artist lecture: derek sullivan


Art and Art History presents
Derek Sullivan
Thursday 22 November 2012
12:30 – 1:30 p. m.
Sheridan, Annie Smith Arts Centre Mezzanine
1430 Trafalgar Road, Oakville, ON

Employing formal and textual elements that frequently contradict and alter relationships with
one another, Derek Sullivan draws upon overlapping histories of modernist design,
abstraction and conceptual art to unsettle notions of meaning and authorship. Sullivan uses
drawing and sculpture, in addition to producing various ephemeral conceptual projects, as
mechanisms for charting the changing functions and meanings of objects as they move through the world.
Recent solo exhibitions have been held at The Power Plant, Toronto, where he was awarded
The Power Plant’s 2011 commission; Galerie Emmanuel Hervé, Paris (2012); Jessica Bradley Art+ Projects, Toronto (2011); KIOSK, Ghent (2011); University of Waterloo Art Gallery (2010);
Southern Alberta Art Gallery, Lethbridge (2008); White Columns, New York (2008) and Tatjana Pieters/OneTwenty Gallery, Ghent (2008). He has been included in group exhibitions at The National Gallery of Canada (2010 and 2012); Oakville Galleries (2011); Casino Luxembourg Forum d’art contemporain (2008); Artists Space, New York (2007); Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver (2007) and The Power Plant (2005 and 2006). Sullivan has been long-listed for The Sobey Art Award in 2009 and 2011, and was short-listed in 2012.

Image: Derek Sullivan Albatross Omnibus (2011), installation view
The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto
Photo credit: Toni Hafkenscheid


exhibition: lyla rye

exhibition: lyla rye

interview: daryl vocat, the secret of the midnight shadow

the secret of the midnight shadow. 2006-2009. (installation details) click on image for larger view

Daryl Vocat is a print artist living in Toronto Ontario.  Last year Vocat developed, The Secret of the Midnight Shadow, an installation of screen-printed cutouts, wall painting, and paper collage.

Q:  Whether it is a wooded park, a television news studio, or a domestic living room, in much of your work you seem to set up familiar spaces for your characters to enact a narrative. As viewers, we are on the outside of the image looking in, able to piece together their stories, their relationships and their struggles. In your installation, The Secret of the Midnight Shadow, the fictive space of the image has been shattered, and as viewers, we now become part of the narrative. What were some the decisions that led you to moving in this direction?

A:  These days I’ve been thinking more about space and how it’s used, how people can change the context of a space depending on how they occupy it, and also how space can affect a narrative. I like playing with what is familiar, or pre-existing, and twisting it a bit in order to tell a new story. Using this process is also a way to talk about what we know, and are familiar with, and how such things are so dependent on what we bring to them.

In some of my older work the location or environment has been non-descript, or simply not even there. The focus has been primarily about the figure, the action and the space of the page. Part of what led me to do that installation was to try and expand what I could do with the scout-style imagery I’ve been working with for a fair while. I wanted to change the scale of the work and see how people would relate to it. My hope is that it creates a different way of experiencing what I think of as being very similar work to my prints. In shifting scale I was also thinking about the action of the characters in the work, and the relationship the viewer plays in response to that action. Rather than looking at a print on the wall, and having the experience be limited in some ways, with the Midnight Shadow viewers actually enter into the work. As a viewer enters the very same space that the action is occurring in. My hope is that it implicates viewers, they don’t just look, but are also participants. In my work I think a lot about relationships of different sorts, the format of the midnight shadow takes those relationships and makes them a bit more physical.

the secret of the midnight shadow. 2006-2009. (installation detail)

Q: As I walked through the installation, I couldn’t help thinking that it was part fun house and part set decoration for a public school play. I felt the need to constantly turn around to look at what I was not seeing behind me. Were you influenced by set design or live theatre while making this work?

A:  I wasn’t influenced in such a way that I could directly name an influence, but as you are saying, all of those connections are in that work. Sometimes when I’m setting up that show I feel like I’m decorating a child’s bedroom. My initial idea was to make a pop-up book that had come to life. I wanted flat, simple characters, and open-ended narratives that a person could project their own ideas on. I wanted it to have a similar feeling to reading or looking at pictures in a book. When we do those things, we take what we want from them. In reading a story we imagine what a character looks like. This installation is the same kind of thing. The characters are based on images from books that I had growing up and being in the scouts. It was as though a world was laid out in front of me, but it wasn’t quite telling the stories that I wanted it to. The pictures were a starting point to tell stories that were simply not there. I also think the idea of set design or the theatricality of the work goes back to the idea of making a fictional space for something to occur in.

know and understand the promise. 2009. silkscreen on paper. 18x24 inches

Q:  As a way foster relationships between parents and children, the Boy Scouts have recently created a merit badge for video games. The Boy Scouts feel video games can be used as a tool to keep parents in the loop of what is happening in their children’s lives. In your work, it seems that most interesting things happen outside the gaze of the parent. Can you discuss how adult authority functions or is represented in your work?

A:  In the scout work that I make authority figures and adults are mostly not there. The environments are ruled by the kids. This is partly a function of where the images come from and the absence, or near absence, of adults in those books. Beyond that it’s a way to talk about how people growing up start to make decisions It’s also about thinking of how we alter our behavior depending on where we are and who is watching us. In the dark of night we can imagine that we are unseen, unwatched. In that darkness there is a sense of comfort, but at the same time there is sense of fear in not knowing where we are, or what surrounds us.

When I grew up in the boy scouts there were almost always adults around, but one of the things that seemed so different from adults or authorities in other parts of my life was the simple fact that we were treated like adults and not talked down to. The adults were there to help guide our activities, but they weren’t there to make decisions on our behalf. We were given much more credit as being responsible and mature than we deserved. The adults knew this, but I believe the hope was that in treating us with respect that we would think more about consequences and how to deal with them.

Despite that relationship with the adults in my scouting life we also couldn’t wait until they weren’t watching. Those were the times when it really felt like we were, or could be, animals. We became a tribe making our own rules. I’m interested in this dynamic of what happens when people aren’t looking, and how subcultures develop their own needs and ways of acting that don’t necessarily correspond to the rules everyday life.

process of change. 1999. intaglio on paper.

Q:   This year Glenn Beck’s 9:12 group backed the attempt to ban, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology, a book that featured your print, Process of Change. Several conservative blogs vilified your work suggesting it was at best pornographic, at worst pedophilia. Can you discuss your reaction to this?

A:  In one school the book was successfully banned. I’m not entirely sure what to make of this all…my reactions have been a real range of things from being angry, to laughing at it, to being confused. I really think that much of the response to this book, and to my work in it is from folks who are pretty clueless, and who are misinterpreting the work.  Of course I play with ideas of growing up and sexual awakening, I wouldn’t deny that, but to call me a pedophile based on an image in a book published ten years ago is ludicrous. I’ve thought about trying to fashion some sort of “official” response, but it almost seems like that couldn’t happen without inadvertently suggesting these folks are in some way credible. I mean one of the blogs I was reading about this uproar entirely removed the word “sex” from the article, opting to replace it with a series of dashes.

In a way I’m both glad and surprised there hasn’t been more reaction like this to my work. It’s complicated because I don’t even know where to start the conversation, of if a conversation would even be possible. They come off as being pretty homophobic from the start, and that goes without even touching on the topic of nascent sexuality. I’m trying to approach all of the uproar as entertainment.

Q:   What are you working on now?

A:  I have many lists of things to do, but right now the biggest project I’m working on is a series of prints with Peter Kingstone. We are working on collage-based screen prints that will eventually come together as a show. At the moment we are passing images back and forth and trying to figure out how to work with each other. We were asked by a curator to make work together thinking about popular notions and depictions of masculinity and queer culture. Our tentative title for the show is Sissies and Serial Killers. So far it goes back to thinking about what ideas were put in our head by the media as we were growing up. We’ll see where it leads.

Visit Daryl Vocat’s Website

talent show: chris down and paula jean cowan @ union gallery

I am the father of two absolutely stupid children.  Not retarded; just stupid.  One is a stupid boy, and the other is a stupid girl.

I have known they were dim since before their mother left.  She was a librarian and had the insight to leave before I could.  Until now I sort of felt sorry for them and secretly thought that their stupidity might be my fault—you see my father is also from stupid stock. But I am not taking the blame anymore.  Not after what happened last week.

I travel a lot on business so the Stupid’s are left to fend for themselves. I turn off the gas before I leave and stock the fridge with microwave pizzas and meatloaf.  It is the only things they will eat.

It was a sunny afternoon as I drove home last Friday.  It was the type of day that makes you feel that no matter how bad your life is things are going to work out in the end.

As I turned down our street, I felt that familiar sinking pang of defeat.

It looked like a yard sale. Strewn across the lawn was our living room furniture and several small bicycles from the neighborhood.  A little boy was playing with a toy car on the front step.

I pulled in the driveway and just sat there.  I couldn’t move.  I rolled up the windows and smoked three cigarettes. One after the other until my throat burned.

It was the garden hose snaking across the walkway and up into the living room window that finally got me out of the car.

It was an utter mess.

Stupid Boy was writhing around the hardwood floor in his underwear and wool ski mask.  The neighborhood kids cheered each time he punched his own face.

Stupid Girl sat by the fireplace in a puddle of water with a tin of cupcakes.  Her hair was drenched, her shirt was off, and her chest covered in vanilla icing.

I locked the screen door and walked the car.

It was late afternoon, and as I exited back onto the freeway all I could think was that as a parent you try your hardest to see the world through their eyes, but sometimes you just can’t.

Chris Down’s website

Originally Published by Union Gallery (2006)

onmymind: david merritt @ openstudio


Over the last few years, David Merritt has been collecting music. Not albums, compact discs, or MP3s but song titles, including a list of all the love songs ever written and all song titles that contain the words “you,” “me,” and “on my mind.”  The titles are mostly Western and from last 100 years of recorded music. They are easy to find, in fact, much of his collection is culled from online databases such as Allmusic, Rhapsody, and RCS. These song titles run the gamut of popular music: Jazz, Country, Swing, Rock, Soul, Pop, Metal, R&B, Hip-Hop, Disco, and Balladry. His collection fills binders of space. The titles are repetitive, overwhelming, ironic, and at times sadly funny in their similarities and lack of originality. These titles suggest the narrative of the songs they advertise and are a nod to the era of their popularity and to the musicians who penned their lyrics.

Within the prints, Merritt employs these words as a vocabulary of marks, as locations to draw connections, as mapped territories of lived experience—while triggering memories of our personal knowledge and relationship to popular music.


The prints are made by using a needle to scratch words and lines into soft metal plates. The metal plates are then inked, covered with paper, and run through a printing press. They are a stamp, a copy—much like a pressed LP.

When I look at Merritt’s work, I don’t think of tapes, CDs, or MP3s. It is always vinyl. I’m not being nostalgic in seeing them this way; it is their material qualities. The prints are delicate, rather large, printed on slightly transparent Japanese paper, and like vinyl need to be handled with care. The slightest wrinkle, tear, or fold changes the way we view them much like a scratch, a ding, or an errant bit of dust affects the way we listen to a record.

There are very few copies of these prints because the pressure of the press literally flattens out and erases the images inscribed on plates. Through repeated printing, each subsequent image is fainter and fainter until it becomes a shadow of its former self.


In the 1970s, DJ Francis Grasso invented slip-cueing—a method of mixing songs and extending dance tracks—a precursor to the scratching and mixing of contemporary hip-hop DJs. The process involves locating specific sections on a record and slipping or scratching the record back and forth in order to create loops, sound effects, and new beat mixes.[i]

This sense of looping and repetition is paramount in Merritt’s prints. Lines tangle, overlap, and swell into a knot of connected paths leading to the words that make up the song titles they reproduce. Like footpaths during a snowstorm, these lines erase, repeat, reroute as they traverse the paper terrain. It’s as if the looped grooves have literally been pulled from the record and dropped onto the page, leaving the viewer with the impossible, futile task of straightening them out.


Scanning through Merritt’s prints is like scanning through the song binder at a Karaoke bar where the songs are categorized by title rather than artist. In Merritt’s prints, there are points where you run across song titles you know, and it doesn’t matter if they are your favourites, or your guilty pleasures, or songs you heard in your mother’s AMC Hornet driving to school, or songs you actively hate. The point is you’re taken somewhere else, somewhere outside the Karaoke list and the prints, to the places and people you associate with the songs and even to the sound of the songs themselves. In this way, Merritt’s prints become sound maps that you navigate with your own experience, your own memory.


There are many entrances into Merritt’s work. Where you pick up a line or a word is almost arbitrary. And it’s easy to get lost. But there is a certain reassurance in getting lost or stuck between words and going down pathways that seem vicarious. It is our familiarity with the material—the chance to arrive somewhere new or momentarily return to the past that keeps us going and leads us through.

Originally Published by Openstudio (May 2008)

[i] For a full description of Francis Gasso’s slip-cueing, please refer to John Oswald’s, Bettered By the Borrower in Audio Culture:  Readings in Modern Music, edited by Christoph Cox and Daniel Warner, pg.  135

somewhere: louise noguchi & june pak @ yyz

Watch the video

Somewhere (David Poolman & Kathryn Mockler)

The idea of home both as a theme and as physical monument has played a significant role in contemporary art practice for the last forty years. We have seen Gordon Matta-Clark split a house in two, Rachel Whiteread encase a house in plaster, and Kelly Mark animate the windows of abandoned houses with light cast from television sets.

In­­ Somewhere, Noguchi and Pak extract three seconds of footage from Victor Fleming’s 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz. The footage is a black and white single shot of Dorothy’s house spinning through space, caught in the throws of a tornado.

The idea of home is the central metaphor in the film. Before the tornado touches down, Dorothy runs away from home to escape her problems—namely a wicked old neighbour threatening to kill her dog. But over the course of the film, Dorothy realizes that home is the place she would rather be than anywhere else.

The title for Noguchi and Pak’s piece, Somewhere, references Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the theme song of The Wizard of Oz. And, in turn, this song speaks to the idea wanting something that you think you can’t have.

Just before the house is carried away by the tornado, a fortune-teller reveals to Dorothy that her Aunt Emma is ill. Regretting leaving her family, Dorothy races back to the farm only to find no one there. A windowpane hits her on the head, knocking her out, and it is at this point that she is swept up with the house in the eye of the storm.

For their installation, Noguchi and Pak have stacked five large monitors to animate the house’s epic fall. The toy-like farmhouse descends from monitor to monitor, in a continuous loop, never touching the ground. It exits the last monitor, only to appear once again at the top. The physical stacking functions much like the twisting column of the tornado it references. We are dwarfed by its presence and subjected to its repetitive and anxious orchestral soundtrack.

But what are we to make of this house suspended in dizzying free fall?

A common theme running through both Noguchi and Pak’s work has been a focus on issues of representation, identity, and culture. We have seen Noguchi as Hunter (Three Dreams of Blood, 1981-85) as Murderer (Compilation Portraits 1995-1997), and as Cowboy (Study/Sketch, 2001). In each of these works, Noguchi takes on a persona that is not her own. She photographs or video tapes herself performing the identities of various characters in order to investigate themes of violence, struggle, and ambivalence. But in Somewhere, Noguchi is nowhere to be found. Perhaps the house is a stand-in for the artist—a hapless character in a state of limbo, trapped in an unending fall.

June Pak often employs her own image as the focus of her work. In Dear June (2007) and in Double (2002), Pak alludes to issues of difference, of being trapped between two cultures (Korean and Canadian), and of the instability and fracturing of identity. Like Noguchi, Pak remains outside of the frame in Somewhere. But could the house serve as a stand-in for Pak as well? After all, it’s the house that is uprooted, it’s the house that is being displaced, and it’s the house that is now without a home.

And it’s this problem of being without a home that gives this piece resonance outside of the gallery space.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rampaged the Gulf coast. It was one of the most devastating storms in US history. When the levees were breached, 80 percent of New Orleans was submerged. 1577 Louisiana inhabitants died, and in the days leading up to and following the hurricane, 1.2 million people from Alabama and Louisiana fled on foot, in vehicles, or by boat. Three-and-a-half years later much of the city remains in disrepair. Thousands of people are still displaced. Houses damaged by floodwaters and sewage are left to crumble.

It’s hard not to think of Katrina watching this house as it tumbles and plummets through the sky. And it’s hard not to think of the current mortgage crisis either.

Current statistics suggest that in most states one in every 92 homes will be foreclosed, and as many as one in every 21 homes will be foreclosed in the Detroit-Dearborn area. Houses purged of their owners are now toxic assets to the banks that brokered their original sales.

These crises are analogous to Noguchi and Pak’s house falling as it never bottoms out, and it never returns to its original state.

Originally published by YYZ (April 2009)

5 or so

5 or so is a blog set up to publish micro interviews and  reviews with artists, writers, and filmmakers.  If you would like to contribute a review or interview, please let me know.