We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time
TS Elliot, excerpt from The Four Quartets
The artists in Arrivals and Departures examine transitional moments, from falling asleep to crossing the globe. Cycles of migration, dislocation and relocation are ever-present, like the tides. Starting at birth, each day is a flow of movements and discoveries, entrances and exits. The moments of a lifetime can be understood as ever evolving arrivals. Yet each new instance can likewise be situated as a departure, right up until our unknowable final exit.
Arrivals and Departures is a hybridization of my practice as a visual and sound artist with the creative role of a curator. Across YYZ’s three exhibition spaces, I engage with others in creations / presentations where my own creative work and the work of other artists overlap, forming layers of connective tissue that invite the participating artists, and our audiences, into a conversation about boundaries, creative authorship, and exchange. It is an experiment that pushes my comfort zone as I explore what sharing can look and sound like.
Preview, Window Gallery
Photograph: Simone Haeckel
Simone Haeckel’s photos and videos infuse humour into charged questions inherent to post-human discourses, such as the impact of humans on animals, and historic notions of hierarchy between species.
Her photograph “Europlatz” serves as the exhibition’s portal, the first note in a multisensory composition about transformation triggered by moments of arrival or departure.
There is a long tradition of circus animal parades heralding the arrival of something new – the Big Show has come to town! Haekel displays an arresting image captured at a site of historic conflict, collapse, and reconstruction: Alexander Platz, Berlin. Dated in 1989, soon after the Berlin wall came down, and before the reconstruction of the united city centre, the image has new potency at this time of European conflict. The animals are tasked with enacting a tantalizing teaser, a kind of “performance advertising”. The post-apocalyptic framing, with an air of past or impending doom, juxtaposed with a delightful, family-friendly display, may invite critical questions about the potential for joyfulness and / or destruction in human actions, whether with each other, with other species, or with the planet that we all share. The animals are “marching two by two”, reminding me of the biblical tale of Noah’s Ark; the end of all things and a simultaneous fresh start. Alarmingly, the flood story is often sighted by climate change deniers as a normal, indeed ordained, occurrence.
Arrivals, South Gallery
Videos: Feras Azzam, Janet Biggs, Sigrun Drapatz, Gerardo Montiel Klint
Augmented Piano: Eve Egoyan
Final mix of the shared audio score, sculpture: Heather Nicol
Arriving at a new destination can be a moment to examine what things have been like, and what they are about to be. What has been left behind? Has there been an invitation?
Migration is central to life for many creatures large and small, an ongoing cycle of comings and goings. Human movements, such as expeditions, colonial settler and extraction actions (among countless other motivators) have resulted in human impacts upon every corner of the planet. Our relocations have often been triggered by war, oppression, pandemics, and more recently, climate change. Hope and curiosity have also initiated travel.
Five artists who were unknown to one another have been introduced in the form of my curatorial prompt to consider “arrivals”. Their resulting new works are united in the South Gallery in ways that were unforeseen during creation.
Internationally acclaimed piano artist Eve Egoyan offers an original music composition for the exhibition, performed on her unique augmented piano and recorded in her Toronto studio. Egoyan contemplates her relationship with her Armenian heritage, her childhood in British Columbia, and the intergenerational legacies of her family’s escape from genocide. I shared her exquisite work, entitled Path, with four video artists based in different international creative-hub cities, who agreed to consider the notion of an arrival, and to respond to her music. They have used still and moving images, drawing, sculpture, AI, as well as additional sounds. Gamely, the video artists have inverted the typical creation relationship between moving images and sound; here the audio is the first layer, followed by their actions. The visual artists contributed additional sounds that I augmented and mixed into a final audio score built around Egoyan’s “Paths”. A deep bow of gratitude from me for the trust of the participating artists. They gracefully relinquish final control of what is heard, and how the videos are seen, thereby participating in a conversation that shifts the focus from mine to ours.
Mexico City based Gerardo Montiel Klint’s video is a deeply integrated act of close listening. Confronting the intersections of machine intelligence with the natural world, his still and video images capture the surging push toward the future evidenced in animal migratory and life cycles, machine inventions, and the heaven’s incessant pull on the earth’s waters. Through masterful editing processes, he raises questions about the possibility of stopping – or even reversing – time.
New York city based Janet Biggs’ work explores the outer reaches of human endeavour and capacity, often through collaborations with scientific and medical researchers in quests for new frontiers of knowledge. Listening to “Paths” prompted Biggs to revisit an Antarctic expedition, where she witnessed geological researchers and penguins moving in interconnected formations, navigating some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Both groups act with focused determination on very different missions, while temporarily sharing an expansive space which, quite literally, is cracking under the pressures of climate change.
Syrian born Feras Azzam arrived as a refugee in Toronto with his wife and young children at the height of his nation’s brutal civil war. The hand of fate and the hand of the artist meet in his small-scale cardboard constructions. Both precarious and provisional, his mis-en-scenes are tenderly activated in screen-time to create a somatic evocation of the vicissitudes of destruction, upheaval, and relocation.
Sigrun Drapaz is an artist, community activist and curator based in Berlin. In response to recent humanitarian crises, she has been investigating historic patterns of migration in the Mediterranean region. Much of the world’s cross-cultural encounter has been the result of sea travel; her video investigates the relationships between migration and shorelines. Her mesmerizing video is made of delicate drawings of the rippling sea, and fictious letters between two women in Cyprus and Constantinople that describe escapes from abduction, forced marriage, and war at the time of the black plague.
I defamiliarize a baby grand piano through the sculptural gesture of turning it upside down, legs up, referencing the disorientation of moving. These elegant instruments are increasingly being thrown away as live music strains under the pressure of digitization, its immobilizing heft may signal the difficulty of bringing things along. Yet, it perseveres, mysteriously emanating music into the gallery space.
Departures, North Gallery
Following up on the first iteration of this sound installation (“Resting Place”, Scotty, Berlin, 2018), Departures is an immersive listening zone that features voice and song as expressions of love, connection, and devotion. Experiences of isolation during the COVID 19 pandemic triggered my desire to reengage with the same sonic material, recorded in often tender encounters with a variety of sources: friends and family, performers and fellow artists, refugee youth and the elderly, etc. Highlighting the sensitivity, vulnerability, and generosity of voices gathered, the resulting audio-score is an experimental polyphonic composition, of sung at bedside or in ceremonies for easing the passage from this world. At times, individual voices emit lone notes, as though seeking a place in a chorus. Eve Egoyan’s Path is intermittently woven into the score, while occasional sonic wafts of the 1625 Requiem mass by Portuguese composer Manuel Cardoso run through the composition. Bells or chimes are added, tools used to soothe, invoke the wind, and note the passage of time. Visitors can repose on large pillows below the pendant speakers, the overhead voices coming as a child or resting person would hear them. Sound leaks and intersections from the “Arrivals” space, and the inevitable interruptive sounds of visitors, add further dimension to the spatialized listening experience.
Starting at the entrance, a horizonal line drawn in charcoal progresses across YYZ’s walls, bisecting and marking a long line of felt pieces. These delicate swatches function to soften the acoustic environment while also unifying the spaces in a kind of abstracted processional march along the horizon.
This work was made with the support and contributions of many. Most of my work is underpinned by sociality and interaction with a wide range of people, and I am especially grateful to all of the contributing vocalists. Like some photographers might feel about their subjects, their beauty and humanity are the stars “Departures.” I hold ongoing awe and gratitude to Eve Egoyan, and to all of the image-making artists who have contributed their work to the exhibition. Thanks to Ana Barajas and YYZ Artists’ Outlet, Toronto, 2023.
The artist would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council, Exhibition Assistance program.