Monuments in the Making
Curated by Matthew Kyba
December 2nd – January 10th, 2017
Curated by Matthew Kyba
December 2nd – January 10th, 2017
Documentation by Matthew Koudys
The process of time selects and discards different cultural symbols that either enter the canon or become its fodder. Artists often help this Darwinian development by producing work that identifies and investigates these icons. Nicolas Fleming’s site specific project, Monuments in the Making, investigates the gallery space as a chameleon of culture; a pale environment originating from ivory-tower foundations and evolving into their current states. Fleming poses questions about how the art gallery can be understood as a cultural monument. Concerned with design, architecture, and the performative aspect of everyday life, he creates immersive site-specific habitats to upend familiar art viewing traditions, instead focusing on creating awareness of the visitors’ physical and cultural orientation vis-à-vis the white cube.
The exhibition is titled after Fleming’s ongoing series Monuments in the Making. The title work of the exhibition, Monuments in the Making 13 merges plywood, drywall, pigmented plaster, and trim to present different sections of built sculptures. Each level a different element, the formalist dimensions of these rectangular shapes could suggest several microcosms for architectural models, exhibition tools, place-setting, and/or post-minimalist interventions. But here in lies the true beauty and masterful approach of Fleming’s work; Monuments in the Making is a metaphor for meaning-making, symbols that reference larger (both literally and figuratively) ideas, objects, institutions, or events society recognizes as important cultural markers. Their ambiguity of forms and resistance of iconography further display Flemings’ inversion of symbol systems. Standing erect, the work’s colorful blues and oranges pop out to mystify their own structures. Amid these seemingly unfinished layers of construction, Fleming questions how these monuments come to pass, to act as beacons for things past, in order to undermine semiotic structures associated with them.
Using common building ingredients such as drywall, plaster, and screws, his materials evoke construction site staples, objects adopted as the basic foundation and building blocks of most urban centres. Without “finishing” his sites with paint, he shows us the bones of cities, the mass-produced manifested ephemera of capitalist growth. Applying these common goods as tools for artistic production, Fleming poses relevant issues that plague Toronto in present day. The drywall, plaster, and 2x4’s used for art are the same components used for infrastructure in the next Trump Tower or Mall expansion. As city centres continue to balloon, ubiquitously droll and shoddily constructed condos spring up, and the hyper-inflation of real estate sustains, Fleming presents immersive environments that become agents of disruption towards our thirst for urbanization. Monuments appears in the eye-of-the-development-storm (Queen and Dufferin), inside the gallery as a liminal zone and reflection area to consider our rapid progress into the concrete future.
Monuments’ fulfills Fleming’s long-term vision of creating a stage within the gallery that he happily offers as an intervention site for any interested artist. Entering un-traditionally, the viewer experiences the work from stage left and continues closely around the artworks, slightly lower. Although the stage is merely 2-4” higher than the ground, the visual and physical hierarchy constructed subtly demands attention towards the backlit artworks. As the stillness of each model becomes apparent, so does one’s consciousness of personal orientation, how bodies operate and navigate the intimate gallery space. Additionally, the stage was built as the viewer enters, placing them directly in the spotlight to consciously understand their place within the white cube. His construction design also references to an “agora” – a general gathering place of assembly central to artistic, spiritual, and political groupings. As such, his fabricated installation offers a space for dialogue to explore these artificial environments and included artworks. The performative aspect is not lost here, as viewer and artist alike now appear to be the actors within the show. Stage fright, anxiety, the consciousness of movements bubble to the surface once placed within the limelight. Fleming here asks he we perform our daily lives and rituals, and the implications the gallery plays with each.
The art gallery is a tricky and fickle place. Every space requires constant spatial consideration and physical negotiations for each show. Fleming does away with these artificial limits, opting to create instead his own environment. There is something empowering about being able to construct the setting for presentation, to have autonomy in making the surroundings to suite each work. With dynamic lighting fluorescent Fleming’s plaster worlds are always heighted through the use of light. Bright tubes accentuate and prefix the environment, acting in conjunction with the stage to capitalize spatial interventions within the gallery. His use of lighting asks how these devices intervene and shape our experience within the space.
The gallery acts as a historical context, a loaded backdrop charged with political underpinnings. The Platonic “ideal” of the gallery then could be a monument for all previous art history and artist practice. The gallery can determine which objects have value, worth, and historical relevance. Yet Fleming is able to challenge these traditional power structures and connotations by converting them into completely new spaces, using the very same materials that underpin them.