Co-Curated by Mia Nielsen and Powell MacDougall
Upon First Refraction is an exhibition of multimedia artworks that emit, reflect or absorb light. On one hand this show was developed to comment on the coming winter solstice and how we culturally respond to the darkest time of the year by celebrating various traditions with light. However, it is not simply a ‘holiday’ show, but one developed to invite the viewer to consider the unique powers of light and darkness.
The exhibition opens with a sculptural installation by French artist Boris Chouvellon who was an Artist In Residence here at the Drake this fall with collaborator Laurent Perbos. Chouvellon and Perbos built a series of installations onsite in October with the support of the Art Gallery of York University that were exhibited at Art Toronto. After debuting at the art fair, the piece was reconfigured for the vestibule.
The lobby takes on a more subtle, tactile approach for Upon First Refraction with two large-scale installations. The first, cloud-like structure, by Icelandic artist Svava Thordis Juliusson was made entirely from translucent zip ties. Directly adjacent to this soft sculpture is a site-specific installation by Vancouver’s Junichiro Iwase. Comprised of broken egg shells that come together as a kind of sculptural portrait of the moon. These two works come together to comment on the natural cycles of the world – clouds may darken the sky, but in doing so, they allow for a soft, even light that rarely casts a shadow. Much like how the night sky is not completely dark, but lit up by the moon.
Acting as a beacon in the back of the lobby is Barr Gilmore’s signature installation, Colour Barr, consisting of fourteen standard T8 fluorescent fixtures covered with an assortment of Rosco chroma sleeves representing the colours of TV test pattern. In 1995, Gilmore nicknamed himself “Colour Barr” after a 5-year run as the Studio Assistant to the artist group General Idea, in homage to their famous TV Test Pattern series and the mythical Color Bar Lounge from the 1984 Miss General Idea Pavilion. This light installation can be seen as a self-portrait of the artist as a cross between a Dan Flavin and General Idea sculpture.
The stairs up to the hotel will expand on the natural references from the front of the lobby with an installation by Mexican artist Ramón Pous-Landa. Here, the walls are punctuated with black poured glass discs. The works have a fascinating play on light – the surface of the glass reflects, while the black interior absorbs light. As a result, they are reminiscent of wet river stones, yet call to mind black holes and other celestial bodies.
In the stairs down to the Underground is another work that further demonstrates the power of darkness in contemporary art practices. This charcoal drawing by Duncan McDonald is almost entirely black, but let your eyes adjust and the image of a tree will emerge, seen as if it is towering over you on a dark summer night.
The café sees a two-part installation with works by Michael Toke and Lisa Neighbour, both of Toronto. Toke’s mixed media works reinvigorate found party photos with spot-light references that both illuminate and mask the figures. While Neighbour’s wall-mounted sculptures playfully mix assemblage and household trinkets and lighting.
Special thanks go to the following galleries who made this exhibition possible:
p|m Gallery, Brayham Contemporary Art, Antenae Studio, Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects and Art Gallery of York University