The Curious Curator: Marman and Borins

In this blog series, our Senior Curator Linda Jansma or Assistant Curator Sonya Jones email artists with questions about their creative experiences. The emails are sent after the opening of the artists’ exhibition, and strive to reveal the experience of showing works at the RMG. In this edition Linda Jansma emailed Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins about their exhibition The Collaborationists. 
Marman and Borins at the RMG on the evening of the opening of Pavilion of the Blind

Marman & Borins at the RMG during the opening of The Collaborationists

LJ: The Collaborationists opened at the Art Gallery of Hamilton in June. How would you compare the final versions of each exhibition?

M & B: The Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) exhibition was a broad installation that made use of three distinct and somewhat separate rooms. At AGH, a series of ideas were linked through defined boundaries and thresholds, adjacent to each other, but not necessarily explicitly linked as one unified theme. We were interested in the associations and distance between the works and how the audience would link them. The Collaborationists is not a static exhibition though, it can exist in multiple states. We enjoy the opportunity to present a new form of the exhibition in each of its touring venues. At The Robert McLaughlin Gallery we were inspired by the grandeur of the exhibition space. We responded to this with the decision to install a large-scale singular work. Two editions of Pavilion of the Blind are positioned adjacent to each other to create the largest kinetic sculptural installation that we have produced to date.

LJ: As collaborators, how do you begin work on a concept for a piece? What are your first steps?

M & B: Early in our career it was a longer process, but as we engaged in form, kinetics, technology, and historical reference we began to make more and more connections in our work and so did our audience. Implied here is that we have established a lexicon of precedents that now make our new works easier to rationalize. So for a work like Pavilion of the Blind, we had the precedent of our piece In Sit You, and we had made a remote controlled painting 6 or 7 years ago; we felt that this was the next logical step. How could we make a large-format kinetic work that functioned as painting and sculpture? The nuts and bolts of it are really elemental: what materials to use, how to build, what motors, what computer interface? From there it was a really enjoyable problem solving set of logistics.

Marman and Borins with Pavilion of the Blind

LJ: Is there a division of labour in your joint practice? Does one person tend to do more of one thing than another?

M & B: This is a question we are often asked. In all reality some projects are handled by one of us as the lead and the other as the support, and we trade back and forth. In the case of Pavilion of the Blind there were so many suppliers and so many components – we just divided the tasks as best we could. Our collaboration is fluid.

LJ: Your practice deals with social and political issues through the lens of modernism. How does modernism help you engage with the issues that are prominent in your work? And are there particular issues that you will be dealing with in future work?

M & B: There was a sense in 20th century Modernism that we would design a better way of living. Paradoxically there was also a sense that a form of self-conscious individualism could be expressed in visual art. We suppose that in our case, we mine aspects of modernist architecture in Pavilion of the Blind, its positive influences of form and function, but also the off-putting aspects of automation and technocratic societies. So the question is: does the critique come in the form of highly self-conscious expression, or should it be a mirror? And if it is the latter, can it claim the lofty results of high modernism – its claims to presence and weightiness. Suffice to say that we think finding a basis and extrapolating from there is a worthy strategy.For example, there is a current trend in formalism first, in art as vanguard fashion, in some ideas about post-industrial cities and found objects. Maybe we see ourselves as responsive to this. Maybe we see ourselves as an individual style. Maybe this sounds confused? But what we are saying is that there are aspects in our work that attempt to reflexively address our current culture through an analysis of what has also informed it. Modernism is a good place to start. Shamanism, to us, seems like a bit of a stretch.

Visit the Marman & Borins website

LJ: Your work often includes kinetic elements that are instigated by the viewer. Do you find that visitors look at work that they’ve helped to “create” by their presence in the room, differently than static works?

M & B: We definitely have always been a bit skeptical about works of art in general. Should we or anyone trust what an art work is purporting to accomplish? Should we trust what people write or say about an artwork? So this line of thinking informs some early ideas that we had about agency. We were interested in how a viewer controls what is perceived and how an artwork does this. Definitely we think that there is a solid place for interactivity in the art world, its galleries and and museums. Institutions are placing a huge emphasis on interactivity – it is a reflection of our current information culture. And so is Pavilion of the Blind and other works of ours. Yes in this case we definitely imagine our work as connected to the viewer; as completed by the viewer. We like to imagine a viewer watching another viewer view Pavilion of the Blind.

Did you enjoy learning more about these artists? Come to The Collaborationists: A Conversation on Sunday 19 January from 2:30 – 4pm for a lively, engaging, and personal conversation between Jennifer Marman and Daniel Borins, two artists who have been collaborating for over a decade. This is a rare opportunity to sit in on a collegial conversation exploring each artist’s work, process and history. Free to attend.

The Curious Curator: Toni Hamel

In this new blog series, our Senior Curator Linda Jansma or Assistant Curator Sonya Jones email artists with questions about their creative experiences. The emails are sent after the opening of the artists’ exhibition, and strive to reveal the experience of showing works at the RMG. In this edition Sonya Jones emailed Toni Hamel about her exhibition, The lingering, on now until the 24 of November, 2013.

SJ: What artists have influenced you and why?

Toni Hamel: There are many.  Stylistically, I am attracted to the work of Michal Borremans, Joseph Cornell, Amy Cutler and Marcel Dzama. Conceptually, I love Mona Hatoum and Annette Messenger, both installation artists,  for their choice of subject matter. Their work addresses the same issues I investigate in The lingering, such as gender role and discrimination, identity and self-acceptance. I also adore Betty Goodwin because I feel that her life story, much like mine, has been marked by serious struggles and heartaches, and I feel somewhat connected to the biography of Mary Pratt, although for different reasons. Married to the better known Christopher yet equally talented, Mary had to put her career on the back-burner while raising her family, her work considered more a hobby than a necessity during those years, and was able to re-focus on her practice only much later on in life. It is interesting to me to see how much I have in common with other women artists of my generations. Our biographies at times read very much as one: attempted our rise in the art world fresh out of art school, had to step away from it for two decades or so for familial commitments and obligations, and returned to it as middle-aged women.  I wonder how many male artists have had to place their careers on such long hiatus because they had to dedicate the best years of their lives to caring for others…

Toni Hamel  The Improvement 2013

Toni Hamel The Improvement 2013

SJ: Women often struggle with guilt at feeling discontented with their domestic existence. What would you say to these women?

Toni Hamel: It is ultimately a matter of choice. Guilt has many roots. It might stem from religious beliefs, from the social dictum, or from psychological predispositions.  It is important to state at this point that this type of guilt is only experienced by women. Since for millennia we have been told to place our value as individuals on our ability to care for our families, it is quite understandable to feel guilty when our aspirations differ from those dictated by our society and/or culture. We are then confronted with an existential dilemma: do we continue living and behaving the way we have always done? Or do we break away from the norm and carve our own path? It is ultimately an issue of self-preservation and survival as guilt, in the long run, may also lead to more serious psychological complications.

An easy fix to this dilemma would be to physically remove ourselves from the context in which our guilt finds its fertile ground, to ultimately lead a life that is shaped by ourselves and for ourselves. When this option is not possible, I strongly believe that one way to alleviate one’s own discontent is to express  it through a creative process.  Such output not only has the power to sooth our soul, albeit momentarily,  but it will also allow others to understand how we truly feel.

Our creative output, in fact, most times is able to succeed when simple words may otherwise fail. It is a form of communication that bridges the gap amongst us and brings us closer: as couples, as families, as communities, as human beings.

Toni Hamel  Attachments  2012

Toni Hamel Attachments 2012

SJ: You are refreshingly open about your personal struggles. How has the response from this exhibition been?

Toni Hamel: The response has been unimaginably positive, beyond my expectations in fact.  A much welcome and collateral benefit of this exhibit has been that it is encouraging other women to come together and share their life stories, to speak about their own personal struggles and collective experiences, and find constructive ways to re-direct their psychological uneasiness.

The lingering might be my story, but it is also the story of countless other women, therefore it is very easy for them to recognize their own lives in these works.

SJ:  What do you hope people will take from the exhibition?

Toni Hamel: I hope that The lingering will guide its female viewers through a journey of self-empowerment and self-realization, and direct its male visitors toward a path of understanding, appreciation and admiration for all women. As artists and intellectuals we are called upon to shape the culture of the society in which we live, and I strongly believe that exhibitions like The lingering lead us all in the right direction.

Read more about the exhibition on our website.

Read an article by Will McGuirk in the Durham College Chronicle. 

Visit the artist’s website.

Visit the artist’s tumblr page.

Gordon Monahan Wins 2013 Governor General Award!

The Canada Council for the Arts announced today the winners of the 2013 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts at the Cinémathèque québécoise in Montreal.

The winners are:
Marcel Barbeau, Painter and sculptor, Montreal
Rebecca Belmore, Visual artist, Winnipeg
William D. MacGillivray, Filmmaker and director, Rose Bay, N.S.
Gordon Monahan, Sound artist, composer and media artist, Meaford, Ont.
Greg Payce, Artist-potter (Saidye Bronfman Award), Calgary
Chantal Pontbriand, Exhibitions and events curator, art critic (Outstanding contribution), Montreal/Paris
Colette Whiten, Sculpture installation artist, Toronto/Haliburton, Ont.

Gordon Monahan has been working closely with the RMG in the past few years.

Of Gordon’s piano performances [John] Cage once commented “At the piano, Gordon Monahan produces sounds we haven’t heard before.” – Robert Tombs, Graphic designer (nominator)

Portrait of Gordon Monahan

Portrait of Gordon Monahan

Below, our Senior Curator writes about the exhibition Seeing Sound she curated for Gordon Monahan in 2011.

I was very pleased to hear that Gordon Monahan is one of this year’s recipients of the Governor General Award in Visual and Media Arts.

I have worked with Gordon closely over the past 3 years. We met in the late winter/spring of 2009 when I invited him to the Gallery to see if he’d be interested in having the RMG organize a solo exhibition of his recent sound installations. It was a long lunch, and by the end of it, we’d decided that we were going to try to pull together a 30 year retrospective of Gordon’s practice and see if we could get a couple of other institutions interested in collaborating.

That original meeting led to a successful grant application to the Department of Canadian Heritage, an eight venue cross-country, plus one venue in Berlin, tour, 18,000 visitors and counting (the final venue, the Tom Thomson Gallery in Owen Sound, opens its exhibition in April), performances, lectures, and a 160 page catalogue. It’s been quite a ride. Seeing Sound is the first touring retrospective exhibition of a sound artist in Canada and it’s appropriate that it would feature Gordon’s work. He’s performed and shown his sound work nationally and internationally, and since returning to Canada in 2006 (he’d lived in Berlin, the capital of sound art, since 1992) has started the Electric Eclectics sound and experimental music festival on the Meaford farm where he’s settled.

Gordon Monahan performs Theremin Radio Interface at RMG Fridays in May of 2011.

Gordon Monahan performs Theremin Radio Interface at RMG Fridays in May 2011.

I’ve just completed the final report for the grant that we received. One of the questions asked was what was one highlight of the project. Simple. The opening was combined with the RMG Friday event in May, 2011. 90 people watched Gordon elicit electric voltage and computer generated sounds by putting electrodes into bananas, pickles and, tomatoes in a work called Sauerkraut Synthesizer, as well as perform his Theremin Radio Interference in which he controlled live radio with an early electronic musical instrument called a Theramin. The audience was in turn puzzled and amused, entertained and educated. It was a great evening.

Gordon Monahan performs Sauerkraut Synthesizer at RMG Fridays in May 2011

Gordon Monahan performs Sauerkraut Synthesizer at RMG Fridays in May 2011

What’s also great? Seeing such a prestigious award granted to such a deserving artist. Congratulations, Gordon!

Read more about all winners on the Governor General’s Website: Click here.

Read more about Gordon Monahan’s practice and his art practice: Click here.

Gordon Monahan: A Piano Listening to Itself–Chopin Chord can be currently seen at 58 Summerhill Gardens, Toronto. It is on view Monday to Saturday, 5-7pm until June 22, 2013. Click to learn more.


Gordon Monahan
2013 Laureate, Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts