Exhibit takes the plunge

Toronto artist’s satirical work questions marriage and nationality

Artist Auriane Sokoloski and her partner performed a living exhibit at the opening of her show, “Made in Taiwan,” at the Union Gallery on July 7.
Artist Auriane Sokoloski and her partner performed a living exhibit at the opening of her show, “Made in Taiwan,” at the Union Gallery on July 7.
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Marriage has become, on many levels, a point of discussion as an institution, topic of debate, ideology and event in life. It sparks many questions and definitions of both the personal and political variety.

At this complicated crossroad you will find artist Auriane Sokoloski navigating her way through and toying with the turbulent grounds of matrimony.  

Through her performances ,which she photographs as pieces, Sokoloski has captured issues surrounding this age-old tradition and its evolution over the years in visually enticing and thematically rich works.

Currently a resident of Toronto, the Concordia Fine Arts graduate has travelled from Pouch Cove, Newfoundland to New York City to show and perform her provocative contemporary art.  At the moment Kingston’s own Union Gallery is showcasing her exhibit Made in Taiwan which displays three series in combination with each other for the first time.  The show will run until Aug. 4.

This past winter, the curators of Made in Taiwan, Queen’s art history graduate students Sarah Smith and Carla Taunton, worked with Sokoloski to handpick pieces from her previous shows. The artist and curators worked together to select the photographs of performances that they felt would best represent and display her wedding-themed art.

Drawing on three of Sokoloski’s collections, Smith, Taunton and Sokoloski were able to bring together examples of her work that each focus on marriage but deal with it in different contexts, illuminating various perspectives and issues.            

“We had to consider what works would work best together … and would speak to each other,” Smith said.

They eventually distilled the selection down to a few photographs from each series that they felt were able to represent marriage and women’s roles on local, national and global levels.  

The show’s title comes from the first series of photographs Sokoloski produced that deal with the idea and image of marriage.

Sokoloski first started playing with brides and bouquets in her art when she was in Taiwan teaching English a few years ago. Living down the street from several wedding boutiques, Sokoloski was surrounded by a slew of advertisements featuring slogans promising eternal love and happiness. Sokoloski couldn’t help but notice the glaring irony in the awkwardly translated slogans and appropriation of the American dream wedding.

“Broken-hearted, I arrived [in Taiwan] and it was kind of like a big irony, a horrible paradox,” said Sokoloski.

The constant glare of bridal ads triggered something in her and Sokoloski decided to get wedding portraits done with a friend as an artistic project.  

Donning full wedding get-up, glazed expressions and hair extensions, Sokoloski and her mock partner are bursting with an uneasy happiness in the photos.   Sokoloski’s digital retouching of the photos—the brightly coloured backgrounds and the addition of text—help disrupt the idealism the young couple represent. The smiles are as huge as the irony embedded in the wedding slogans (“True love is a gift—that should be returned”). 

This first series of photographs touches on issues of globalization, how the Western society’s notion of marriage has far-reaching effects, and as the title, Made in Taiwan suggests, marriage as a consumerist product.

Smith and Taunton said Sokoloski’s work comments on issues at the national level. Some photographs in the show come from a Toronto performance called Twin Brides that features two identical, immaculately dressed brides taking a stroll through different neighbourhoods in Toronto in June 2005—a time when the same-sex marriage debate made Canada seriously examine its definition of marriage.

Though politically loaded, these photographs are not two-dimensional in their purpose or message. Instead the photos of the two brides side-by-side and mirror-like in appearance inspire questions about what it means to enter into a union with someone and what happens when you findyourself becoming more and more like your partner.

Running with the ongoing theme of marriage, Sokoloski tackles it again in her series The Female Gothic, but this time from a personal, localized perspective rooted in grief and release.

Sokoloski explained that while she was carrying out her artist’s residency in Pouch Cove, Newfoundland, she became inspired by the ocean and histories of family members lost at sea.  She staged a performance that involved dressing herself as a pregnant bride walking through the town, dragging domestic items with her such as an iron, and finally tossing them over a cliff into the waves.  

Appropriately titled, the series of photographs depicts a stark, raw landscape of rock, cliff and small-town highway that the wandering, grieving bride eerily complements.   The Female Gothic’s contrast to the other series’ brighter—if sarcastic—tones is a little jarring but further demonstrates the fluid and multi-faceted manifestations that the image of a bride can conjure.    

Sokoloski said she often finds her own experience mixes in with her art. However, her pieces, though at times deeply personal, do not seem overwhelmingly or singularly autobiographical. She plays with topics of a personal nature while alluding to a larger picture accessible to anyone touched by love, loss or marriage.  

What adds a unique element to Sokoloski’s work is that many of the photos were based on performances. In keeping with this theme, Sokoloski staged a performance for Made in Taiwan’s opening reception. 

The Union Gallery was converted into the set for an unexpected exercise in performance art as guests were invited to “make a toast to the lucky couple” by literally toasting bread in toasters labelled with words like “Joy,” “Fidelity” and “Eat Me.” Meanwhile, Sokoloski and her partner lay on a bed, conversing, as a wall of toast was piled around them.  The spontaneity and playfulness of the event got guests actively participating in Sokoloski’s work.  

Smith and Taunton said they were interested in inviting Sokoloski to Kingston because they found her work was not only technically compelling but also commented on personal and far-reaching issues they felt would appeal to the community.  From the photographs to the performances, the exhibit Made in Taiwan is an engaging labour of love.

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