Work It.

5 - 28 June 2014
gallerywest 1172 Queen Street West, Toronto

Opening reception: 5 June 2014, 7 – 10pm

SAVAC’s annual juried members’ exhibition showcases the range of contemporary art practices across SAVAC’s membership. This year’s exhibition, Work It., is a partnership between SAVAC and gallerywest.

Work It. foregrounds issues of art and labour, as the three featured artists playfully engage with the current state of art-affairs: funding cuts to the arts, and discourses around race, gender and community, as they relate to labour. The works of Work It. explore various modes of institutional critique, raising questions of appropriation and commodification, and the ways in which they reflect on one’s identity as an artist and cultural worker.

Basil AlZeri
You Do What You Love Because You Do One, Two, and More Than Two
Installation, Canada (2014)

In response to a recent exhibit at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, One, and Two, and More Than Two, by artist Micah Lexier, that displayed over 200 new, and recently created artworks and objects by 101 artists in and around Toronto, AlZeri invites 101 artists to give objects of their choice from their “non-art related” work places.  The objects, displayed throughout gallerywest are labeled highlighting the dismissed “non-art” labour that facilitates the possibility to be a practicing artist in Toronto. Similar to Lexier’s attempt at creating a portrait of an artist community in Toronto, AlZeri’s referential work creates a portrait of “the working” artist community. He states “almost every artist I know has one, two or more than two “day” job(s) to sustain their art practice. Therefore, what allows creative production to occur is hard work around the clock.” With You Do What You Love Because… AlZeri encourages ongoing constructive, and critical dialogue about the reality of artists’ labour within and outside one’s art practice.

Alize Zorlutuna 
Video performance documentation, Canada (2014)

Crawl is a performance in which Zorlutuna crawls feet-first up the stairs of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). This is part of a series of ongoing performances by the artist, where she crawls backwards up the steps of various art galleries, and museums, which house historical artefacts from non-Western contexts, specifically the Muslim world. This gesture reflects her relationship to these institutions (and to the art world) as a queer, Turkish-Canadian, female artist. She states, “for me, Crawl embodies the challenges I face as an artist. It often feels like an upward, backwards crawl to support oneself, to gain access to privileged institutions, and to one’s history.”

Umber Majeed
Still Life 
Video, 1:48, USA (2013) 

Majeed’s video Still Life speaks to the disconnect she encounters in Western art institutions. As a Muslim woman living in the United States, she takes up the role of the “outsider from the inside”, exploring concepts of existentialism, identity, and self-representation. The struggle to embody the western tradition of the “still life” is evident as all components in the video are attempting to remain still to compose an appropriate image of a vase of flowers.

The Two Fridas 
Video, 2:04, USA (2012) 

The Two Fridas imitates an art object. By appropriating Frida Kahlo’s famous painting, Majeed attempts to locate herself as the subject in the painting, as well as within a larger context of western art institutions. Through an embodiment of Kahlo’s work, a paradox is conceived, and recreated on a loop, creating an endless dialogue between herself, the two Fridas and the audience.

To complement the visual realm of Work It., SAVAC has invited acclaimed author Pasha Malla to write a text to accompany the exhibition. His narrative draws on the above works, toying with the current motto of creative labour in the 21st century: “Do What you Love. Love what you Do.” Malla’s main character toils away, digging to uncover a “life-size horse sculpted from the earth.” His story serves as a foil to the works in a gallery setting, which consider how and why we produce art works.

Reflecting back on the economic climate of funding cuts and austerity, the artists in the exhibition humorously and poignantly employ issues of labour within the arts that invite us to consider how the arts continue to work it.

Artist Bios

Basil AlZeri is an Interdisciplinary, Toronto-based visual artist working in performance, video, installation, food, and public art interventions/projects. His work is grounded in his practice as an art educator and community worker. He is engaged with the intersection of everyday actions and life necessities with art. His work strives to interact with the public through gestures of generosity in social interactions and exchanges. AlZeri’s performance work has been exhibited internationally.

Alize Zorlutuna is a Vancouver-based artist and writer, who works with a diverse range of mediums. Incorporating textiles, found objects, performance, video projection, and audio, her work draws upon her experience as an individual living between two cultures. Negotiating multiple perspectives simultaneously, this    informs her creative practice; manifesting in explorations of space. The desire to activate these spaces where differing perspectives, emotions, and physical entities meet, rests at the heart of her work.

Umber Majeed is visual artist who recently graduated from the Beaconhouse National University, in Lahore, Pakistan. Her practice is conceptually driven by her displacement  in both art institutions as well as in the public realm, which leads her to “attempt” belonging, through the specificity of subject matter and aesthetic devices. The referential nature of her work questions the insider and outsider status of the artist, subject, and viewer. In February 2014, she joined an emerging artist program at Coohaus Gallery in New York, USA, where she is currently based.

gallerywest aims to provide a multi-disciplinary space for emerging and established artists from across Canada and beyond. Our programming direction focuses on works that are thoughtfully engaged in the exploration of borders, boundaries and psycho-geographic narratives.

Natasha Chaykowski. “‘Work It.’ and the Art of Work in an Age of Precarity”, in Canadian Art (June 2014).

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