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Toronto
Terence Dick
Strike a Chord at Sur Gallery
May 03, 2017

One of the unlikeliest of activist organizations in this city is FLAP - the Fatal Light Awareness Program. While most injustices are intentional or obvious, the adversity these folks fight against is inadvertent and easily overlooked. Their volunteers wake before dawn each day and scour the pavement beneath Toronto's downtown towers to recover the bodies of all the birds that crash into those skyscraping glass facades at night. Each year they display the remains in a mandala made from a couple thousand corpses. There’s an unavoidable disconnect in seeing it or hearing about how common this problem is because the actual injuries are rarely witnessed. Local sculptor David Contstantino Salazar provides a remedy with his finely detailed clay sparrows frozen at the moment of impact. They are beautiful in craft and character (is there anything more poetic than a bird in flight?), but tragic in circumstance (though it’s a stupid tragedy with nothing noble about it). They are kind of perfect and remind me of Cai Guo-Qiang’s powerful taxidermy installations, but I can’t imagine having one in my house because it would break my heart each time I passed by.



David Constantino Salazar, Due to Circumstances Beyond Our Control, 2017, oil-based clay

These broken birds unquestionably fulfill the titular mandate in Sur Gallery’s current group exhibition Strike a Chord. While their relationship to the body collectors of Bay Street might be coincidental, their impact is rooted in how they highlight the innumerable everyday losses that we can either accept as natural or do our best to resist. The four participating artists were brought together by curator Tamara Toledo in this venue dedicated to Latin American art practices with the theme of resistance to unite them. Salazar’s contribution is the most conventionally artistic, but it serves as a loud and clear metaphor for the danger in doing nothing – be it in terms of the environment, urban affairs, or global politics as a whole. If it weren’t for FLAP, we’d let the massacre of these animals go on unabated.



Julieta Maria, Limpia, 2013, digital video

Julieta Maria's video Embrace combines tragedy and guilt in a similar way and then throws in a bit of cruelty. Made in 2012, four years before Jonathas de Andrade’s strikingly similar video O peixe (The Fish) (now on view just down the street at The Power Plant), this single shot image of the artist holding a fish as it slowly suffocates is a stark reminder of our relationship with non-human animals, the power we wield over them, and the damage we cause. Maria's stance is intentionally ambivalent so as to invite a moral debate within the viewer rather than take up a position against them. Her other video on display, Limpia, further explores our animal nature as it depicts the artist's mother emulating the behaviour of many other species when she cleans her offspring with her tongue. There is an intimacy between the two, but it is based in obligation as much as affection. The licking is a job to be done and it’s the mother’s responsibility to do it.

Of the remaining artists, Claudia Bernal has set up an installation of drawings, gravel, and objects that she will animate tonight (May 4) in a performance. Coco Guzman will also produce a live drawing. Without seeing them, it’s hard to say how they fit in, but given what’s already in place, I expect something that makes demands on both the heart and mind. For obvious reasons, the present feels like a moment of political crisis and it’s essential to have exhibitions like this that engage our moral being and connect us to the world we love and are at risk of ruining. It is beautiful and tragic to behold.


Sur Gallery: http://surgallery.ca/
Strike a Chord continues until June 3.


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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