-portraiture. For Doyle, pots offer a metaphor for the isolation of human experience—particularly parenting—and the irreconcilability of our inner and outer worlds.
Steven Brekelmans has also built his artistic practice around an examination of the hierarchy of materials and value that persists in today’s contemporary art market. For a number of years, life circumstances relegated his practice to the realm of an activity pursued only in his “spare time.” Eventually Brekelmans’ work began to shape itself around the very idea of a hobby as he explored, through different scales and materials, how and in what milieux our time and skills are understood to have worth. The Gift / The Climb / The Curse (Billiard Table) (2020) presents a suite of object forms upon a stepped plywood platform. Small sculptures, assembled from toothpicks and modelling clay and referencing the abstraction of modernists such as Barbara Hepworth or Henry Moore, are placed atop second-hand leaded-glass lamps of the sort typically found above rumpus room billiards tables. Through this assemblage Brekelmans negotiates the uncomfortable relationship between two seemingly antagonistic inherited visual languages, their underlying indicators of class and frameworks of value.
Constructions of masculinity, conditions of artistic production and the value of time spent under capitalism are also central considerations in the work of Brady Cranfield. His large wall drawing Slack Motherfucker (2020) quotes lyrics from the American rock band Superchunk’s 1990 song of the same name. By executing a monumentally-scaled text work entirely in BIC ballpoint pen, Cranfield commits himself to a needlessly arduous act. He over-performs the “magical” labour of art-making, thus echoing the song’s defiant declaration of agency over work and refusal of that work to be co-opted for the accumulation of capital (the drawing will be destroyed at exhibition’s end). In his choice of medium—the cheap and ubiquitous office pen—Cranfield aligns his drawing with historical conceptual art, particularly its focus on language and its abandonment of traditional fine art materials, but also nods towards those “unproductive” and (the artist might argue) equally illuminating communiques anonymously scrawled on office washroom cubicle walls.
Working across experimental mark-making, textiles and performance, Damla Tamer negotiates the relationships between aesthetics and politics, particularly the links between representation, intention, anticipation and agency. State violence in her native Turkey, her experience of motherhood and her work as a contract university instructor all influence her practice. Her ongoing series Divination Objects (2019-2020) draws upon a traditional ikat weaving technique, where threads are dyed in areas before being woven into a design. These works literally weave together cut-apart ink drawings, wherein she explores the weight of gravity as a physical force (crucially experienced during a baby’s first year), with shredded compositions containing phrases from her teaching evaluations (now standard practice within the neoliberal university, contributing to risk-averse pedagogy and labour precarity). The warp and weft each hold traces of their materials’ previous information, but now with misalignments, seepage and glitches. For Tamer, they call up artist Hito Steyerl’s sobering claim that we can no longer fight vertical power with horizontality, and ask instead for a more nuanced response to that power.
Claire Greenshaw’s drawing practice, on the other hand, probes tensions between the elemental nature of mark-making and the ambiguity of representation. Her slow, meticulous process (realized, in the artist’s words, in stolen moments of studio time) counters the speed with which we have become accustomed to producing and absorbing digital images. Like Stocking and Doyle, Greenshaw’s subject matter often originates from seemingly insignificant moments in her everyday life. Zeuxis Can Eat Me (2016) and oo (2014), both rendered in pencil crayon, offer astonishingly faithful enlargements of images painted by the artist’s young sons. They are at once poignant meditations on the rapidity of a child’s development and his entry into language, and a tongue-in-cheek reframing of what is perhaps the western origin story of male artistic competitiveness, the famed ancient Greek fable of Zeuxis and Parrhasius.
Justine A. Chambers’ movement-based practice is also anchored by her close observation of the everyday: the unintentional choreography, as she describes, that is already in the world. Chambers is drawn to the movement of all bodies, not just the virtuosic actions of trained dancers, and is particularly attentive to how, in our current culture, the movements of women-identifying, non-binary and racialized bodies are read (and misread). After cultural theorist and artist Erin Manning, she considers the “minor gesture” as a means of rethinking assumptions about human agency and the scale of political action. And then this also (2020) is a new performance and written score produced specifically for this exhibition. Through an embodied and durational examination of distraction, adrenaline, time and care, Chambers considers her near-constant experience of being in multiple places at once (“my studio is the public bus,” she states) as a working artist and mother.
Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley have been collaborating as Leisure since 2004. Their exploratory work, informed by what they define as a “conversational methodology,” is attentive to their own life conditions and propelled by research into historical women artists who, in order to maintain their artistic practices, developed unconventional work/life collaborations. Leisure’s participatory installation Conversations with Magic Forms (2017) is informed by a series of sculptural explorations undertaken by English sculptor Barbara Hepworth after the arrival of her triplets in 1934. Hepworth described this period, which transformed her studio into “a jumble of children, rocks, sculptures, trees, importunate flowers and washing,” as one that unexpectedly afforded new explorations into space, texture and weight. Leisure’s installation, which invites children and other gallery visitors to make use of gypsum plaster to create cast objects in sand, was also inspired by the “Theory of Loose Parts” developed by Hepworth’s son, Simon Nicholson, who advocated for individuals to have agency over the environments in which they work and play. The installation’s sand—and the invitation for children to freely play within it—offers its own subtle challenge to the normally pristine space of the gallery, and if they choose to leave their objects behind on the plinths, participants impact the installation by becoming exhibiting artists themselves.
Annie MacDonell’s recent work also looks to under-recognized sites of experimentation and to time spent with children—often dismissed as wholly unproductive—as full of artistic and political possibility. Her predominantly lens-based practice, which frequently begins from the photographic impulse to capture and frame, questions how images are constituted and circulated in our contemporary world. In MacDonell’s single-channel video Book of Hours (2019), the artist embarks on a playful exploration of colour, image and pattern with her young son. The footage is shot inside the family home, amidst which we catch glimpses of Yvonne Rainer’s earliest films—and her choreography drawn from the movements of everyday life—played on laptop computers and smartphone screens. These sequences are ruptured by rapid successions of psychedelic imagery, and we hear the whispered recitation of a lilting roll-call of western, patriarchal understandings of space—“Euclidean space, outer space, wasted space…” Beyond or between these restrictive categories, we realize, lies the potential of the unnamed, unacknowledged and as-yet unaccounted for.
The Artist’s Studio is Her Bedroom asserts the generative potential of these other spaces and cadences of creation, addresses artists’ feelings of constraints and distraction, and calls for acknowledgement of and solidarity in different ways of being—and making art—in the world.
Curated by Kimberly Phillips
Assisted by Julia Lamare
We acknowledge the support of Canada Council for the Arts towards artist travel