Adam David Brown at the Art Gallery of Peterborough

By Tyler Muzzin

Adam David Brown’s recent exhibition at the Art Gallery of Peterborough is, and was, For The Time Being. Bracketed between last summer and January 2, 2022, the exhibition charts a constellation of the Toronto artist’s ongoing material and intellectual concerns, not excluding a self-reflexive consideration of the exhibition’s own temporality, like an ellipsis perforated into an eternal timeline with a sharp pencil.

Adam David Brown, Modern Problems…, 2018-2021, found books, altered, and A Century…, 2019, found books altered and arranged chronologically by the year of their publication (photo: Karol Orzechowski)

It was a pencil that introduced me to Brown’s practice ten years ago in the form of Eraser (2007), an HB pencil capped at both ends with erasers. Affirmation and negation: the emergence of meaning from nothing, and its consequent return to nothing is a theme underlying much of Brown’s recent work. The cycle of generation and re-generation is symbolized in the shape of the circle (the zero, etymologically “origin” in Italian), and in the circle’s three-dimensional form – not the sphere, but the cylinder. One can think of the cylinder as a circle spiraling through spacetime like a drill bit or a toilet paper roll.

Adam David Brown, Day After Day… (detail), 2021, 23K gold covered penny collections (photo: Karol Orzechowski)

We find the cylinder, flattened and abundant, in the 5000 gilded pennies arranged into a striking Fibonacci mural in Day After Day… (2021), and in the bibliolithic core samples of Modern Problems… (2021), formerly titled Twelve Volume Set (2019), consisting of abandoned books gathered on urban strolls and later cored. A cardboard cylinder is embedded into what appears to be the individually-stacked tissues of Soft Wood (2005) reconstituted in A Series of Anxious Objects (2021).

Those familiar with Brown’s practice, will notice that his titles are as mutable as his works are amorphous, taking on different incarnations in different spaces. For The Time Being is not a survey of past work, but a mixtape, remastered and bootlegged. I see this disavowal of conventional, systematic archiving and art-inventory management as part of a larger distrust of authorship in both literary and visual cultural production. In conversation, Brown expressed that “iconoclastic” may be too strong a word, but For The Time Being contains no shortage of severing, splitting, coring, carving, and crumpling.

Adam David Brown, 0 Degrees Latitude, 2020, enlarged stamps, and Meteor, 2021, crumpled paper, photocopies of Lunar Meteorite NWA220, scribble (photo: Karol Orzechowski)

In 0 Degrees Latitude (2020), enlarged stamps from all thirteen equatorial countries are dissected hemispherically, as are the thirteen equatorial rocks gifted to the artist (or bartered for) in Equator (2021). Yet, just as various coded objects are physically deconstructed, others undergo apotheotic treatments – notably, the worthless pennies masquerading in 23 karat gold-like tiles in a Byzantine mosaic.

If not “iconoclasm,” or the outright rejection of dubious cultural texts, we are left with a persistent sense of skepticism rooted in Brown’s handling of semiotic value – the uncertainty that anything under the sun is permanent, that any sign is fixed. Take, for example, the geographic equator; at 0 degrees latitude, it is a sign without a referent, simultaneously a semiotic absence and an origin. And, ultimately, how could a sign ever be pinned down when the Earth is travelling at 107,208 km/h, as the gypsum-engraved Third Stone From the Sun… (2020) reminds us at the entrance of the gallery.

Art Gallery of Peterborough:
The gallery is accessible.

Tyler Muzzin is an artist and writer from Innerkip, Ontario currently based in Lethbridge, Alberta. Recent solo exhibitions include The Town Musicians of Bremen (and Elsewhere) at Gallery Stratford (2021) and The Great Dark Wonder commissioned by Burlington Public Art in 2019. His critical writing has been featured in Momus (2020) and Peripheral Review (2021). A forthcoming essay on the work of Common Collective at the Woodstock Art Gallery will be published in February 2022. Muzzin is currently a Sessional Lecturer in the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Lethbridge.