For a cosmopolitan city, Toronto doesn’t have a cosmopolitan art scene. However, efforts to exhibit work that reflects the diversity of the city continue to be made. One such example is the recently opened Matter Gallery. Zack Pospieszynski, formerly chief of Morrow Avenue’s Peak Gallery, and Lara Sinclair Morton have gone all out by establishing a local gallery without any local artists. Instead, they take it upon themselves to bring the world, particularly under-represented parts of the globe, to Toronto. The irony is that the uncommon places from which their artists originate are also locales the city is most hungry to hear from and, in fact, already part of the local scene for those who traverse our internal divisions. That said, for many, visiting the gallery will be like discovering a door in a cramped apartment that opens onto a whole suite of additional rooms.
Malekeh Nayiny, A Ruin From The Past, 2007, Chromogenic print
Here Forward, Matter’s first exhibition, is an introduction to the stable of artists they’ve assembled. The coming year will feature solo exhibitions by each in turn so we can get a better sense of what they are all about. Tehran-born and Paris-based photographer Malekeh Nayiny will be first up with her Contact Photography Festival exhibition in May. Her slightly surreal scenarios are reminiscent of Janieta Eyre’s compositions and combine masks, patterned fabric, and vibrant colours to fold storytelling into cultural commentary in a way that feels strangely familiar.
Turkish photographer Aydin Büyüktas plays the fantasy card as well – though with a distinctly different tone – with his Photoshopped urban landscapes that warp bird’s eye views into horizontal perspectives in the widescreen and densely detailed shots we’ve seen from Edward Burtynsky and Andreas Gursky. Büyüktas comes off a bit gimmicky and still needs to figure out why he’s shooting what he’s shooting, but the potential to match his masterful digital manipulations with the appropriate content holds a lot of promise.
Photographs from South African artist Siwa Mgoboza are also included (and can be found in Toronto’s Wedge Collection), though they only represent part of his practice. His other skills are evident in the crazy-dense costume worn in a portrait that speaks to a playful and dramatic engagement with identity and its construction as both a camouflage and a display of power. You should mark his exhibition in October on your calendar right away.
The Nest Collective, First Command, 2014, C-print
You might also want to check out the exhibition in August from The Nest Collective if only to see what they end up installing. They are represented in the current exhibition by a pair of obscure photographs, but a bookwork that’s also available in the gallery might suggest something more concrete about their concerns. It details the experience of queer Kenyans (whose mere existence is so threatening that the contributors’ names have to be redacted in order to protect them). The Nairobi-based self-described “small army of makers, thinkers, and believers” works with films, visual arts, music, and fashion to express something of African identity in all its power and its privation.
The final two artists – Gözde Ilkin from Turkey and Simon Back from Zimbabwe – are more conventional in terms of medium. She uses found fabric, embroidery, and paint to create scenes that emphasize physical contortions and bodily combinations that could illustrate a particularly disturbing children’s story. He makes large abstract paintings that reduce the landscape to basics of line, shape, and colour. I can’t be sure how much there is there, so I’m withholding judgement until I get to see some more. As with all new things, time will tell.
Lastly, and since we’re on the topic of geography, Matter happens to be part of a northward shift in the city’s art map and one of three spaces staking their claim on the literally “wrong side of the tracks” Geary Avenue (the other two are Public Studio’s just announced new home/venue and an unconfirmed artist-run centre). Ridiculous real estate prices are obviously to blame, but such frontier-pushing relocations also serve to send the visual art community out of the city’s core and hopefully further into the outer limits of the 6ix where difference and diversity are now the new normal.
Matter Gallery: http://mattergallery.com/
Here Forward continues until April 30.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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