by Helio Eudoro  

Even with plenty of interesting projects like Toronto Biennial or Age of You at MOCA, the exhibition that brought freshness and innovation to Toronto this year was undoubtedly Undomesticated, not just for its content, but also for its form. It was a great example of how curator and artistic director worked as co-protagonists, blurring the barriers between their roles and the roles of the artists, all becoming authors of the exhibition. 

Both immersive and cohesive, it was often difficult to identify the 24 individual artists as their work was blended so impressively with curator Mona Filip’s narrative and artistic director/artist Nicolas Fleming’s vision. The site for Undomesticated was Toronto’s Koffler Gallery where the work extended out from the gallery into the hallways and stairwells of Artscape Youngplace. 

At the core of Undomesticated is the idea of home and our notion of belonging, a subject very personal to Filip as an immigrant, but it also speaks to her deep awareness of the “context of this land being the traditional territory of Indigenous peoples.” (Filip). Talking about myself, as well an immigrant, I understand very well the sensation of seeing and feeling, of but not being part of, of seeing everything crumble in the air, of non-spaces, of too many spaces. In my work, Invisible, I express this feeling of not belonging. In my latest art installation, Where Truth Lies, I also interfered and subverted the meaning of objects such as books, magazines, and trophies.

Filip and Fleming’s vision for Undomesticated disturbs and unsettles the traditional, institutional space or “white cube”, transforming the gallery into a dysfunctional house where sense of home and belonging are subverted. The viewer has to adapt and adjust to familiar objects, transformed by the artists and placed in a stage like setting making everything strangely unfamiliar and undomesticated. The form Fleming created feels reminiscent of Gesamtkunstwerk, a German term meaning, total work of art. 

Working in a wide variety of media, the 24 artists transformed furniture, household objects and materials, removing and modifying their familiar uses and applications. The works were set in a space created from discarded materials from exhibitions that Fleming collected over a 2-year period and stored in a 40-foot shipping container. 

The exhibition experience begins with a 3D animation by Gwenael Belanger which shows a house falling apart while being infinitely suspended in space. The work acts like a doorway leading the viewer into the deconstruction of the idea of home. Everything else inside the exhibition is out of place; unfinished walls, fake windows, dead-end doors, improbable furniture, shelves empty of meaning, and other objects with too much meaning. 

The gallery area itself acts as an “escape room”, a game where you go into a space and are given clues so that you can progress through each room and finally to the exit. However, the exhibition surroundings give you no clue how to get out, the keys are the activation in our own memory, sensations and experiences. The videos on the upper floors seem like the artists are on their own rooms and we are voyeurs, spying the other’s eccentricity in and intimate setting, like in the works of Gunilla Josephson and Julie Favreau. 

In an age of celebrity curators and major biennials, the idea of blurring the roles between artistic players to create multi layered projects is very exciting. Undomesticatedis a successful example of a model that brings freshness to the art scene. The artists also seem open to strategies of creating a setting where their work takes on a larger meaning, away from the white cube, communicating more deeply with the real world. Perhaps it will help us all feel more visible, I know it helped me. 

Undomesticated was a group exhibition curated by Mona Filip with Nicolas Fleming as art director. The participant artists were: Mary Anne Barkhouse, Gwenaël Bélanger, Katherine Boyer, Sandra Brewster, Hannah Claus, Erika DeFreitas, Julie Favreau, Nicolas Fleming, Iris Häussler, Lucy Howe, Gunilla Josephson, Lewis Kaye, Valérie Kolakis, Carmela Laganse, Heather Nicol, Dainesha Nugent-Palache, Gord Peteran, Birthe Piontek, Yannick Pouliot, Adrienne Spier, Karen Tam, Kevin Yates, Shaheer Zazai and Shellie Zhang.

Using Format