What: Blue Republic, Crystal Palace
Where: Deluge Contemporary Art
When: Opening Friday, 7 p.m. Continues to March 2.
A maze of wood, cloth bags, deflated soccer balls and other found materials fills the narrow upstairs space at Deluge Contemporary Art. Chess pieces hover over a photo of a Third-World slum on the floor. And on the walls, lines of tape outline the shape of a building or wall, with fractal lines forking outward, as if shattered.
Once again, Anna Passakas and Radoslaw Kudlinski, or Blue Republic as they’re better known, have created a miniature world layered metaphor.
The Toronto-based artists’ body of work has included vastly different forms, from geometric paintings to large text stretching across the floors of Pearson International Airport. But Crystal Palace, which opens Friday at Deluge, shares more in common with works like Speeding and Beautiful Infections — maquette-like cityscapes that stem from their experiences in places such as Burkina Faso and Brazil.
“[Speeding] was very much inspired by my experience [in Brazilian favelas] and how extremely poor materials — things many people consider garbage — are being used to construct houses,” said Passakas. “Also by the creativity of the people who live there and how we re-purpose all these things.”
Since then, the themes and esthetics have continued in new installations.
Thematically, Blue Republic draws the concept of Crystal Palace, the title of this site-specific installation, from the writing of German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. The idea of the crystal palace signified an ideal life at the end of history, where privileged westerners are fulfilled by consumerist pleasures.
“In the crystal palace, there are no more ideological debates, because no one is bothered to argue about the meaning of life, social justice or historical truth,” reads the gallery statement. “Everyone knows that somewhere outside, life goes on according to different principles, and that our comfort has been created at someone else’s expense; still there is no reason to challenge the status quo.”
The crystal palace is about isolating oneself from the troubles of the world.
Passakas said Blue Republic works with philosophical concepts like the crystal palace for their wide application.
“It’s very timely to what’s going on with the world right now, with gated communities and people … kind of isolating themselves,” she said. “We’re trying not to be troubled by what’s going on and, of course, there’s a lot going on in the world that’s quite disturbing.”
Broadening the definition of art beyond its present perception is another of Blue Republic’s concerns, said Passakas, who moved with Kudlinski to Canada from Poland in 1992. That’s where the discarded objects, freed from their original meaning or usefulness, come in. The artists collect them and store them, as well as altering them by painting, drawing and other means.
“We are fascinated by the state of being unfinished, by absence, neglect,” Passakas said. They “play” with the objects, giving them new functions and possibilities.
“The objects become suspended in the process of migration from one state to another,” she said. “In consequence, in our exhibition, there are no ‘ready’ works. Everything is in the process of becoming and the viewer is invited to become part of this process.”
Although the objects on the floor are static, there’s a performance element to them. As with any institution, viewers enter the space and when they accidentally knock something over, which is fine by the artists, they react in different ways. Some immediately take responsibility, others try to fix it and still others look around guiltily for witnesses, Kudlinski said.
But engagement happens just by looking, too. After hearing an interpretation of the lines of tape on the wall, which could represent the outline of the crystal palace wall, Kudlinski responded:
“If that’s the wall, you have to think, well what side of the wall am I on?”
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