Major Commissions of International Significance
The Commissioning Program at The Power Plant is an ambitious ongoing program, launched to encourage premiere of major new works by contemporary Canadian and international artists.
Presented as a part of artists' exhibitions at The Power Plant, commissions attract thousands of visitors to our space and create excitement around contemporary art in Toronto. Some of the commissioned works are often acquired by local collecting institutions, or get to tour other galleries around the world as a part of the touring exhibitions program.
Olinda Reshinjabe Silvano, Wilma Maynas, Ronin Koshi: Non Kenébo
Olinda Reshinjabe Silvano, Wilma Maynas, and Ronin Koshi’s vibrant three-panelled painting, Non Kenébo, 2022, features hypnotic, maze-like designs known as the ancestral Shipibo-Konibo art of kené, which is expressed through music, weaving, or drawing. Across their work, the artists reference el Ronín, a divine anaconda who is the creator of the earth and water, and whose geometric patterns inspired kené art. Cosmic worldviews and creation stories are accompanied by icaros—healing and ritualistic songs—that bring kené designs into creation. Ancestral knowledge acquired by the consumption of sacred plants, such as ayahuasca, are required in order to visualize kené designs.
Through the use of geometric shapes, interlocking lines, and vibrant colours, Silvano depicts trees, rivers, and animals from the Peruvian Amazon. Maynas’s painting is an affectionate portrait of the interrelationships that bind her community and the birds and fish found in her hometown. Coursing through the centre are jagged, geometric lines inspired by human bones that Maynas conceives as ancestral pathways, and the linework she uses is known as the ancient xao kéne design. Koshi’s black-and-white kéne painting pays homage to the sacred serpent, evidenced by the spellbinding triangular eyes and the patterned snakeskin.
Non Kenébo was created in collaboration with OCAD University students and faculty. By expanding this aesthetic tradition into new urban and pedagogical settings, the artists reveal the possibility of creating collaborative projects to foster dialogue and interactions with Indigenous and non-Indigenous viewers.
Sasha Huber: Agassiz: The Mixed Traces Series
Sasha Huber’s Agassiz: The Mixed Traces Series, 2010–ongoing, is a photographic series created in response to the racist archive that Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) helped to create with daguerreotypes taken by photographer Joseph T. Zealy (1812–1893). Since the creation of the Demounting Louis Agassiz campaign in 2007, Huber has visited seven of the eighty sites around the world that bear the Swiss-born natural scientist’s name. In this series, Huber, who is of Swiss and Haitian heritage, commissions nude self-portraits of herself at sites named after Agassiz, claiming the space of the mixed-race subject and directly challenging Agassiz’s belief in the inferiority of mixed-race unions. In the photographs, her vacant stare and full-body rotation disrupts the fetishistic objectification and inspection of the Black body represented in Agassiz’s archival images. For this series, the artist has been photographed at natural sites in Brazil, Switzerland, Scotland, Aotearoa (New Zealand), the United States, and Canada.
The most recent photograph in the series, Somatological Triptych of Sasha Huber VII, 2022, was taken on Agassiz Island, Georgian Bay, Ontario, and was co-commissioned by The Power Plant, Toronto; Autograph, London; Turku Art Museum, Finland; and Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam.
Sasha Huber: Tailoring Freedom
The series Tailoring Freedom, 2021–22, marries Sasha Huber’s staple-gun method and photography for the first time. In 1850, Swiss-born natural scientist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) commissioned fifteen photographs to be taken of seven enslaved men and women on plantations in South Carolina: Renty, his daughter Delia, Jack, his daughter Drana, Fassena, Jem, and Alfred. These individuals were dehumanized, forced to pose unclothed for photographer Joseph T. Zealy (1812–1893) from multiple angles to “prove” Agassiz’s racist theory on the biological inferiority of Black people. In 1858, Agassiz’s son donated these daguerreotypes to the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography at Harvard University, where Agassiz was a professor and the founding director of its Museum of Comparative Zoology.
Using art to heal colonial traumas, Huber reproduced and printed the photographs on wood and dressed the men and women in shimmering, silver garments made from staples. The artist clothed Renty, Jack, Jem, Alfred, and Fassena in suits inspired by American abolitionist Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), while Delia is dressed in homage to American abolitionist Harriet Tubman (c. 1820–1913), and Drana’s dress is influenced by abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth (c. 1797–1883). In these works, Huber used her stapling method to symbolically heal wounds while honouring the contributions of Douglass, Tubman, and Truth.
The Tailoring Freedom series was co-commissioned by The Power Plant, Toronto; Autograph, London; Turku Art Museum, Finland; and Kunstinstituut Melly, Rotterdam.
Shona Illingworth: Topologies of Air
Shona Illingworth’s seminal solo exhibition in Canada presents works that explore how space is occupied today. Topologies of Air, a three-screen video and sound installation that has been expanded for its Toronto debut, is complemented by two other works commissioned by The Power Plant: Restricted Airspace, a series of eight photographs, and Airspace Rights, a wallpaper including excerpts from the Airspace Tribunal hearings conducted in London, UK; Sydney; Toronto; and Berlin. The Restricted Airspace series illustrates the portioning off of the sky, or restrictions and controls placed upon airspace, most of which are used for military purposes. As such, these restrictions not only speak of power and colonization but also of how this quartering of the sky can neither contain or mitigate against existential threats (such as climate change, nuclear threat/contamination, air toxicity, and transboundary pollution) nor be easily maintained (nuclear weapons have become a powerful threat in this context). This series, and in particular Restricted Airspace #8, depicts both the extreme ferocity of the battle for air power and the historical battles for airspace control.
Sandra Brewster: DENSE
The Power Plant presented two new commissions including the first public sculpture by Toronto-based Canadian artist Sandra Brewster. The two works, DENSE and A Place to Put Your Things, offered different facets of the artist’s practice while addressing themes of place and belonging.
In DENSE, Brewster transforms The Fleck Clerestory into a world made out of memories that family members shared with her, interwoven with her own lived experiences. Two images face each other: the Essequibo River in Guyana on the east wall, a collage of Canadian and Guyanese forests on the west wall. Together, these works engage our ability to affectionately give meaning to places other than through the dynamics of nationalism and geopolitics that continue to impact displaced communities.
DENSE brings our attention to the brown and murky waters of the river — the colour of silt, sediment, and invisible fallen leaves — as well as the impenetrable forest. This fogginess lends itself well to how contemporary diasporic movements eclipse the seemingly singular definitions of Black communities. Brewster embraces this mystery as an act of refusal, countering imposed narratives of how afro-descendent Diaspora have fostered senses of belonging in places where they were once enslaved.
Sandra Brewster: A Place To Put Your Things
A Place To Put Your Things is a large-scale installation is part of an ongoing series titled Smith that Brewster began in 2004. The series title refers to the common surname comprising the largest section of many printed telephone books. Since its inception, Brewster’s Smith series has incorporated drawing, animation, and painting, all of which include figures’ profiles made of collaged “Smith” pages from the phone book. These works point to the absurdity of assumptions that manifest as stereotypes and systems of classification, including those endured by members of the Black community. While a shared surname unites, it also offers a veil of anonymity. A common surname does not necessarily bind people through familial ties, as individuals likely manifest different behaviours, beliefs, and experiences.
As Brewster describes it, the piece invites participants to “a place to rest and be at peace, to unburden oneself, and simply sway at one’s own pace and rhythm. Play being a central element of the work, the sculpture connects to an inner child and can be engaged by children and adults alike.”
A Place To Put Your Things was fully funded by ArtworxTO.
Manuel Mathieu: World Discovered Under Other Skies
Manuel Mathieu’s first solo exhibition in Toronto brings together a constellation of new and past works, shedding light on Haiti’s relationship to the world. The exhibition presents the artist's ceramics for the first time, commissioned by The Power Plant and displayed across three oblong plinths. Mathieu started experimenting with clay only recently, but he quickly developed a distinctive approach that reinforces his work in other mediums. One plinth captures Mathieu’s early forays, with glazed pieces featuring painterly, multicoloured surfaces. The ceramics shown on the second plinth speak to the notion of identity—often plural and layered, and at times conflicting—depicted through enigmatic portraits that straddle abstraction and figuration. The majority of the ceramics are monochromatic, emphasizing shapes with strong contours. These are grouped atop the third and largest plinth. Works such as Opening Up (2020) are made as an homage to Haitian modernist artists whom Mathieu admires, including Georges Liautaud and Murat Brierre, known for two dimensional, elemental sculptures with stylized silhouettes. The simple lines of Mathieu’s ceramics conjure a variety of metaphors. They can be seen individually, suggesting people, mysterious creatures, or landscape fragments. Collectively, the works seem to suggest cloud formations, schools of fish, or islands forming an archipelago and evoking the Caribbean. Mathieu relishes this ambiguity, inviting the viewers to decipher the work, situating these ceramics in relation to the world.
Howie Tsui: From swelling shadows, we draw our bows
The Power Plant commissioned Vancouver-based artist Howie Tsui to create a site-specific installation in the Fleck Clerestory as a major focal point of his first institutional solo exhibition in Toronto, From swelling shadows, we draw our bows (26 September 2020—3 January 2021). In A Geomantic Corridor (2020), Tsui uses a combination of smoke-staining and automatic-drawing techniques to conjure ephemeral, ghost-like images directly onto the Clerestory's walls.
These faint depictions of anguished figures can be understood as representing a collective of persecuted and disappearing dissidents, past and present, perhaps haunting the streets of Hong Kong. The phantoms weave through a schematic constellation of bagua mirrors and joss sticks, a type of incense traditionally burned as an offering to the dead during Hong Kong’s Hungry Ghost Festival. The incense arrangements stem from diagrams that symbolize founding principles for the I Ching (Book of Changes), traditional Chinese medicine, and feng shui—the art of geomancy concerned with the placement of objects in relation to the flow of qi, or "natural energy." In this way, the work furthers not only Tsui’s long-standing preoccupation with ghosts and horror films, but also his desire to make visible the chaos that exists within seemingly orderly systems.
Naeem Mohaiemen: What we found after you left
From 21 September 2019 through 15 March 2020, The Power Plant's exhibition What we found after you left consisted of rotating films and accompanying "footnotes" by Naeem Mohaiemen. The third chapter, Two Meetings and a Funeral (2017) investigates a pivotal moment during the 1970s between the Non-Aligned Movement (the anti-imperialist forum for states not allied to the United States or the Soviet Union), and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (an alliance of Muslim-majority countries). The Power Plant commissioned the "footnotes" that accompanied this film: two sculptures titled When Worlds Collide 1 and When Worlds Collide 2 (both 2020), which represent hybrid architectures conjured from the fragments of the six buildings featured in the film. Revealing various styles of nation-building, utopian architecture — including the Palais de Nation, Algiers; the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab, Lahore; the Coupole, Algiers; the UN General Assembly, New York City; and the Houari Boumediene University of Science & Technology, Algiers — the sculptures spatially visualize the ways in which these ideologies intersect and collide.
Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa: Asymmetries
Asymmetries brings together, for the first time, a decade’s worth of sculpture, painting, performance documentation and installation by Guatemalan artist Naufus Ramírez-Figueroa. The exhibition includes three artworks commissioned by The Power Plant: two cast aluminum sculptures, Cacaxte no. 2 (Sarvelia) and Bed, and the film Corazón del espantapájaros [Heart of the Scarecrow] (all 2020). Cacaxte no. 2 (Sarvelia) references a ladder-like carrier used by Indigenous populations of the Americas. During Spanish colonization, many Indigenous people were forced to carry explorers’ finds using this tool; as a result, the cacaxte became taboo among the very people who depended upon it. By contrast, Bed was inspired by the Wardian case, a vessel invented in 19th-century England to illegally transport live plants from their native habitats to Europe’s colonial centres. Ramírez-Figueroa re-interprets these tools, populating his cacaxte with objects made of cast aluminum that remind him of his grandmother and her life trajectory, and transforming the Wardian case into both a garden and a graveyard — at once an ode to past lives lost and a place of future growth. Meanwhile, Corazón del espantapájaros was recorded at the Universidad Popular in Guatemala City, the site where Guatemalan playwright Hugo Carillo’s play by the same name was violently censored during the height of the Guatemalan Civil War (1960-96).
Dawit L. Petros: Spazio Disponibile
In his Winter 2020 exhibition, Dawit L. Petros presents a new body of work underlining the unexplored links between colonization, migrations and modernism. Spazio Disponibile – Italian for 'Available Space’ – alludes to the colonial gaze that viewed the lands of Africa as ‘available’ space to occupy and exploit. Petros expands on his previous projects that interrogated contemporary migration patterns to focus on built forms including architecture, industry and infrastructure. He looks at how objects often obscure power differentials while connecting people across borders. The Power Plant has commissioned two major new works for this exhibition. All at one point (Casa Study I), 2020 is a video and sound installation that explores the history of Montreal's Casa d’Italia, an Italian community centre designed and built during Italy's fascist period, from the perspective of an Eritrean architecture scholar. Spectre (La Teleferica), 2020 is a wall-mounted mixed media installation that examines the erased memory of La teleferica Massaua-Asmara, the world’s longest cableway when it was completed in 1937, used by Italians to extract resources from and import military supplies to their East African colony.
Rashid Johnson: Anxious Audience
For his first solo presentation in Canada, American artist Rashid Johnson stages a major new site-specific commission for The Power Plant’s Fleck Clerestory. Entering the space, we find ourselves surrounded by two monumental tiled panels, each containing an accumulation of nearly one hundred faces. Ricocheting between the opposing walls of this narrow passage, these works are a continuation of Johnson’s series known as Anxious Audiences. Johnson has referred to these works as ‘drawing through erasure’, in which digging and scratching reveals faces within thickly layered black surfaces. They also harness the rich symbolism and histories of varied materials—including black soap, made from the ashes of burned plant matter and commonly used in West Africa—that have personal meaning and at times are signifiers of greater African-American cultural identity. Above, high on the beams that run across the space, ceramic pots house a series of tropical plants. Each pot becomes a member of this audience, a face carved roughly into its surface. On this alternative plane, high above the crowd, these vessels introduce a life force, a sense of potential, of caretaking and community.
Hajra Waheed: Hold Everything Dear
Hajra Waheed’s most ambitious project to date, Hold Everything Dear takes a single form — the spiral — as a starting point to reflect on processes of upheaval in human experience. Partly inspired by a collection of essays on survival and resistance by art critic and novelist John Berger, the works act as a meditation on undefeated despair and the possibilities for radical hope. For her exhibition at The Power Plant, Waheed brought together new works including a major site-specific installation, over 100 small-scale individual works on paper, a series of clay objects, a video installation, and sculpture. The works draw on spiraling patterns found in both natural and sociopolitical structures, from the miniscule to the monumental, from calm to chaos, and storm to sea. Together, they chart a course of exploration that reflects upon how we exist within and navigate these structures. Using the ordinary as a means to consider the profound, and landscape as a medium to transpose human struggle, the works, at times punctuated by prose, slip between investigating how power relations are imposed and how they may be transcended.
Vincent Meessen: Blues Klair
Vincent Meessen’s exhibition Blues Klair is developed around the immersive film and textile installation Ultramarine (2018), co-commissioned by Le Printemps de Septembre, Toulouse, France, the Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery at Concordia University, Montreal and The Power Plant. Within a structure of layered textiles, the film sets a constellation of objects into motion to expose their intertwined histories, including mappa mundi, astrolabe, frescos and images of Bengalese men working in indigo vats. As the camera moves across and focuses in on these items, self-exiled African-American poet Gylan Kain (also known as Kain The Poet) delivers a mesmerizing spoken word performance that affectively invokes retrospections on exile and belonging, slaves routes and colonial trade. Kain, whose performances in the late 1960s were a primary influence on the development of rap and hip hop in the United States, is accompanied by Belgian jazz drummer and percussionist Lander Gyselinck, who improvises to the flow of his utterances. Throughout their performance, blue becomes the chromatic, historical and discursive filter through which Eurocentric historiography and museum classifications are challenged.
Thomas J Price: Ordinary Men
Since 2005, Thomas J Price has focused on creating what he terms ‘psychological portraits’ in sculpture. Ranging in size from small busts to monumental bronze statues, these works challenge characteristics stereotypically associated with black men by depicting fictional characters that reject the conventions of portraiture. Price’s three acrylic sculptures, Untitled (Head 25), 2019, Untitled (Head 26), 2019 and Untitled (Head 27), 2019 represent a continuation of the artist’s investigation into matters of representation and commemoration by combining facial expressions drawn from ancient, classical and neo-classical sculpture, stereotypes represented in contemporary news media and observed individuals. They also speak to his practice of placing traditional materials in dialogue with contemporary ones—in this case, acrylic composite heads placed on bases coated in automotive spray paint—a gesture that invites the audience to question the distinction between ‘high’ versus ‘low’ art.
Omar Ba: Same Dream
Omar Ba’s work engages with some of the most urgent issues of our time: the growing inequality of wealth and power globally, questions around immigration, and our changing relationship with the natural world. His penchant for depicting personal narratives alongside collective ones speaks to the “in-between” condition of his work, as he splits his time between Dakar, Senegal and Geneva, Switzerland, and blends the visual texture of both places through his practice. Ba draws from and intertwines a range of elements— the historical and contemporary, figurative and abstract imagery—from African and European cultures, and the techniques and tools he employs; including corrugated cardboard and canvas, paintbrushes and his hands. For his exhibition at The Power Plant, Ba developed a new large-scale work directly on the walls of the gallery. The work, entitled At the Beginning of Life: copy or likeness, explores a recurrent motif of birth, death and reincarnation across different cultures today.
Karla Black’s sculptures challenge easy categorization; comprised of everyday materials such as eye shadow, Vaseline, lipstick, cotton wool and toilet paper, alongside more traditional art-making media including pigment, plaster and paint, these works hover between sculpture, painting, installation, and performance. Black’s process celebrates the unconscious decisions and raw creative moments artists experience while immersed in their chosen materials. This playful approach enables us to engage with the artist’s chosen materials differently, and encourages new ways of looking at the spaces they activate. For her exhibition at The Power Plant, the artist produced 7 immersive sculptures that engage with the particular architectural and light qualities of the gallery, activating the idiosyncrasies of the space such as the irregular floor-plan, and dramatic shift in ceiling height.
Beth Stuart: Length, Breadth, Thickness and—Duration
Invited to create a new work for her exhibition at The Power Plant, Length, Breadth, Thickness and—Duration, Toronto-based artist Beth Stuart has developed a site-specific installation that draws on her interest in little-known historical figures and esoteric spiritual practices to create objects and spaces that lack fixity. Stuart’s commission includes two bathing chasubles filled with 5,000 ping pong balls, originally worn during a performance on the beach behind Artscape Gibraltar Point, Toronto Islands, September 23, 2018. The artist and Evan Webber changed into the costumes inside Stuart’s Bathing Machine sculpture before emerging into the water, where the costumes’ unique materials properties enabled them to float. Both were then hung in The Power Plant’s second floor gallery alongside Stuart’s second commissioned work: a vestibule covered in hand-dyed Venetian plaster. Sections of twentieth century French fashion designer Madeleine Vionnet’s garment patterns were also imbedded into the walls to create a visual link between the vestibule and Stuart’s plaster sculptures at the rear of the gallery.
Abbas Akhavan: variations on a landscape
For the fourth iteration of the Fleck Clerestory Commission Program, The Power Plant invited Abbas Akhavan to develop a new work for this specific site. variations on a landscape takes into consideration elements outside the white cube, allowing the visitor’s experience in the space to be shaped by the seasons, the time of day and the weather conditions. Akhavan uses a round fountain to alter the decentralized space of the gallery’s high and narrow Clerestory. Working against the rigid symmetry of the space, recalling the grid so prevalent in all North American cities, the installation aims to give way to a circular point for gathering, one that reflects on the role of an art institution, one that might offer a communal space for contemplation.
Kader Attia: The Field of Emotion
Based on conversations with various academics from the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, ethnomusicology, history and art history, Kader Attia’s new commissioned film The Body’s Legacies, Part 1: The Objects brings together voices that speak to Canada’s history of colonization and slavery, as well as the impact of these wounds and their subsequent denial through the control of the individual and collective body. The site-specific installation Some Modernity’s Footprints evokes the complex traumas wrought by modern technologies, used to conquer and transform vast territories across the Americas and Africa, including the transatlantic slave trade and the deportation of millions of humans across Europe.
Michael Landy: DEMONSTRATION
For the third Fleck Clerestory Commission, Landy invited the public to collaborate in building a ‘wall of protest’ by submitting images, words, texts and slogans that represent their thoughts and feelings—of hope or despair, on matters small or large—to be transformed into drawings. Over the course of six months, Landy translated the submissions into red and white drawings of protesters, which were pinned directly to the Clerestory wall to create a continually evolving installation. By mapping individuals' reactions, feelings and experience, DEMONSTRATION aimed to create a bridge of communication for the multiplicity of narratives and histories that define Canada.
Amalia Pica: ears to speak of
Entitled Ears, the three monumental cardboard sculptures are reconstructions of acoustic radars, also referred to as “listening ears,” found in Denge, Kent in the UK. These devices were built along the coast of England during the 1920s and 1930s. Designed to pre-empt aerial attacks by detecting the sound of incoming aircraft, these radars were quickly outmoded, due to the rapid evolution of aircraft and radar technologies. Now, the structures stand as ruins, monuments to failure. By rendering them in cardboard – a material which absorbs sound – Amalia Pica highlights the uselessness and ephemeral quality of these technologies.
Maria Hupfield: The One Who Keeps On Giving
Invited to create a new work for her exhibition at The Power Plant, The One Who Keeps On Giving, Maria Hupfield developed a two-channel video installation centred on an object: an oil painting of a seascape by her late mother Peggy Miller. The artist invited her siblings to participate in a performance rooted in memories evoked by the painting that initially took place in Parry Sound, Georgian Bay, Ontario – the setting depicted on the canvas. To ground the filmed performance and to accompany the painting in the exhibition context, Hupfield and her siblings re-enacted the performance in the gallery space, the setting for the second film.
Kapwani Kiwanga: A wall is just a wall
Kapwani Kiwanga developed an entirely new body of work for her exhibition A wall is just a wall, which examines the mechanisms of disciplinary architecture and the history of colour theory on the design of institutional spaces. The new work pink-blue reproduces the raw materials of these mechanisms in the gallery. Baker-Miller Pink has been used as wall paint in various correctional facilities for its tranquilizing effects on inmates. Fluorescent blue light reduces the visibility of veins on one’s body. In her new film, A Primer, the artist delves further into disciplinary architecture by deconstructing the physical and psychological qualities of different built environments including prisons and mental health facilities. A Primer was co-produced by The Power Plant, Toronto and the Logan Center Exhibitions, University of Chicago.
Latifa Echakhch: Cross Fade
Produced for the second iteration of the Fleck Clerestory Commission Program, Latifa Echakhch’s Cross Fade confronts the viewer with a sky that is literally falling. Fragments of the sky are still intact on the upper sections of the walls, out of reach, reminding us of its beauty. However, large parts of the sky lie on the ground, creating a peculiar feeling that something beyond our control is happening or has just happened. Echakhch gives the sky material form. Rendered in cement on the walls, it is no longer just a motif but also an object, which can be destroyed. While we usually associate the sky with permanence, it loses its stability here, taking on the state of a ruin, that, like a cross fade, is caught between the past and the future.
Maria Loboda: Some weep, some blow flutes
Maria Loboda’s exhibition Some weep, some blow flutes included an installation of newly commissioned projects that emerged from the artist’s ongoing research into archaeology, healing processes, anthropomorphism and the predynastic era. The commissioned works reference attempts to support or heal bodies, minds and objects. One such belief system is the doctrine of Tetrapharmakos (τετραφάρμακος), known as the “four-part remedy,” a combination of four elements: wax, tallow, pitch and resin. It came to be used by Roman-era Epicureans as a recommended remedy to avoid anxiety and heal the soul. These materials were combined to create Loboda’s project Tetrapharmakos, installed within The Power Plant’s elevator. In her wall installation, You and I are earth, minerals found in mountains and are readily consumed as health supplements are embedded on the surface of the wall. The unattainable original condition, are ceramic containers known as amphorae, their surfaces first cracked and later patched by well-intentioned but imperfect restoration.
Carlos Amorales: Black Cloud
The Power Plant presented its first iteration of the Fleck Clerestory Commission Program, a site-specific installation by Carlos Amorales. Black Cloud (2015) enveloped spectators in a territory that fluctuated between the obscure and the optimistic, the macabre and the alluring, distilling a kind of claustrophobic sensuality. The artist replicated thirty-six types of moths—all culled from his archive—in thousands of life-size, black paper cut-outs that were individually hand-glued to the walls and ceiling of the space. Multiplied to create a dense mass with both wondrous and threatening qualities, Black Cloud became a surreal yet sublime gathering of insects delicately poised in sculptural formation, a phenomenon that suggested the potential for harm, destruction, and irreversible doom. Black Cloud was presented in partnership with Nuit Blanche, Toronto and Guest Curated by Christine Shaw. Black Cloud was featured in the exhibition The Work of the Wind, also curated by Christine Shaw for Nuit Blanche in October 2015.
In 2005 the collective jointly known as Tercerunquinto, was invited to create a site-specific intervention at The Power Plant within the framework of a group exhibition entitled Dedicated to you but you weren’t listening. Ten years later, Tercerunquinto returned to The Power Plant to reflect upon the changes to the site and the surroundings of the institution. Their response reduced the white cube to a hole in the ground, a gesture that touched upon the traditions of indoor earthworks and its foray into a history of institutional critique. Mine was a commissioned project with a title that referred on the one hand to the commercial activity that involves extracting valuable subterranean minerals and, on the other, appropriates the possessive pronoun referring to that which belongs to the associated speaker. Through the artists’ allusion to linguistic and geographic references, their project points to questions surrounding shifting conceptions of territory.
Bik Van der Pol: Eminent Domain
For their commissioned project at The Power Plant, Bik Van der Pol continued their investigation on the ways human activity in the globalized age has a direct effect on ecological systems. Through installation and sound, they conceived of an environment that made it possible to grasp the overwhelming data related to ecology and species extinction figures. Soundscape Ecologist Dr. Bernie Krause contributed to the environment through the installation of collective and structured sounds produced in healthy habitats that have since changed drastically, as a direct result of human intervention and natural disasters. Paired with Krause’s soundscapes was a carpet listing the scientific names of species that have become extinct since 1500. The list was derived from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an indicator of the changing state of global diversity. Situating the viewer amongst these statistics, Bik Van der Pol’s project turned abstract data into a physical experience, while examining the re-articulation of public and private property and the threat of such activities on natural environments.
YES! Association: (art)work(sport)work(sex)work
The Power Plant presented a commissioned project by YES! Association/Föreningen JA!, (art)work(sport)work(sex)work, which aimed to map how ideologies, socially accepted norms and legislations govern the conditions of work and participation within the fields of contemporary art, multi-sports events and sex trade. The piece specifically addressed The Power Plant, the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, hosted in Toronto in Summer 2015, and Canada’s new sex trade law Bill C-36. In an effort to triangulate these fields and situate them within the urban space of Toronto, a series of bus rides took place each Saturday throughout the duration of the exhibition. People and groups based in Ontario who work within the fields of visual art, sports culture and sex trade were invited to host each week’s ride. The gallery was transformed into a liminal space, a bus terminal of sorts, housing material and objects in relation to the invited hosts’ work and engagements. The space itself was everl-evolving, as documentation from each ride was sequentially added.
Nadia Belerique, Laurie Kang, and Lili Huston-Herterich: The Mouth Holds the Tongue
Invited to work collectively for The Power Plant, Nadia Belerique, Laurie Kang and Lili Huston-Herterich’s first group project appeared within the frame of a wider examination of contemporary collaboration. Taking this invitation as its starting point, The Mouth Holds the Tongue foregrounds the pleasures inherent in representing and experiencing time and space. The structure they created was derived from architect Aldo Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek Pavilion. The pavilion sought to achieve Van Eyck’s concept of labyrinthine clarity, an architectural approach aimed at offering a more playful and fluid interaction amongst individual users. The artists’ reworking of Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek redistributed the architectural elements typically found in the white cube. Having been turned upside-down, the walls of the structure curved and bent spontaneously and hung above the gallery floor in an effort to propose a more horizontal approach to interaction. Moreover, the artists’ choice of construction materials themselves evoked the possibility for growth and activity to occur.
Shelagh Keeley: 1983 Kisangani Zaire
This site specific commission for The Power Plant’s Clerestory was made up of photographs taken in 1983 in Kisangani, Zaire. Keeley’s work which echoed a film strip, faced the artist’s previous commissioned wall work titled Notes on Obsolescence (2014). Keeley shot the images covertly, as photography was forbidden during the presidency of Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997). Decades later, the images remain significant documents, which depict Belgian modernist architecture that was later destroyed in subsequent conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For Keeley, these interior and exterior views of failed late-modernist architecture–scarred by corruption, warfare, political turmoil, and colonialism–are quiet personal documents, in contrast to the images that are in circulation from this region in contemporary media.
Shelagh Keeley: Notes on Obsolescence
In the late 1970s Shelagh Keeley began employing drawing as both a response to and exploration of Conceptual Art, where the gesture of her hand the physicality of her body were integral to her mark making. Keeley’s work involves a high degree of physical effort, with the concrete resistance of the wall in juxtaposition with the fluidity of her hand and the extensions of her body. The boundaries of the wall provide the artist with a counterpoint to the openness and improvisation of her physical action. Each of her wall drawings are created in-situ, marking a moment in space and time when the work–a visual document of her movement–is created. For her commissioned project Notes on Obsolescence (2014), Keeley created a new wall drawing that enveloped the clerestory walls. Her drawings on these grand canvases were the remnants of her corporeal action and articulated the movement of her body. As a result, Keeley’s drawings become performative objects, emerging from choreographed gestures as they relate to the limits and conditions of a bound space.
Vasco Araújo: Retrato
The exhibition of Vasco Araújo’s work at The Power Plant included new and recent projects that examine the artist’s ongoing interest in the human condition. Working across media, Araújo draws upon Western traditions in opera, dance, theatre and literature in order to introduce divergent readings on such cultural histories. In so doing, Araújo wrests and confronts historical references in order to question both contemporary notions of representation and the writing and canonization of history. His commissioned video installation Retrato (2014) incorporates portraits by 20th-century painter and writer Eduardo Malta. The reproductions of these paintings within the film comingle with domestic objects that themselves represent contested history and power dynamics. Retrato pointed to Araújo’s interest in culling 20th-century imagery throughout his practice. This work, in conversation with Araújo’s other exhibited pieces, aimed to interrogate cultural codes and conventions that are essential in how we understand history and ourselves.
The Power Plant presented the first solo exhibition in Toronto of work by the renowned British artist Mike Nelson. Entitled Amnesiac Hide, the exhibition comprised two significant commissions including the sculptural work Gang of Seven (2013), produced in partnership with the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and Double Negative (the Genie) (2014). In Gang of Seven the sculptural elements are constructed from material gathered from the beaches around Vancouver. Nelson imagines this detritus spat out by the ocean as the material language of a gigantic intelligent entity which the roving characters, The Amnesiacs, have come together to interpret. Their assemblages are akin to some form of disjointed memory or flashback that, when brought together, may affect communication, reveal hidden meaning or hold the potential for a new and unified system of understanding. Nelson originally developed these thoughts after the unexpected death of his friend and collaborator, Erlend Williamson. In 1996 he had fallen to his death whilst climbing in the Scottish Highlands, at the time when Nelson was working on his first incarnation of what would become The Amnesiacs.
Williamson contributes again, this time parts of his own narrative, in Nelson’s Double Negative (the Genie) (2014). Nelson created an environment constructed to resemble a rudimentary office setting, where photocopied pages from an unpublished travelogue were enlarged and taped together. The narrative describes a journey Nelson took across China. When the film from this expedition was later developed, it had been double exposed with images from an earlier installation Nelson had worked on with Williamson, including images of Williamson himself. The unseen investigators of this text appear to be navigating their own psychological journey through the past, seeking the truth in the material evidence of a story depicting a time gone by.
Jimmy Robert: Draw the Line
In his first Canadian solo exhibition, Jimmy Robert addressed questions of limits: of his body, of the media he uses, of our understanding of exhibitions and the various discplines his work encompasses. At the centre of Draw the Line was a commissioned performance that took place within an installation of new and past works at The Power Plant. The work took Carolee Schneemann’s performance Up To and Including Her Limits (1973-1976) as its point of departure. Robert’s choreography did not re-enact Schneemann’s score, but rather his gestures were dictated by the limits of a roll of paper. His body acted as a tool for drawing wherein the imprint of his gestures is what remained on the page. Movement was evoked in every sense of Draw the Line and in the exhibition framework–above all else, rethinking the limitations of an exhibition and challenging viewer expectations as it unfolded and transformed over time.
Derek Sullivan: Albatross Omnibus
The Power Plant’s 2011 commission Albatross Omnibus by Toronto-based artist Derek Sullivan involved new artist books, and a drawing and installation project. The commission’s core was a series of 52 limited edition books produced through print-on-demand technology. The project drew on the history of artists’ book production to examine its relationship to the larger art economy, while also exploring an interplay between book, furniture and garden design; concrete poetry; minimalism and conceptual art; authorship and appropriation; and the idea of reading as a stand in for interpretation. Ultimately the physical form of the book both supported and was the artwork.
Ian Wallace: Abstract Paintings I–XII (The Financial District)
The Power Plant commissioned a suite of twelve large-scale photolamination paintings by senior Vancouver artist Ian Wallace titled Abstract Paintings I–XII (The Financial District). The commission formed the centrepiece of Wallace’s exhibition The Economy of the Image, a major multi-part installation of past and present work. The commissioned paintings reference photographs taken by the artist in the heart of Canada’s most important financial district in downtown Toronto. With this project, Wallace continues his ongoing examination of the aesthetic and social legacies of modernism, reflecting specifically on the context of Toronto (as previously commissioned artists have before him) in a manner that resonates both nationally and internationally.
Pae White: Sea Beast
The Power Plant commissioned a new monumental tapestry, Sea Beast, from the acclaimed Los Angeles artist Pae White. White began creating tapestries in 2004, ambitious undertakings that use digitally manipulated photos of crumpled aluminum foil, plumes of smoke and dynamic image collages as their content. Sea Beast is a large-scale image of a found macramé wall hanging. The commission signals a new visual direction in White’s work while representing her continued practice of blurring materials and appropriating scraps and ephemera. The commission was the centrepiece of the survey exhibition Pae White: Material Mutters, which contextualized her new work with several of her past tapestries of epic scale, as well as video animations and works on paper.
Candice Breitz: Factum
The Power Plant commissioned a series of seven multi-channel video installations entitled Factum by the South African-born, Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz. Referencing Robert Rauschenberg’s 1957 set of near-identical paintings, Breitz finds in identical twins a fascinating case study of how we negotiate the "script" of genetic inheritance and social conditioning. Interviewing the twins – and one set of triplets – in Toronto, each separated from their sibling but asked the same questions, Breitz created a series of dynamically edited video portraits exploring the myriad ways that the twins differentiate and distinguish themselves in a world that often values nothing more than the individual. Factum was the centerpiece of Breitz’s survey exhibition, Same Same.
Lawrence Weiner: CUL-DE-SAC
The Power Plant commissioned a text-based installation by the pioneering New York conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner. Spanning both sides of The Power Plant’s skylit clerestory, CUL-DE-SAC responded to the forty-foot-high walls of the space. The piece was one of five text-based works in Weiner’s exhibition THE OTHER SIDE OF A CUL-DE-SAC, each functioning as a fragment of a whole. The lobby of The Power Plant created the entrance to the exhibition FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE (2001), while the LePage gallery contained MORE THAN ENOUGH (1998). This alchemical work culminated in the fragment MORE THAN ENOUGH, commissioned expressly for the smokestack of The Power Plant.
Scott Lyall: The Power/Color Ball
The Power Plant commissioned the Toronto artist Scott Lyall’s largest solo exhibition to date. The new installation, The Power/Color Ball, was named after a fictitious gala party reminiscent of the gallery’s annual Power Ball. The Power/Color Ball drew from seven previous projects where Lyall used the figure of dance (and, partly, lyric poetry) as an empty sign for material production. The result was an exhibition that fell somewhere between a survey of past work and an entirely new assemblage. Strange and surprising connections also emerged from the artist’s placement of seemingly disparate shapes, forms, surfaces and images in physical space. The effect was one of improvisation and incompleteness married with calm predetermination.
Simon Starling: Infestation Piece (Musselled Moore)
The Power Plant commissioned a new work by the British artist Simon Starling, Infestation Piece (Musselled Moore). The work alludes to the close relationship between Henry Moore and the city of Toronto. Moore’s bronze Warrior with Shield (1953–54) provided a jumping off point for Starling’s commission, as did the invasion of the Eastern European zebra mussel throughout the Great Lakes. Starling combined his interests in Moore and the zebra mussel by creating a steel copy of Warrior with Shield and submerging it into Lake Ontario for 18 months where it was gradually colonized by zebra mussels. The removed sculpture is now covered with dried mussel shells, and formed the centrepiece of Starling’s survey exhibition, Cuttings (Supplement).
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Front
The Power Plant commissioned a new large-scale interactive installation, Pulse Front (Relational Architecture 12), by the Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – his first major light sculpture in Canada. Pulse Front featured a matrix of light over The Power Plant and Harbourfront Centre, made with light beams from twenty of the world's most powerful robotic searchlights. Ten metal sculptures with embedded sensors and computers were placed along the harbour. The sculptures detected the pulses of people who interacted them and converted them into light pulses. With 200,000 watts of power and fifteen kilometres of visibility, the work blended the intimate with the spectacular in one of the most emblematic public spaces in Toronto.