Interacting with the artworks in Poetry for The Young at the NAC (curated by Lauren Hunter) can’t help but bring to mind the contradiction of permanence and temporality, in art making and in the resultant detritus of the art object. The two artists in this exhibition (J.E. Simpson and Long Gao) seem to be diametric opposites in their positioning on this: Simpson’s works (the sculptures more so than his wall works) are both solid in nature (wood, metal, both industrial and natural in ‘strength’) and his process of ‘imprinting’ text onto the salvaged and worked word suggests that these pieces might outlive us. Further, in the past Simpson has taken ‘rubbings’ of the works, thus allowing them to proliferate in another form, and perhaps exist more widely and strewn further than their solidity would permit.
Gao’s Bouquet Deconstructions take another approach to permanence / fragility. On the night of the opening, the rich vibrant burgundies and almost blinding yellows of his pinned petals were intense in their aesthetic power. The shiny heads of the pins, holding the compositions in place, added aesthetically but also implied a subtle violence to the creation of these beautiful artworks. I intentionally didn’t visit again until nearly four days had passed, to gage and document how these bouquets were beginning to fail, and decay and perhaps fall off the wall, to join the excess of floral leavings on the floor of the gallery already. Flowers, after all, are given to mark a beginning (as in wedding bouquets, but also endings, with funerals…)
The words of the artists themselves seems appropriate, but I’ll add here that I visited Simpson, in his unique studio space, some time ago for an artist feature in the Sound. You can read that here. But Gao’s statement is as follows:
Long Gao’s work is driven by an interest in perception, memory, and our relationship with the natural world. Over the course of Spring and Summer 2019, he will be continuing his series of Bouquet Deconstructions. As an act of reconciliation, the artist seeks to recreate feelings of infatuation, intimacy and romance. An innocent logic based on intuition is taken when approaching the subject. Born in Beijing, raised in Vancouver, and educated in Toronto, Gao is currently based in Berlin, Germany. I previously mentioned that Hunter is the curator of this exhibit, but she – and Simpson – also ‘assembled’ Gao’s works, as he IS in Berlin, according to ‘plans’ sent by the artist, which further expands the idea of the permanence / transience of the ‘object’, traversing geographical distance.
Simpson (whom I’ve had many entertaining, verbose and often barbed, in a fun way, conversations with regarding everything from Kent Monkman to Clint Roenisch) offers this: “Inspired by early printing methods, my practice is constantly locating and dislocating a psychic collective. Through myth-making and the unorthodox placement of text, a space comes into being for the recovery of the absolute. The structures present can never be erased completely, and so my discipline is of organic form and language. By inscribing roman text onto elemental objects, I loosen the process from the conditions of categorization. An oblique curiosity emerges, fixated on language & more in touch with the immaterial sense of the object.”
There’s a delicious confrontation between the works: Simpson’s and Gao’s pieces are almost obsessive, and overwhelming, in creation. The former’s pieces are more ‘permanent’, though the origin of the wood is in discarded ‘garbage.’ Gao’s take an opposite path: from something of value to something to be swept up and thrown away.
When I experienced this exhibition, I wanted to write about it right then: but I’ve waited for a week, into the two weeks Poetry for The Young is on display, just to indulge my desire to watch the flowers ‘age.’ You have one more week to experience the show at NAC: go do it, for ‘man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He comes forth like a flower and is cut down, he flees like a shadow, and continueth not.’ (Job 14: 1 – 2)
Poetry for The Young, featuring the works of J.E. Simpson and Long Gao, curated by Lauren Hunter, is on display at NAC (354 St. Paul Street, St. Catharines) until September 14th, 2019.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.