In Ornamental Boundaries at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, the recent work of Brendan Tang and Soheila Esfahani is linked broadly by conceptual and material crossovers both direct (Tang) and subtle (Esfahani). Fenced off from fingers and jostling, five of the former's Ming Dynasty/Japanese manga ceramic and mixed media pieces are arranged on plinths in a manner reminiscent of new appliances. In fact, appliance-insects often come to mind when seeing this artist's work. Each piece appears as if a ceramic tea-cozy has been pulled almost completely from the skeleton of a toy robot-vehicle-spaceship, leaving wrinkles where the tugging had ceased. Having encountered the one-liner personality of Tang's ceramic work many times, I was glad to see it deviate towards a series of drawings that place blue and white ceramic plates in the role of anonymous suburban swimming pools. Isolated pairs of children and their parents are caught mid-swim, the rippling of the water causing the surface of the plates' patterns to shift like quicksand. The drawings quickly interrupt this illusion by their computer-generated construction, their blurred edges pushing the nostalgic scenes into schmaltzy insta-memory territory.
Soheila Esfahani, My Place is Placeless, 2012, laser-etched wood
I found myself much more surprised by Esfahani's monolithic piece My Place is Placeless. Six tall stacks of shipping palettes make up this freestanding sculpture that both dominates and tempers the exhibition. Its "face" is covered in laser-etched designs based upon the Persian patterns of the underside of a Mosque's dome. The patterns, burned into shallow, interrupted circuits, have an open, inclusive tone, inviting associations visual and sensorial. Standing in the space behind the stack of palettes feels inclusive and intimate, as if a personal space has suddenly been opened up where the gallery and its context can be forgotten. The entire construction process from the building of palettes to laser etching to installation had been realized on behalf of people other than Esfahani – a process of circulation the artist wishes to prolong through the work's eventual dismantling and journey back into the circulation of shipping. An email address has been stamped to each palette, wherein possible contact can be kept open between artist and audience after they leave the gallery. Esfahani's practice, influenced by the East while informed by an art education in the West, doesn't tie the work definitely between the two but allows other spaces and other encounters to come into being. The work's role within the gallery hasn't been relegated to temporary prop, but seems equally as able to build relationships across boundaries.
Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery: https://www.kwag.ca/en/exhibitions/CurrentExhibitions.asp
Ornamental Boundaries: Brendan Tang and Soheila Esfahani continues to March 3.
Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer currently living in London, Ontario. Her paintings have shown widely in Alberta, including the Illingworth Kerr Gallery, Stride Gallery, and Skew Gallery in Calgary. She has contributed writing to FFWD, shotgun-review.ca, Prairie Artsters, Hamilton Arts & Letters, Stride Gallery, Truck Gallery, and most recently Susan Hobbs Gallery. She is Akimbo's London correspondent and can be followed @KimNeudorf on Twitter.
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