Off the beaten track and away from the high rents a small group of galleries are staking out territory in an unexpected region of Toronto. According to the Toronto Star this neighbourhood is called Carleton Village and it is bordered by St. Claire avenue on the north and surrounded on the other three sides by railway lines: the CNR/CPR mainline to the west, the CNR railway lines to the east, and the CPR east-west railway lines to the south. Carleton Village may be a little scary at night but during the day its all about auto body shops, humble residences, scrub vegation and a particular industrial park ambience that has an undeniable allure.
View outside galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village
View in back of galleries on Miller Street in Carleton Village
At the Jessica Bradley Gallery an exhibition by Tricia Middleton, titled Making friends with yourself, feels strangely like a reference to the gallery exterior, albeit darkly exaggerated. These messy piles of forgotten, encrusted stuff are just the kind of tableaux that lurk along railway lines, highway-off ramps and docksides to be stumbled upon by the unwary dog-walker or middle-school biker.
Detail of installation by Tricia Middleton
The signs along a riverbank might say No Dumping but Tricia Middleton knows our world is full of items to be discarded, hidden, eroded, rotted and finally washed away by moving water or overgrown with weeds and more debris.
The cascading wax references memorials, alters, communion with others or the world beyond and furtive spiritual gestures of all kinds and provides another dimension to the work. The faint glimpse of glitter beneath the wax encrusted surface and the purples, pinks and blues suggest the melting and blurring of once distinct ritual objects, desperate prayers and secret meetings.
Sometimes the objects are simply ghastly like various disconnected swollen body parts. These headless torsos or set of legs might be encased in clothing, vestiges of their former existence, and now swarming with indicators of truly repellent new life.
The installations raises all kinds of interesting ideas concerning our consumer society and relationships to things, about waste and value, about pop culture notions of the macabre in relation to marginal forms of spirituality, ideas about what is disgusting and grotesque, nightmarish glimpses of the terrible fates of the missing among us, and about the forgotten people, places and things that exist in the hidden margins of our society.
Annabella Scondi lived from 1921 to 2005, mostly in rural Northern Ontario. Recognized as a brilliant diarist in her teenage years Ms. Scondi then laboured for decades as a ticket taker at the Sudbury train station. She went on to retreat to “a cabin in the woods” and create a startling body of outsider art, presented at the Katzman Gallery by Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium.
An elaboratly produced audio guide is offered to help the gallery visitor understand Annabella Scondi’s influences. The audio piece breathlessly details the evolution and development of the artist as a wounded genius or maybe an elusive idiot savant somehow able to comprehend the complex machinations of the art world and create astute artworks, responding to such varied influences as Brancusi, Duchamp and Bridget Riley.
Unsent Letters to Bridget Riley
Installation view of The Scondi Collection
Personally, I understand the lure of the distant obscure object. Growing up on the Canadian prairies I wanted to know more about, say, Conceptual Art, and studied the relevant publications diligently. Its not an uncommon phenomenon. I have a nephew who, at the age of seven, living in rural Manitoba, became obsessed with the Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera Einstein on the Beach, particularly a certain musical passage from that work. He went on to study music composition and eventually attended a remounting of the piece at 2012 Luminato festival. His own music is influenced by this classic avant garde work.
The work on the walls can be a little bland, especially without the audio accompaniement, but Braden Labonte and the Cultural Capital Consortium have created a very interesting piece. Particularly relevant in this era of social media hyper communication where all is revealed instantly the work creates something that we are not quite sure about and as such becomes a kind of meditation on the whole idea of the internationally obscure.
Did Annabella Scondi ever exist at all? One of the recurring images throughout the show is the obscured visage.
Detail from The Scondi Collection
Supposedly her work was all tied up with her self imposed exile subsequent to an early brush with fame (and 30 years at the wicket in Sudbury). What does this show tell us about fame, particularly of the art world variety? The Warhol take on fame, the way he captured and coveted the aura of Lisa Minelli or Marilyn, has morphed through the decades so that movie stars like Tilda Swinton or James Franco covet the esoteric elitism of the performance artist.
Installation view of The Scondi Collection
Was Annabella Scondi created so that she could be unearthed and deconstructed by the art world, ever hungry for the new and obscure, someone who is genuinely unknowable? Or is she real, an accurate cipher decoding and dialoguing with the cultural forces of her times?