August 5, 2016

The Importance of Asking Questions

by Darya Kosilova

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Summer 2016
Louise Lawler
Twice Untitled (B/W), 2004/05
Rennie Collection - Collected Works Summer 2016
Installation view

Popular culture is dense with information and images that over-stimulate and desensitize the viewer. The result of this has us skimming through large quantities of content but only fully processing a small portion of the information. We often find ourselves turning a blind eye towards the more uncomfortable aspects of everyday life because we have been taught to screen and sift information. This leads us to ask the following questions: just because we are looking at something does that mean we are truly seeing everything it has to offer? What if what we see on the surface is only the tip of an iceberg that requires further critique and investigation? The Summer 2016: Collected Works exhibition at Rennie Museum challenges the viewer to consider the ways in which they see and interpret images. The exhibition hosts 23 artists, who take the viewer on an unusual journey through the possibilities of the photographic medium. In such a vastly growing visual culture where nothing is new or shocking, it is common for the viewer to crave intensely stimulating and loud imagery. It is, however, sometimes the things which are the most modest and slight in their form that can be the heaviest in their meaning and perception. One such work in this exhibition is Twice Untitled (B/W) (2004/05) by Louise Lawler. Much of Lawler’s photography practice is around documenting the works of other artists within the context of their physical location— whether it is a museum, a gallery, or an art collector’s home thus raising a discourse fuelled by institutional critique.

Twice Untitled (B/W), the smallest work by scale, is hung beside Marlo Pascual’s Untitled (2010), which ironically is one of the larger works in the exhibition. Despite its humble physicality, Lawler’s Twice Untitled (B/W) anchors itself conceptually as one of the most critical and thought provoking works in the show. As one leans in to investigate the black and white photograph, a simple, yet highly intentional composition is revealed. Sitting on the floor are two carefully placed frames against a white wall with their backs turned to the viewer. The only thing separating the frames from the concrete floor is a rag-like material that protects them from harm and simultaneously suggests that these are objects of value. The composition is divided directly in the middle of the horizontal plain, the top half consisting of the white wall and the bottom half taken up by the two frames and floor. The far edges of both frames are cut off from the viewers’ sight, making this photograph appear as an abstract composition upon first glance. The small labels on the back of the frames remain the only detail identifying the objects: they are photographs by Felix Gonzalez-Torres.

With Twice Untitled (B/W), Lawler denies her viewer the privilege of seeing Gonzalez-Torres’s works, but rather utilizes this instance to unveil a different kind of truth. By showing the viewer the backside of Gonzalez-Torres’s works, she is showing the “backside” of the art world; revealing to the viewer things that they may never see or hear about behind the closed doors of a museum, gallery, or an art school. An art institution will always strive to uphold the public image of their cultural capital. It is important for an art organization to be thought of as the home of intellectual knowledge and creativity that transcends the messiness of the everyday politics of life. However, below the surface lies an extremely complex web of personal, political, and financial relationships that act as the support beams for what the public experiences on a day to day basis at these institutions. In reality, not all of these relationships are as romantic in their exchange as you would expect from the creators and facilitators of culture. In 1969, the artist Takis attempted to physically remove one of his sculptures from an exhibition at MoMA in New York as protest against certain policies that the museum had at the time. His actions led to the creation of the Art Workers’ Coalition, an organization whose influence still lingers in the way the public experiences art at museums.* It is because of the AWC that today’s museum goers, for example, can attend a museum, such as the MoMA, free of charge once or twice a week. These events in the history of modern art make up for half of the driving force behind the institutional critique that Lawler addresses in Twice Untitled (B/W). The other half is rooted within the personal history of Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Torres, who was openly gay, passed away in 1996 at the age of 38 from AIDS, following the AIDS related death of his partner, Ross Laycock, in 1991. The frames allude to two gravestones, memorializing their deaths.

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Summer 2016
Christopher Williams
Tenebrionidae, Asbolus Verrucosus,
Death Feigning Beetle, 1996

Just a few feet away from Twice Untitled (B/W) is Christopher Williams’ Tenebrionidae, Asbolus Verrucosus, Death Feigning Beetle (1996), which yet again engages the viewer with hidden messages and quiet happenings. Upon first glance, the work appears to be of dead insects lying on their backs. The pristine sterile environment in the photographs is reminiscent of a morgue where an autopsy would be performed. One puzzles for a moment as to what makes these dead bugs so special and deserving of our time and consideration. The viewers may not realize that what they are actually seeing is a grand performance. For the beetles are not actually dead, they’re playing possum. Similar to a great actor, the beetles convincingly stage their own death as a survival mechanism; fooling their predators into thinking they’re nothing more than an unsavory carcass. Our gluttonous consumption of images on the day-to-day has turned us into predators of visual culture. As consumers of visual culture, especially with the rise of photography based social media platforms such as Instagram, we inhale images like air. Rarely do we stop to think and ask ourselves what any of these images mean, where they come from, and what they’re trying to say. Whether it is what is heard on the news, taught in a classroom, or seen at a museum there is always further investigation that needs to be conducted. With this playful manner, Williams manages to break our clouded gaze, similar to the way our parents taught us to never judge a book by its cover, and challenges us to question everything we see at all times. Nothing is ever what it seems at first glance.

If the current exhibition at Rennie Museum can teach us one thing, it is just that: question everything because nothing is what it seems. Photography is a two-dimensional medium (with certain exceptions) but it is certainly not something that should be accepted for its face value. Behind every image captured there is meaning and intent. It is our job as viewers to then follow up with the question: why? Louise Lawler and Christopher Williams are two of the more cryptic artists to decipher but, rest assured, not a single work in the Summer 2016: Collected Works exhibition will surrender its meaning upon first glance.

*Rochette, Anne and Wade Saunders. “Takis”. artinamerica.com. Art In America, 04 May. 2015. Web.

June 14, 2016

[Newsletter] New Rennie Collection Exhibition Summer 2016: Collected Works

April 15, 2016

Will a Motherfucker Ever Die?

by Karina Hjort

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Winter 2015
John Baldessari
Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large), 2013

Gesture and political impact throughout history are at the core of the themes explored in Rennie Museum’s current Winter 2015/2016: Collected Works exhibition. While their practices are diverse, the 41 artists featured in the show have a few things in common: they all ask questions about what life has shown them. They don’t accuse, rather, they tell stories. They do not propose an answer to the issues but tell what they see. Trying to get an overview of all of the works can be overwhelming. Looking at each work separately, one realizes that the works comment on our everyday life and how we treat each other. Above all, the exhibition sparks a conversation that each visitor can continue after leaving the museum.

Entering the museum, one is struck by an odd cityscape: a large white camel. It is by John Baldassari, Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large) (2013). Following the camel, we find a more familiar set of objects: two light boxes that glow like an adver-tisement at a bus stop. Dating 2003, the two light boxes make up one work. A similar artwork, this time in the form of a mirror, hangs beside them in the corner of the room. Both artworks made by Jota Castro, a French-Peruvian artist, and share the same title: Motherfuckers Never Die. On each of the works, there is a list of names that we may not immediately contextualize. Further research shows that one light box lists successful corporations and their CEOs, the other lists a set of names involved in terrorism, and the mirror has a list of prominent art collectors.

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Winter 2015
Jota Castro
Motherfuckers Never Die, 2008

So why put names on a list? Why light boxes? These are the first thoughts that come to mind when viewing Motherfuckers Never Die (2003). Light boxes are already widely displayed in the city. They are most commonly placed at transit stops or metro stations for commercial purposes. The strong light from these boxes efface everything around them. It draws the attention to the “product” on display. Light boxes glow with pride, begging to be noticed at every hour of the day. So what is Castro trying to sell us? It is unclear. Here, the product seems to be a set of names with the title Motherfuckers Never Die, which is not something one comes across every day. The strong light also reminds us of a movie screen, whose purpose is to keep our attention. The list can also be compared to film credits, which shows all the people involved in a production. Being credited is a way of being memorialized: your name will always exist on that list. If we see a great movie, we remember it. We might forget the names of the actors, producers, or directors, but not the title of the film. The same goes for Castro’s names. These people will be remembered forever, perhaps not by name but through their actions.

The black light box is a great example of how people are remembered for their actions. The top part of the list consists of people involved in the Israeli/Palestine conflict, many of whom were involved in bombings. Following these names are those in-volved in terrorist acts against the US, including the 1993 World Trade Centre bombers and the 9/11 hijackers. At the bottom of the black light box, it says “To Be Continued”. This phrase reminds us that a terrorist is either jailed or will die through his or her ac-tions. Therefore, new recruitments are necessary for that list to be maintained. Since 2003, many names could have been added to that list.

The purple light box is a list of companies who produce consumer goods. The familiar names span from Walmart, Exxon-Mobile, General Motors, General Electric, Siemens to AOL Time Warner. It is striking how much the list looks like Fortune Global 500, a list published every year. When compared to the Fortune 500 list, it is interesting to note that Castro’s list does not include insurance and financial groups, which he might have added if the work had been completed following the 2008 market crash. Since 2003, some of the listed CEOs are still in their seat, some have retired and some have been fired for various reasons. But the companies Castro has represented are still amongst the highest grossing organizations in the world.

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Winter 2015

Jota Castro
Motherfuckers Never Die, 2003

Castro has chosen to use the official typeface of the United Nations, which has a resemblance to the widely used Arial typeface. The choice of typeface connects these lists to every country in the world, because everyone is affected by the decisions made by the UN. In theory, the UN is supposed to be a positive influence on all of us. But are they? And are we aware of how many decisions they take each and every day to try and “help” us? Does it matter? Castro’s works makes us consider that the decisions made by each of the named individuals are global in scale, and therefore affect all of us.

Motherfuckers Never Die (2003) may use a product advertising format, but the work has a strong political undertone. Castro himself has said about the works: “These light boxes list the names of personalities that I especially loathe. Since there exists no official definition of what a “Motherfucker” is, the list is therefore very personal.” * Even though Castro might say the lists are personal to him, these works become personal to us as well— most of us are familiar with the actions of these people. Castro reminds us that motherfuckers never die, because someone is always ready to take their place. His focus sheds light on an extensive subject matter that we might not notice in our daily life. Showing us his opinion does not provide any solution. Castro urges us to start asking questions that will create change. The change starts with you and me.

*Sans, Jerome and Frederic Grossi, eds. Jota Castro. Paris: Paris Musees, 2005. Print.

March 29, 2016

[Newsletter] Exhibition Extended Through May! Winter 2015/2016: Collected Works

March 8, 2016

Displaced: finding ‘here’ among the chaos

by Whitney Brennan

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Winter 2015
Installation view

In the Rennie Museum’s current exhibition, curated around the theme of chaos, there’s a sense of continuous conversation; of bringing together different experiences, perspectives and artistic voices. The viewer is instantly overwhelmed and confronted with the issues that lie beneath our everyday. The exhibition includes 41 artists from just as many contexts, making it difficult to distil the works into one single concept or thematic thread. The artworks seem to connect to one another through the creation of a conversation in the museum space. Rather than simply hosting the works, the walls, plinths, and floor space become the instigators of a dialogue, both between its spectators and between each work. The works speak to issues and injustices from across the world. Chaos becomes the most appropriate term, and rightly so. The works form a dialogue that speaks to the chaos that surrounds and connects us all. This was the first exhibition curated by collection principal Bob Rennie, and the first to include such a long list of artists. Along with provoking topics, the works also speak to Rennie’s own prerogative in collecting art. The collection’s themes of injustice, appropriation, identity and social issues have never been clearer.

Walking past John Baldesarri’s imposing sculpture of Camel (Albino) Contemplating Needle (Large) (2013), we see the glow from a large, neon work from the end of the hallway, leading to the back of the museum. Visually disorienting, it isn’t initially obvious what the shattered words say. Fragments and partial letters are sprayed across the black wall, as if an intact neon sign had been dropped from above. Half-blinded from the intensity of the lights, we can just make out Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan’s piece I Belong Here (Exploded) (2011). The work brings together issues of belonging and the constant question of who belongs where, when the ‘who’ and the ‘here’ are not always certain or necessarily defined. Suddenly, we’re reading the phrase two ways; declaring our own right to belong, and acknowledging the right of others. We’re also made to question the ‘here’ the work speaks to. Where is here? Is it Vancouver, or Chinatown, or the museum, or a larger, more global context? As Strachan emphasizes, our conception of ‘here’ is in constant flux. Notions of displacement and migration are brought to the surface, and in the current refugee crisis, have a particularly affective significance. The shattered neon phrase, made of tens of feet of convoluted neon tubing on a black wall, works doubly as illustrating the visually ‘exploded’ words, and also representing the diverse structures and properties of glass itself. Glass itself has a duality, a potential strength or breakability. Similarly precarious, a person’s strong sense of ‘here’ can be uprooted by forces beyond their control, and become a place where they may never return. The materiality of glass reflects Strachan’s issue with the word ‘here’; its ability to feel certain or concrete, or look solid and bright, and yet its political fragility, like the delicate material of the glass surrounding the neon. In this way, Strachan is commenting on the internal fragmentation, or dislocation that occurs when one migrates far from home: the feeling of existing with and without oneself, feeling incomplete and yet whole. Without having experienced a long-distance migration or displacement, it is hard to conceptualize the feeling of needing home when it perhaps no longer exists, or you are unable to go back. This migratory sentiment is what informs Strachan’s practice as a Bahamian immigrant now living in New York. His work often ties together seemingly disconnected geographies and contexts, like his 16-piece contribution to the 2013 Venice Biennale, which drew together Nassau, Venice and the North Pole. In an interview for his Biennale exhibition he said, “I’m fascinated by the idea of being in two or more places at once, and exploring difference that way,”* and that is no less true about I Belong Here (Exploded). While not overtly political, the work functions as a call to arms to claim our space in the world and to acknowledge the right of others to belong as well. It also points out the problematic nature of dualities; thinking of here and there, you and I, light and dark, black and white as separate, irreconcilable concepts that keep the world divided. Looking at the contrast of the neon against the black background, the stark illumination that sheds light on issues faced by migratory populations, we’re left questioning how long we’ve been standing in the dark, blind to issues outside our own ‘here’.

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Winter 2015
Dan Halter
When the Bag Tears the Shoulder Gets a Rest, 2011

Strachan’s work speaks to a number of other works in the exhibition, perhaps none as appropriately as the piece in closest proximity, Zimbabwean artist Dan Halter’s When the Bag Tears the Shoulder Gets a Rest (2011). Halter currently lives in South Africa, and draws his inspiration and materials from his current home as well as his birthplace of Zimbabwe. This piece is one of many works Halter constructed out of large checkered-patterned, woven plastic bags. Worn and tattered, the bags seem to hold a visceral history, a broken past that left them discarded and destroyed. The title is written in embroidered lettering on the bag’s front, blending in with the fabric’s gridded pattern. Drawing on his own background, and his own experience as a refugee fleeing civil war in the 1990s, Halter’s piece speaks of the same internal dissolution of identity and sense of belonging that Strachan examines. The bag is often used by refugees or people who have to “travel with a lot of luggage in a hurry”**. . He employs the language of craft and curio, examining issues in a fine art context, and using familiar objects and fabrics to bring attention to larger issues. His particular interest in materials that are ubiquitous to South Africa, and to Zimbabwe, reflects the frayed relationship he has to a place that has been devastated by civil war, and a home he can never return to. Like his own past of fleeing a war-torn country, the bag’s own fabric is a fragmented version of its former self. Many visitors have commented on the bag’s damage as a symbolism of the torn or broken spirits of those experiencing isolation and degradation as refugees. Others have noted that while the bag in Halter’s context comes from South Africa and Zimbabwe, the bags are seen all over the world. Many recognize them from their own neighbourhoods or everyday uses. This familiarity is a focal aspect in Halter’s work. Using common, intimate materials to discuss broader political issues, it brings the problem very close to home. What happened to this bag when it was taken from its home could just as easily happen here, it seems to say. Although the bags are mass produced, factory-made objects, their recognisability is undeniable.

Rennie Collection - Collected Works Winter 2015
Hank Willis Thomas
Intentionally Left Blanc, 2012

The feeling of being displaced is persistent throughout the exhibition. Each room brings up issues of racial discrimination, terror bombings, and the prejudice of language that doesn’t always tell the entire story. This disorientation appears to be an intentional consequence of exhibiting such a global diversity of artists together. As a viewer, your own perspectives are brought into question, as well as values and how cultural backgrounds and learned histories construct our existence in the world. With the works of Hank Willis Thomas, Brian Jungen, Kerry James Marshall, Mircea Cantor, Rashid Johnson, and the many others who question our place and our perceptions of the world, we are left feeling like there’s been a world of chaos we haven’t been seeing properly, if at all. We’re left discombobulated, dissected, and unbound from a sense of a cohesive world we thought we’d understood. Tavares Strachan and Dan Halter give us a glimpse into the fragility of human existence. Their stories echo through the exhibition, and resonate with many of the museum’s visitors. The Winter 2015/2016: Collected Works exhibition brings our own place in the world to the fore, and in doing so, allows for a change of perspective, a different vantage point from which to assess the chaos that surrounds us all.

* Viveros-Fauné, Christian. Interview with Tavares Strachan. Art Review. 2013. Web.
** Mansfield, Susan. “Art in the Bag”, September 28, 2010. The Scotsman.

January 14, 2016

[Newsletter] New Rennie Collection Exhibition: Winter 2015/2016

December 16, 2015

Lara Favaretto’s Rich Arte Povera

by Abbey Hopkins

Fiat_Nuova_500_prima_serie
FIAT Nuova 500
(image source: Wikimedia Commons)

As an artist working out of Turin, Italy, Lara Favaretto creates artwork that relates to the cultural history of Turin while maintaining global significance. This is due in part to her material reference to arte povera, an art Italian movement, and to her usage of industrial materials specifically found in Turin. Her artwork navigates a post-war world, where ideas of the global and local are constantly clashing, creating a specific need for local histories to be preserved while maintaining relevance on a global scale. As art historian Courtney J. Martin outlined in her public talk at the Wing Sang building in July 2015, while Favaretto’s Italian art historical importance may be easily skimmed over by those unfamiliar with its references, her work remains inherently Italian. The exhibited works at Lara Favaretto: Selected Works reveal the link between Italian art history and Favaretto’s use of materials. When talking about arte povera, a quick history of post World War II Turin is useful to contextualize the historical and cultural societal changes occurring at this time. Turin is located in northern Italy and has had a unique cultural history. Following World War II, Italy went through what is called the miracolo italiano, or the Italian miracle, a period of rapid industrialization and subsequent economic growth. The industrial north of the country saw mass migration from the poorer southern regions. Consumerism was promoted and accessible to all, as indicated by the introduction of the FIAT 500, an automobile considered universally affordable to the middle classes. Made in Turin, these automobiles provided a strong industry for the working class.

By the 1960s however, this economic boom began to cool down, and social tensions were rising. Student and worker uprisings around Europe at the end of the decade made for a sceptical atmosphere. General questioning of innovation and economic progress led to the critique of bourgeoisie lifestyles within capitalism and leftist social theory was circulating and spreading in academia. Artists who were familiar with social theory began to employ critical thought to their artistic practices, which resulted in the formulation of many conceptual art practices. At this point, Italian artists would have seen the preeminent art movements, namely pop art and minimalism, through art fairs and biennales. They critiqued the privilege that pop art gave to consumerist imagery, as well as the favouring of form by minimalism. Interested in more organic and humble materials, artists such as Pino Pascali, Alighiero Boetti, Jannis Kounellis and critic Germano Celant began exploring artistic ideologies that would eventually become classified as the arte povera movement. Arte povera directly translates to “poor art”. With our English associations and assumptions, ‘poor’ may denote a use of ‘poor’ materials—a sociological critique of consumer culture, but Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev defines it as, “the concept of impoverishing each person’s experience of the world; this implies gradually freeing one’s consciousness from layers of ideological and theoretical preconceptions as well as from the norms and the rules of the language of representation and fiction”*.

Arte povera’s mandate is often also attributed to Germano Celant’s 1968 manifesto in the then-newly developed FlashArt magazine, however, there was never a cohesive group operating self-consciously under the name “Arte Povera”. Arte povera was, in essence, a freeing from convention: working with post-structuralist thought, semiology and sociological theory while maintaining sensitivity to artistic practice. An historical survey of arte povera artworks reveals that the body of work is largely heterogeneous; there are no discernible traits that define an artwork as arte povera.

Lara Favaretto - Twistle, 2003

Lara Favaretto
Twistle, 2003

One can see the influence of arte povera on the works currently exhibited at the Wing Sang building, starting with the most awe-striking artwork Coppie Semplici/Simple Couples (2009). Installed in pairs, these bright and cheerful carwash brushes spin in a dance with each other, evoking personalities in each brush. Even the use of the word “couples” in the artwork’s title points to a humanistic characteristic in each of these upright brushes. As one visitor mentioned, their beauty and splendour distracts you from the filth upon the brushes’ edges. As they spin, the plume of each brush enlarges, conveying emotion and personality. Comparable to human couples, some spin with equality, while some seem to momentarily outshine the other, eventually balancing each other out while they dance in tandem. Besides their personalities, these carwash brushes are also indicative of Lara Favaretto’s Turin home base. Turin, as previously mentioned, is the home of FIAT automakers. FIAT remains an important cultural motif for Turin’s culture, especially during the period in which arte povera emerged. By utilizing such signifier and by evoking distinct personalities, Favaretto subtly acknowledges Turin’s artistic and industrial history.

Twistle (2003) is another example of a nod to arte povera, this time achieved through the scale and physicality of the work. Standing at the rear of the first floor gallery, Twistle is a compressed air tank that continually inflates a party favour between unpredictable intervals of time, until the air tank is depleted. The initial response of viewers indicates that they are startled by the sudden inflation. This response is usually followed by a cathartic giggle acknowledging the absurdity of the object. The tank stands at average human height, while the pressure gages, valve, and party favour make up an unmistakable face-form at the top of the object. Favaretto creates empathy towards this object: her lone partier, militantly celebrating onwards on our behalf. This object continues its designated gesture until the nitrogen in the tank runs out, literally exhausting itself from a mechanical process. It is easy to observe the link between the assembly line work that flourished during industrialization and this mechanical humanoid figure. Its humanoid appearance grounds the industrial object in a position of empathy.

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Pino Pascali
1 Metro Cubo di Terra, 1967

(image source: MANYBITS on flickr)

The heterogeneity of the works associated with the arte povera movement is also present in Lara Favaretto: Collected Works. The stoic gray confetti cubes of Village of the Damned (2014) lack the empathy that Coppie Semplici/Simple Couples and Twistle evoke in their viewers. These cubes, however, are still linked to arte povera in terms of their material. Favaretto also indicates Italian cultural values by using the celebratory material of confetti: “confetti” is an Italian word. Favaretto pays homage to her heritage by importing the confetti used in most of her artworks from Turin. Furthermore, Village of the Damned can be understood better when compared to the work of Pino Pascali, an influential arte povera artist. Titled 1 Metro Cubo di Terra (1967), Pascali’s cubes are constructed from sod and earth. The work may be seen as a jab at minimalist artist Donald Judd’s polished metal cubes. Pascali and Favaretto’s cubes employ the same minimal language in the cubes, yet they differ in their materiality, which is a distinct arte povera characteristic. Their cubes are ephemeral in their nature; set to disintegrate and decompose. Although made from fragmented pieces, both 1 Metro Cubo di Terra and Village of the Damned are sturdier than they appear and hold their form through the duration of installation.

After months of experiencing Favaretto’s work, it is apparent that her artwork can be approached through many different readings. It is full of intricacies. With careful attention and consideration, a more personal understanding reveals itself. Her artwork demonstrates how materiality and context can come together to help viewers gain a better understanding of contemporary Italian culture, subtly telling us a story of a culture often overlooked by North American audiences.

*Christov-Bakargiev, Carolyn. “Introduction.” Arte Povera. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 1999. Page 26. Print.

For further reading:
Christov-Bakargiev, Carolyn. Arte Povera. 2nd ed. London: Phaidon, 1999. Print.

December 15, 2015

[Newsletter] Happy Holidays from Rennie Collection

November 9, 2015

[Newsletter] Thank you!

September 26, 2015

The Magical Space of Suspended Meaning

by Denise Holland

Lara Favaretto
Lara Favaretto
Village of the Damned (detail), 2009

Puzzled, speechless, searching for meaning: Lara Favaretto’s work leaves us feeling groundless and grasping for hints. The need to find the artists’ meaning is often the primary agenda of visitors as they walk through the doors of the Wing Sang Building. At some museums, visitors find comfort with large explanatory signs, brochures or audio recordings that describe what the artists envisioned and how the work was created. These tools deliver meaning, albeit typically of a few limited perspectives.

Visitors to Favaretto’s presentation at the Rennie Collection do not have access to these props. Instead, we are encouraged to think, discuss and share our thoughts about the artworks during a one hour tour guided by an exhibition docent. All perspectives are valid and essential to provide a more complete view of the world. Suspending meaning entirely is also avidly encouraged.

Favaretto’s work provides us with an ideal opportunity to disrupt our thinking and revel in the temporary, magical suspension of meaning. She expertly plays with this tension by presenting us with a glimpse of the familiar in an obscure way–our imaginations can’t help but take the bait.

Take Lost & Found (1998) for example: a simple forlorn suitcase that sits quietly on the floor. At first glance, we may write-off the object. However, when recalling that we are in an art space, we make the connection of how unusual the piece seems in this setting. The work is part of a series, in which Favaretto purchases old forgotten suitcases from flea markets, auctions or similar sales of unwanted objects. She sorts through the items in the case, takes some out, leaves some items in or adds more at her discretion. She then padlocks the case and throws away the key.

The mystery inside the suitcase is too much for our imaginations to bear. Our brains light up thinking of possibilities: What is inside? Who left the suitcase behind? Are the keys truly gone? Doesn’t anyone know what is in there? This simple act of concealment has allowed the work, expressed through this seemingly banal object, to linger much longer in our minds.

To add further intrigue to Lost & Found, the gallery cleaning staff has been instructed by Favaretto to move the suitcase anywhere they would like within the space. When placed close to another work, the conversation expands to consider the pieces together and the dialog between them. Favaretto’s work seems to unfold long after she has finished her installations.

blog 2
Piero Manzoni
Artist’s Shit, 1961
(image source: mbschlemmer on flickr)

Although born after the arte povera movement, Favaretto has absorbed some of its cheek. The movement started in the early 1960s in Turin, Italy, where Favaretto now lives and works, as a general opposition to American Minimalism and Scientific rationalism. Arte povera artists “…conjured a world of myth whose mysteries couldn’t be easily explained. Or they presented absurd, jarring and comical juxtapositions, often of the new and the old, or the highly processed and pre-industrial.”* This whimsically dark style is evident in Favaretto’s work.

An artist linked to the root of arte povera, Piero Manzoni also included “unknown contents” in his work titled Artist’s Shit (1961). While living in Milan, he produced 90 cans, each individually numbered. Curator Sophie Howarth states that “…the cans of Artist’s Shit have become the most notorious, in part because of a lingering uncertainty about whether they do indeed contain Manzoni’s faeces. At times when Manzoni’s reputation has seen the market value of these works increase, such uncertainties have imbued them with an additional level of irony.”** As with Favaretto’s suitcase, the art of concealment plays impishly with our minds, allowing the mystery to linger.

In 225 (2014) Favaretto also creates mystery by revealing only hints of an image concealed behind brightly coloured fuchsia yarn. Visitors often see a central figure wearing a robe flanked by two other figures in the found painting beneath the yarn. Some even see an animated airplane face. No one is wrong because no one really knows what is behind the string except for Favaretto. Her penchant for keeping us guessing holds us in a magical spell and plays with our imagination. Our brains are in limbo; we search for meaning but it is elusive and out of grasp.

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Lara Favaretto
Coppie Semplici/Simple Couples (detail), 2009

In Coppie Semplici / Simple Couples (2009) names of couples such as “Harold & Maude” and “Bobby & Laura” are completely concealed from view. Hidden within the control boxes of the car wash brushes, only the staff glimpse the names of each pair when they turn the exhibit on. Favaretto doesn’t display these names openly for visitors to see. Is she counting on the exhibit guides to spread the secret of the names, allowing visitors an insider’s view of the work? Does knowing the names of the couples expand or limit the meaning of the work?

Concealment adds mystery and allows us to linger, ponder and consider the unknown. We rely on what our primary senses detect but the art of concealment challenges us to imagine the energy of the object beneath. Largely known for their large-scale temporary projects, artists Christo and Jean-Claude have spent their lifetimes using techniques of concealment wrapping buildings, fences and walls on a grand scale. An earlier series of works created from 1958-1969, Packages, strongly exemplifies the mystery of concealment. Fabric covers everyday objects and is frantically bound to create a multitude of sectional planes across the surface of the package. The simple twine and burlap materials anchor us in the familiar while the context and shapes hold our attention in mysterious ways.***

We may walk out of the Favaretto exhibit with more questions than answers; that is the show’s true success. Favaretto’s works confound our programmed thinking and allow us the time to revel in suspended meaning long after having walked out the doors and back into our lives. The work is not so much shocking as it is a slow, chilling realization that our minds are seeing familiar objects, often in a partially obscured way, that stops our brains dead in their tracks–even if just for a moment. Revel in that moment. They don’t come along often enough in our busy world.

* The Art Story Foundation. Arte Povera. Web.
** Howarth, Sophie. Artist’s Shit, Piero Manzoni. 2000. Tate. Web.
*** Blackbourn, Adam Thomas. Packages. 2011. Christo and Jean-Claude. Web.