A forest for the trees

Sculptors go into the woods to explore geographies

David Ross’s vibrant sculptures and quilts are autobiographical and relate to his experiences living in Japan.
David Ross’s vibrant sculptures and quilts are autobiographical and relate to his experiences living in Japan.
Photo: 
Local artists Anna Elmberg-Wright, Lisa Figge, Sandra Jass, Bruce Kauffman and Rebecca Soudant participated in Rotterdam-based artist Yvette Poorter’s travelling project.
Local artists Anna Elmberg-Wright, Lisa Figge, Sandra Jass, Bruce Kauffman and Rebecca Soudant participated in Rotterdam-based artist Yvette Poorter’s travelling project.
Photo: 

The title of Modern Fuel’s latest exhibit Forest Stations rings with a pseudo-rustic and not-so-vaguely Canadian theme. Although artists Yvette Poorter and David Ross are both Canadian, they live in the Netherlands and Japan respectively and the exhibit is far more international in scope. Poorter’s and Ross’ sculptures—though drastically different in execution—form a sort of collapsing of geographies and connecting of experiences in the Modern Fuel space.

Poorter, based in Rotterdam, is responsible for Knock on Woods in the State of Flux room of the gallery. Two videos play, one called “a nothering of means” relays the adventures of her travelling artist residency while the other is a slideshow of the project’s time in Kingston, taking up space in the backyard of the Artel. The residency itself is actually a small wooden shelter that artists are invited to spend time in creating, practicing, putting on performance art and anything else they come up with.

Previously, Knock on Woods took place as This Neck of the Woods in Poorter’s backyard for two years, in a tiny cabin that was home to two young Canadian trees she smuggled from home. This corner saw many artists come and go and eventually Poorter declared the soil as part of Canada, which resulted in a visit from the Haig embassy and a nice letter from the Queen of the Netherlands.

The project’s roots can be traced back to these seedlings. When living in Montreal, Poorter planted the seeds that had been swept onto her balcony and turned a small room in her home into an artist residency space where all the artists had to do was fill out a form, leave any small leftover traces of their project in a shoebox and just hang out with the meagre forest of baby trees.

Nowadays Poorter takes the shelter and the concept on the road and it has travelled to Portugal, France, British Columbia and now Kingston.

Anna Elmberg-Wright, Lisa Figge, Sandra Jass, Bruce Kauffman and Rebecca Soudant took turns inhabiting the residency for four hours each this past week. Elmberg-Wright, as a performance piece, set up a dream workshop and had people come and tell her their dreams, which she’d then interpret.

“What happens in the context of this piece is you’re collaborating with the artist Yvette and you’re also collaborating with people across the country and Europe,” Elmberg-Wright said.

“There’s this lovely relational aesthetic in the piece.”

The video clips and sounds offer a curious glimpse into the project but actually speaking to Poorter and the artists who collaborated and participated in the Kingston portion of the piece is more fulfilling. The video just hints at the experiences that were tucked away in the cabin and Poorter’s perspective and self-deprecating tone add a more grounding feel in order to relate to the video that depicts the fleeting events that took place in the cabin.

But even Poorter isn’t even sure what the residency has witnessed. Sometimes artists leave little trace and it’s up to Poorter to imagine and shape the residency’s growing history at will.

“Sometimes I just make stuff up but I think that’s my liberty as this is my project; I can take what’s there to construct or represent what has happened in my woods which are supposed to be ‘the most perfect woods,’” Poorter said.

In contrast to this transient kind of sculpture is David Ross’s extremely physical installation that plays with trees, experience and place in very different ways.

“Self-portrait of the artist in Japan: Magic mountain. Hiroshima mon amour, Of floating weeds and seven other stories…” is the autobiography of the artist while living in Japan. Using textiles, Ross has created a series of vibrant and erratically colourful quilts and turned them into statues of himself. Some hold a second head that they eerily gaze into as self-reflection. Some are attached to the crooked branches of trees—inspired by the twisted branches of a tree that survived the bombing of Hiroshima and continued to grow warped. The forest influence in this case is a little ominous. On the walls, Ross has placed collages from his sketchbooks where his thoughts and sketches about his experience in Japan accumulate, layer and interrupt each other to form a drawing quilt.

Although Ross’s work with textiles is overwhelmingly busy, it’s also beautiful. His bold colour combinations and use of fabric to express identity was influenced by Japanese culture’s take on fashion. Many of the fabrics used came from him or his friends and so bring a sort of honest and personal sense to the strange twisted wood and fabric soldier-like statues.

Spiraling out to reach continents and people, Poorter’s project is concept-heavy and begs to be talked about while Ross’s work is more rooted in the self and presents a very tangible representation of that. Both representations of forest seem inspired by, but removed from, reality and are haunted by the urban environment.

The two unlikely artists actually balance each other in the gallery, bringing contrasting takes on experience to the forest floor.

Forest Stations featuring Yvette Poorters and David Ross is at Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre until October 18.

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