The title of Neil Young’s 1979 album Rust Never Sleeps speaks to the concept behind this exhibition of work by five artists who employ naturally occurring growth—salt, mould, rust, flowers and lichen spores—as their materials. The resulting works address commodity, use value, causality, chance and instability.
Rust is an organic or chemical process of decay. It is also a blight that affects plants. In any form, rust is rarely—if ever—a positive thing. We don’t want rust—it damages and destroys. Yet, despite our best efforts, once rust takes hold and starts to grow there is very little chance of containing it. Conversely, art is a valuable commodity and its value increases over time. We display art with pride and it is to be admired and envied. We ensure it is protected and safeguarded. For these reasons, Ruben Ochoa’s use of rust as a material in his series of rust-on-linen paintings is at once unexpected and even blasphemous, yet also richly hued and striking.
Like Ochoa’s rust works, Arnaud Desjardin’s Mouldy Modern confronts the logic of fine art valuation. Desjardin purchased an edition of Histoire Naturelle, a rare 1926 portfolio of prints by Max Ernst, that was mottled with a purple mould that was eating away at the surface of the paper. Rather than reducing its value, for Desjardin this added a new layer of meaning to the work, referencing both Ernst’s experimental intentions in originally making the prints and also manifesting traces of time and nature. In Mouldy Modern, Desjardin turns the damaged portfolio into a new work that incorporates the decay and embraces the mutability of the object.
In a similar spirit, Jason de Haan’s Salt Beards grow—both literally and figuratively—from the objects of the past. The affects of time and happenstance are played out on their surfaces and generate symbolic meaning through de Haan's application of mineral growths that develop and extrude from found and borrowed portrait busts. Like Desjardin, de Haan gives new life and reactivates the original objects, imagining “a continued growth and change that is potentially physical (biological/geological) and ideological.”
Holly Schmidt explores the ideologies and economics of floriculture in her work, Pollen Index. For the exhibition Schmidt has created a flower shop in the gallery window that is open during gallery hours and is accessible online. The shop replicates the vendor stalls in the Granville Island Market nearby. Interacting with visitors and passersby, the project will generate discussion about flower cultivation, re-production, the co-evolutionary effects of desire and the complexity of human relations with the natural world.
Lycopodium—or, “Witch Powder”—is a highly combustible moss spore. It was once a homeopathic remedy for a variety of ailments and was also used in explosives (the American government once tested it for potential use in chemical warfare). In the hands of Raphael Hefti, the spores are dusted over photo paper and set alight to make psychedelic, multicoloured photograms. In discussing his approach to making art, Hefti has said: “My direction of the process is intended to create something new away from, or in subversion of, the typical outcome. And of course this new process is prone to its own mistakes, to accidents and not 100% under my control.”
Inviting destabilizing forces into the making of artwork is key to all five of the artists in the exhibition. Though their materials are precarious, they nevertheless embrace the risk and unpredictability that comes with using growing matter, with its own predetermined objectives, as a medium.
Natasha Myers has been working at the cusp of art, science, and anthropology for decades. She is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at York University. Her book Rendering Life Molecular: Models, Modelers, and Excitable Matter (Duke, 2015) is an ethnography of an interdisciplinary group of scientists who make living substance come to matter at the molecular scale. Her current projects span investigations of the arts and sciences of vegetal sensing and sentience, the politics and aesthetics of garden enclosures in a time of climate change, and most recently, she has launched a long-term ethnography experimenting with the arts of ecological attention in High Park’s Oak Savannah.
Presenting Sponsor: RBC Wealth Management