Obsolescence is a curatorial project by Mohammad Rezaei featuring the work of Brynn Higgins-Stirrup, Colwyn Paddon, Justin Somjen, Jim Verburg, and Joy Walker.
Obsolescence brings together five interdisciplinary artists from different generations, practices, and parts of the country to explore varying notions of communication. Process, time, and space provide the foundation for deceptively simple works, which address the complicated and layered nature of language and meaning-making. Visually connected by their translucence, the work included in Obsolescence offers symbols, layers, gestures, and methods of exploring the complexities inherent in each piece, and in dialogue with another. Each artist subtly excavates these complexities through (often) emotional, personal, and intangible means.
For thousands of years, gestures, sounds, marks, what is said, and what is not said, the look, the gaze, and the longing that leads u to look for meaning, have led humans to look for ways to communicate their wants as well as their needs. This perhaps, being one of the distinct features that separates us from animals - the fact that we look for ways to communicate that goes beyond survival - has been a subject of much exploration in arts, culture, and literature.
Language is made, changed, evolved, and forgotten and with it the symbols and the marks, the way they are used, and their meanings. We’ve given meaning to things where there is none, to make sense of the world we live in - to give logic to the things that are happening around us.
Obsolescence questions how meaning is constructed and conveyed through visual language, and how beings look for meaning and subjects within objects and symbols.
Approaching curation as a conduit for community-making Obsolescence brings together established and mid-career artists alongside emerging artists to allow for a broader interpretation of their individual practices, and to provide interaction (communication) within this cohesive selection of works in order to convey a familiar notion explored throughout the ages.
An Essay on Obsolescence
In an interview following the release of her 2014 album Wanderlust—a departure from her signature sound—British pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor spoke of the album as “something which I really felt like I needed to do. I felt more excited than worried and liberated. I'm really not sure where I'll go from here if I'm honest. It's funny, it's the first time in ages where I'm not sure where I'll be in the next six months or with the next album.”1
If we were to approach obsolescence as an evolution, how would future generations recount the discourse of art in our current time? Would they look to objects made by artists presented in the white cube, in theory a place with aspirations of opening dialogue that is instead oftentimes exclusive, classist, and routinely resisting change? Or would they look to .gifs, memes, and emoji as evidence to track the evolution of language and culture? In 2017, how important is it to make tangible objects to continue the discourse of visual art?
When I started doing research for this project, I was interested in signs made by migrant/illegal workers underneath bridges, tunnels, close to railroad tracks. Lines crossing each other, squares within squares, horizontal zigzags hold meaning of up to a full sentence, indicating the social structure of the surrounding area and its friendly/unfriendly nature. Humans decipher lines that were thought up by other humans because we find patterns within layers to seek meaning in marks.
Merriam-Webster dictionary defines obsolescence as “the process of becoming obsolete or the condition of being nearly obsolete.”2 With this exhibition, I wanted to explore the residual leftovers, the marks left after obsoletion. I look at this process as an evolution, not an end. A gradual fade to white, rather than a fade to black.
This exhibit is an attempt to define meaning within mark making from a very specific educated in the arts socio-economic point of view. It is an exploration of what is not there, more than what is there. The works presented here are process-driven and explore the depth of perception, both literal and metaphorical. They are methods of communication within a world on the brink of collapse. Each piece in its own way embodies an approach of noticing and not noticing. Justin Somjen’s photographs are layers of printed photographs and arranged objects, printed and then photographed again and again and again and again. They are optical illusions made from mass-produced objects, taken out of context when placed within the white cube. Brynn Higgins Stirrup challenges the viewer by making marks that resemble a lost language. Like an archeological discovery, these works are placed within the gallery space asking to be viewed from different angles and in one case, to even be touched. Colwyn Paddon takes the most sentimental approach here, by unthreading and re-sewing thread onto fabric bouquets found in public mourning sites. Jim Verburg takes an architectural approach to defining shadows and perception through layers. Here you are more focused on what is not there than what is there. This is accompanied by the text piece “I Forget That You’re Trying To Interpret All This As Well,” where the most literal approach to the concept is explored. Joy Nina Walker’s drawings pick up where Verburg left off. They are simplistic in nature, symmetrical, and clean. They are forms of communication formed in numbers and measurements.
When I submitted this application almost two years ago, I was younger and the world seemed like a brighter place. I longed for recognition and legitimization. More recently however, most of my thoughts are directed towards the turmoil I see in the world. I’ve been feeling that I’ve fought for something for so long now, only to come to terms with it becoming obsolete. As a queer brown person, I have come to terms with the resentment I feel when I navigate white institutions that insist on seeking their own legitimization via exhibiting what they’ve known over and over and over and over again. I wonder about the value of visual arts in this time; will visual arts be obsolete, perhaps for its inability to be enough when faced with intense aggression? Have tangible objects lost their ability to communicate the urgency of the political turmoil that has taken over the world? Perhaps to me, obsolescence is the acceptance of the inevitable.
By Mohammad Rezaei
Higgins-Stirrup is a multidisciplinary artist working and living between Toronto, Ontario and Ann Arbor, Michigan. Taking an interdisciplinary approach to her practice, she is informed by a broad range of subjects from systems of learning to spirituality. Concerned with the tensions between concept and craft, the mind and making; her current practice focuses on labour-based drawing, sculptural and print-making practices. Brynn is currently an MFA Candidate in the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design at the University of Michigan. She has attended residency programs at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Banff AB, YYZ Artists Outlet in Toronto ON and the Wassaic Project’s Summer Residency Program in Wassaic NY. Brynn has exhibited across Canada in artist run spaces and galleries such as Forest City Gallery, YYZ Artist’s Outlet, Typology Projects and the Toronto International Book Fair. In 2016 she was awarded an emerging visual artist grant by the Ontario Arts Council.
Paddon is a Calgary based artist who completed his education at Alberta College of Art and Design, Canada and Falmouth University, England. Paddon’s work has been shown in Canada, England, and Scotand. Paddon is interested in Western traditions surrounding death and the physical traces left by the living during mourning. Using poetics and an interdisciplinary approach in his practice Paddon’s work often materializes longing and forms representations of death.
Rezaei is an interdisciplinary Artist, Front End Developer, Curator and Arts Administrator currently residing in Toronto, Canada. His artistic practice is informed by his experiences coordinating and collaborating to make exhibitions happen. Rezaei revels in experimental approaches to making, digital and IRL display strategies, bad tattoos, selfies, and neoprene. Rezaei’s interests have led him contribute to the establishment of several exhibition spaces and art festivals, extensive involvement with artist-run centers and galleries across Canada while maintaining an independent arts and curatorial practice. His recent curatorial projects have been funded through successful grants from Canada Council for the Arts and Toronto Arts Council. Rezaei has exhibited and curated exhibitions nationally in both Commercial and Artist Run Spaces and participated in various Art Residencies including Avalanche! Institute for Contemporary art, TRUCK, Contemporary Calgary, The New Gallery, Xpace Cultural Center, and the Drake Hotel. From 2013-2016, he was the Director of Programming at Whippersnapper Gallery in Toronto.
Somjen is a Vancouver-born artist living in Toronto, primarily working with photography and sculpture. His work purposes photography and sculpture together in formal allegories, investigating the relationship between imagery and objects. Justin is interested in style, abstraction, and patterns. His work attempts to simultaneously abandon and embrace photography to arrive at a place where the medium’s essences are tested or revealed. Somjen has shown publicly in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montréal and received a BFA from Ryerson University in 2014.
Verburg iis a Dutch/Canadian artist currently based in Toronto. Solo exhibitions include One and Two, at Mois de la Photo à Montréal (2011), Afterimage at Galerie Nicolas Robert (2014, Montreal), What is Missing / What is Seen (widmertheodoridis (Zurich) at VOLTA NY 2015, New York City), and What is Missing / What is Seen Light Becomes Form, The Horizon Rests Into View at the Texas Contemporary Art Fair (2015, Houston).
Recently, he’s been a part of the group exhibitions More Than Two (Let It Make Itself), curated by Micah Lexier at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (2013,Toronto), Primeiro Estudo: Sobre Amor, curated by Bernardo Mosqueira at Luciana Caravello (2014,Rio de Janeiro), Far Away So Close, curated by Kimberly Phillips at Access Gallery (2014, Vancouver), and Chroma at Inman Gallery (2015, Houston)
His film For a Relationship won the 2008 Jury Prize for the Best Canadian Short Film at the Insideout Film Festival (Toronto), and was nominated for the Iris Prize (UK). His book O/ Divided/Defined, Weights, Measures, and Emotional Geometry, was awarded by Dazibao (2013 Montreal) and was recently shortlisted for Best Printed Publication at the Gala des Arts Visual (2014, Montreal). Work from the publication was featured by Art Metropole at Art Basel Miami (2013). His most recent artist book A New Relationship Between Reflective Sides was launched this past fall (2015) at the New York Art Book Fair, at Moma Ps1.
Upcoming projects include The shape this takes to get to that, the grid, it’s interruption, and the possibilities that exist, a large public art installation for the city of Ottawa, a choreographed work for the Toronto Dance Theatre, a book project with Fw: Photography in Amsterdam, and solo exhibitions at Galerie Nicolas Robert (Montreal), and Rodman Hall Art Centre (Brock University, St Catharines Ontario).
Walker is a Montreal born, Toronto-based artist whose work takes the form of sculpture, video, drawing and printmaking. Her approach is guided by intuition and is marked by a strong interest in process, materiality and play. Most recently, her work has centered on line and the possibilities it offers for exploring illusion through simple manipulations that alter and animate the viewer’s perception of space, light and shade.
Her work is held in The Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the National Gallery of Canada, the corporate collections of BMO-Bank of Montreal, Grant Thornton, and TD Bank and numerous private collections. She is also the programmer of *QueenSpecific, a window gallery on Queen St West in Toronto and is represented by MKG127 in Toronto.