Halifax’s Blue Building Gallery opened its doors on February 11, 2021, with a group show called Soft Launch, featuring six of its seven anchor artists1. Since then, the programming has featured solo projects by three members of that group, but for the gallery’s first anniversary director Emily Falencki chose to go in a different direction, offering Staying, an exhibition featuring the work of eight artists who have all made a commitment to live and work in Halifax.
Staying includes artists at every stage of their careers, from recent graduates and emerging artists to those in mid-career, as well as one of the region’s most senior artists, Michael Fernandes, who has lived and worked in the region since the early 1970s. Fernandes showed six photo/text works that display his customary mischievousness, while never shying away from serious emotions. Four of the six works pair simple texts in coloured fonts on white backgrounds with photographs. The most caring most creative human ever lived Lives (2021) features the late Cliff Eyland in the foreground of a photograph of The Babbies Upstairs, a band of which the two were members for decades, practising. This homage to the passing of a dear friend is poignant and direct, despite the form’s appearance of cool conceptualism. Don’t let the old man in (2021) shows Fernandes walking along Halifax’s seawall, a bundle of plastic under his arm. This allegory of seeking shelter, of forced homelessness, speaks volumes about the precarity of being an artist in this region, where even an artist of Fernandes’s stature and accomplishment can be shut out.
At the other end of their careers are five emerging artists. Narrative is key to Kayza DeGraff-Ford’s work; in The Snake Charmer (2022), one sleeping cowboy is enwrapped by a pair of large snakes and another cowboy seems to be in the process of being abducted by aliens. Ryan Josey’s text work, a poem printed on the wall with a photograph and a found object, also relies on narrative, a musing about place and relationships. Their painting Alone w/o Allies (2019) is less narrative than image – a suggestion of sky and architecture in a resolutely abstract manner.
Ursula Handleigh’s contribution is a mammoth digital photograph printed on linen that stretches from the ceiling at the back of the gallery down the wall and along almost two-thirds of the floor to the front of the room. Dense urban scenery on the floor, seemingly garnered from Google Earth, steadily dissolves into the countryside in an accelerated trip from the heart of a busy urban space into the littoral space at its edges.
Ecuadorean-born Cinthia Arias Auz’s sculpture El regreso al exilio (2021) (which means “the return to exile” in her native Spanish) is a resin-cast pillow sitting directly on the floor. The concavity where a head had rested was filled with a white liquid, a mixture of water and white dye, which evaporated over the course of the show, leaving a white, dusty, residue on the sides of the depression. One returns to exile in sleep, the work suggests – perhaps because to dream in one’s adopted language is a double exile.
Jenny Yujia Shi also speaks about leaving one’s home, focusing, in a series of paintings and one cut-out animation, on the rootlessness of the migrant and the search for stability. This Does Not Authorize Re-Entry (2021), a four-and-a-half-minute stop-motion animation made with paper cut-outs, is a haunting and eerily beautiful meditation on human migration, the things we mourn, and what we carry with us.
Melanie Colosimo exhibited five works on the theme of crowd control. Her drawings of the metal barriers used to block demonstrations and otherwise control the movement of pedestrians are joined by When is a fence a ladder? (2021–22), a series of four fabric sculptures of those same crowd-control barricades. Linked together and hung from the ceiling, the works create a soft ladder, no longer a barrier but some sort of pathway.
One returns to exile in sleep, the work suggests – perhaps because to dream in one’s adopted language is a double exile.
William Robinson presented a work that evokes the isolation and introspection experienced by so many of us over the seemingly interminable COVID-19 pandemic. Mushroom Kit I (2021) is a large photograph of a full drum kit, set up in what seems to be a basement, sprouting a lush growth of mushrooms. Incongruous, humorous, and somewhat sad, Mushroom Kit I succinctly suggests the sense of being mothballed that the pandemic has made endemic for all of us.
Staying, Falencki promises, will be the first of a series of exhibitions examining place. Based on the evidence of this exhibition, it is a series to eagerly anticipate.
The translation in French is published in the issue 267 (summer 2022).
1 An artist-led contemporary commercial gallery, the Blue Building was founded by Emily Falencki, “collaborating with seven established artists with strong ties to the Atlantic region. Falencki and these Anchor Artists will use the space to champion a wide variety of artists they wish to support and introduce to Atlantic Canada through curated exhibitions and other programming.” From the Blue Building website, https://www.thebluebuilding.ca.
Staying: A Group Show
Curator: Emily Falencki
The Blue Building Gallery
Halifax, Nova Scotia
February 11–April 23, 2022