Emilie Gossiaux & Seo Hye Lee discuss Object Sensations

By Sam MacPhee-Pitcher

A corner of the Tangled Art + Disability gallery with drawings on the back wall, a foot sculpture on the floor, and an elbow joint sculpture mounted on the side wall.

Objects Sensations at Tangled Art + Disability, 2024, installation view (photo: Sean Lee)

Object Sensations is a collaborative exhibition curated by Amanda Cachia that recently opened at Tangled Art + Disability in Toronto. This sensory-provoking show features New York-based artist Emilie Gossiaux and South Korean artist Seo Hye Lee. Separately, they wrote thoughtful responses to our questions about their artistic processes, their artistic practices, and the importance of tactile experience.

Many spaces, including art spaces, have to be made accessible, but Toronto’s Tangled Arts + Disability specifically works with deaf and disabled artists. Did working with a disability-centric gallery alter your process or your work?

Emilie Gossiaux: My work from the Outerspace series is very tactile, and this exhibition presented an opportunity for me to show work that would be exciting to experience through touch. People have told me that the soft foam material in these sculptures looks like they are made out of cast concrete or plaster. They’re surprised when I tell them that the material is actually soft and pillowy. I like that gallery visitors will be able to interact with my work this way.

For my E.L.G. Familial Archives sculptures, I wasn’t able to ship them to Toronto because they are smaller and more delicate. Instead, Tangled and I collaborated on getting four sculptures from this series 3D printed in Toronto, which was very cool – to send my work through digital space as pixels and then print something physical. It felt very futuristic, like teleportation, to make them accessible.

Seo Hye Lee: My work is mainly centred around my own lived experience of being a deaf individual.  Working with Tangled Arts + Disability has been a wonderful experience because we have been able to collaborate and learn about what kinds of experiences we want to create for visitors. There are elements of my process that have remained consistent, as I have previously worked alongside other artists and art spaces who share similar views about the importance of access and interpreting experiences in different ways for the disabled audience. I have certainly learned a lot from working with the wonderful team at Tangled in terms of enriching the visitor experience by thinking about the materiality of ceramic vases, written descriptions (audio as well), access components, and the placement of work. For example, we have one of the vases that is used as an access component stationed by the gallery docent’s desk, so that anyone who needs assistance can also have it held right next to their ear.

How does Object Sensations continue your work as an artist? Does this complement or turn away from your previous work?

A display of Seo Hye Lee's sculptures on plinths. A visitor has their ear to one of the sculptures.Objects Sensations at Tangled Art + Disability, 2024, installation view (photo: Sean Lee)

EG: The body of work included in this exhibition started out in 2019 with the series Outerspace: My Dad’s Old Tattoo, which consists of four ceramic sculptures of my dad’s arms, his ankle, and his foot, and my memory of seeing the tattoos on his body. I think of these sculptures as vessels for tattoos. The ceramic sculptures are hollow and were literally filled with expanding foam, which, when exposed to air, expands five times its volume, filling the space within the hollow vessels. I carved out the tattoos from the clay, and the expanding foam [rose] from the incisions in the clay body, manifesting the tattoo drawing and making it tactile at the same time.

In 2020, I continued this body of work and created E.L.G. Familial Archives to include body parts [and tattoos] from me and my sister. I like the idea of drawing and painting on sculpture. It ties my practice together, since I think a lot about process and material, and how to make my drawings tactile. The work also compliments my practice, which deals with my visual memory as well as sensational and physical memories.

SHL: I have been working in the realm of moving image and audio-visual installation, which incorporated elements of access and my experience of being deaf, with the aim of challenging the notion of listening and hearing. My work Many Shapes of Volumes has evolved in many ways. Object Sensations is now more focused on the main components of sound and touch. The previous iteration of this work was shown at London Tate Exchange. Visitors were invited to observe and illustrate their experience of the sound emitting from the sculptures, so it was more focused on the experience of the exhibition and contributing a visual response. The new iteration shown in Object Sensations allows the work to focus solely on the sonic and tactile experience of the sculptures, and encourages visitors to interact with the pieces using their hands and ears, to result in a more individual experience of the work. For this reason, Object Sensations certainly complements my previous work and also contributes to how I will continue to think about and celebrate the many variations of experience that comes from creating sound and sculptural pieces.

As you’re working with another artist with different sensory capabilities than yourself, did you explore any other sensory input, or was the tactile experience always planned to be at the centre of Object Sensations?

A display of Seo Hye Lee's sculptures on plinths.

Objects Sensations at Tangled Art + Disability, 2024, installation view (photo: Sean Lee)

EG: For me, the sense of touch was the most central aspect of Object Sensations, not just because of the material, but also by turning these intimate parts of the body into objects that can be touched and held. I’m interested in creating intimate spaces between my work and the viewer who is interacting with it. I like that connection, and I think it can be a powerful or meaningful experience. Holding onto an arm or touching an ear is very personal. We rarely get to experience art through touch, so planning a show with the idea of forming a relationship through touch like this is beautiful to me.

SHL: The tactile experience is the main focus of the exhibition as Emilie’s and my work offer different experiences in terms of feeling, hearing, and seeing. For my own pieces, the importance of tactility meant I worked with a wonderful team (Leslie Putnam, David Bobier from VibraFusionLab, and ceramicist David Moynihan) to explore which materials would provide the best vibrations, ensuring this could be felt by the audience. We also applied a sealant on the ceramic pieces that allows visitors to touch them without worrying about leaving marks. It was exciting to incorporate new ideas for this exhibition to enhance the tactile experience of ceramics.

[The artists’ responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.]

Object Sensations is on display until April 26.
Both in-person and online tours are available.
Tangled Art + Disability: https://tangledarts.org/
The gallery is accessible.

Sam MacPhee-Pitcher, MA is a writer and artist. Through short stories, playwrighting, and visual arts, they explore mental illness, identity, and interconnection. In 2022 they served as RealWheels Theatre’s Playwright-in-Residence. They hold a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Toronto.