Immediately struck by the otherworldly feel of the minimalist design and blood red pattern painted on the walls, Ciara Phillips: Comrade Objects had me questioning whether I had stepped back in time.
The exhibition showcases a fifteen-piece collection that occupies several rooms, tucked in the back of the Agnes Etherington Art Centre.
Prior to entering Phillips’ inaugural major Canadian museum exhibition, my expectations were high. She received a BFA from Queen’s (2000), an MFA from the Glasgow School of Art (2004), and most recently, a Turner Prize nomination in 2014 (an annual prize presented to a visual artist).
Phillips has staged several international solo exhibitions in the United Kingdom and Sweden. She’s notorious for her message that there are salvageable connections between history and the objects of our everyday modern lives. This is illustrated by the strategic placement of print literature (The Hermit by Lucy Ives) swaddled inside the garments displayed in her installation.
In the centre of the first room, five mannequins stand draped in neutral-coloured eucalyptus-dyed cotton smocks with pointedly-placed publications (Financial Times, Brexit Article, 07/01/2016) tucked into their pockets. Yeezy Season Three came to my mind, in its shabby-meets-futurist feel.
Phillips consistently incorporates the words demonstrate, levitate, and satiate across the collars and sleeves of the garments. Appropriately, the mannequins appear to be hovering in the centre of the room. Phillips relies on the art to express her message, demonstrating through her installations the persuasive nature of her political impact.
Her multi-media artwork is displayed at varying heights against the red and white patterned walls. The names of pieces repeat themselves in irregular patterns, making series of works.
The series entitled Things I associate with you is comprised by two pieces: light and water. The black and white screen prints on paper are strategically placed on opposite sides of the room, vast and heavy space punctuating their distance. This series stood out as the most emotional among the exhibit. While words can be relatively clumsy vehicles for the expression of grief, the name of the series was heedlessly — and flawlessly — exhibitionistic.
Another series, What we recognize in others features old photographs, screen-printed on paper, and overlayed with bright orange and purple lines. The same woman, Laura, appeared in the first two pieces in the series, adding a sense of familiarity to the experience of touring the exhibit.
When I entered the final phase of the exhibit entitled Workshop at the back of the gallery, I was immediately disconcerted. Ciara Phillips sat amidst a stack of papers in the centre of the room, prints scattered all over the small table in front of her, some of her personal works-in-progress tacked up on the walls. While I felt like I was privy to something intimate — and the honesty of the installation struck me as revitalizing — Phillips herself proved to be a closed book.
On my way out, I came across one of the older pieces in the exhibit, ‘Jacket (2011)’. The piece is a beige-pink wool jacket, hung haphazardly on a hook near the door, almost like a postscript promising: I’ll be back this afternoon — fitting for an investigative exhibit such as Comrade Objects.
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