All Beneath the Moon Decays

Running from July 24-September 6, 2014, this remarkable exhibition at the Daniel Faria Gallery in Toronto features the work of Allyson Vieira and Paul Kajander, whose transitory forms draw our attention to time’s ambivalence; that is, time’s ability to mark progress and deterioration. Much like the late-18th-century painters who depicted ancient ruins and imagined the collapse of urban modernity, both Vieira and Kajander refer to ancient architectural and monumental structures as devices that record the effects of time and its persistence above all else. Writing about the depiction of ruins in the work of painter Hubert Robert in the 1767 Paris Salon, French philosopher Denis Diderot remarked, “The ideas ruins evoke in me are grand. Everything comes to nothing, everything perishes, and everything passes, only the world remains, only time endures.”

Robert – and subsequently writers like Diderot who developed the “poetics of ruins” – was interested in the simultaneous experience of past and future when looking at a decaying object. Vieira and Kajander advance this experience by mingling architectural and bodily forms in artworks that subtly relates our gazing upon a ruin to what it is like to look at ourselves. As the French poet Jean Cocteau puts it in his film The Testament of Orpheus (1960), “Look at your life in a mirror and you see death at work.” Just as architectural forms and materials record the passage of time, so too does the structure and surface of the body. Through sculpture and décollage, Vieira and Kajander present contemporary ruins in a state of stasis where architecture and body, past and future, doing and undoing, newness and aging are at odds even as they coalesce.

Vieira’s sculptures, Weight Bearing I, III and IV are made from standard contemporary architectural materials. Vieira stacks 16-inch drywall squares and secures the layers to each other with four three-inch screws, creating vertical blocks of her own height. Using a Sawzall, Vieira excavates forms evocative of female figures from these solids, presenting them in contrapposto: a weight-bearing pose associated with the caryatids of ancient Greek temples. Horizontal steel I-beams lay atop the symmetrical figures’ heads, joining the twinned forms. These forms become posts supporting the steel lintels, distributing the weight evenly to the ground. The post-and-lintel structures call to mind the unit forms of basic architecture.

Furthermore, the scale of the works and the sculptures’ contours reveal the presence of the artist’s body. Not only are the twinned forms relative to the artist’s height, but the width of each form is an accord between the artist’s own width and the standard American construction material devisor of 16 inches. Ultimately, Vieira constructs a new material suitable for carving a figural sculpture of her own size. Vieira’s figures are never fully visible, but the tension she choreographs between material and tool is. Determined by the Sawzall’s length and movement, Vieira’s encounter with these solid blocks discloses rough-hewn layers of drywall and fractured screws. The interaction between the drywall’s rigid fragility and the Sawzall’s limited angles and depth are experienced as vividly as the emergent contrapposto bodies. Vieira thus describes her sculptures as “Neither solid block nor figure, existing between material-as-form and form-qua-form.” The process of carving the sculptures equally ravages them; each cut and fracture left on the surfaces are like slices of time reminding us of both humanity and its creations’ inevitable fates.

Vieira’s Clad pieces are made from studio detritus; specifically, material scraps from other works. This debris is then mixed in with plaster and poured into a rectangular structure built from steel studs. Like the Weight Bearing series, the dimensions of these pieces are also determined by a combination of the artist’s proportions and standard American construction divisions. As the debris and plaster conglomerate settles into the steel frame an object that exists between photography and sculpture manifests itself. Much like the camera, the plaster freezes the movement of the debris within it, which is then framed by studs. Once the object cures, Vieira intervenes in its surface with a rasp, chisel, Sawzall or grinder, sculpting the new material and creating detritus for the next one. Each Clad is made from the rubble of the previous Clad and other concurrent projects underway in Vieira’s studio. In this manner, Vieira engages explicitly in a process of doing and undoing whereby the histories of her previous works persist into the future through new forms. Therefore, the Clad pieces, too, can be read as metaphysical weight-bearing forces.

Clad 19 and Clad 20 are unique in the series because they subtly gesture towards the body and refer to the Weight Bearing sculptures more directly. Here Vieira has twisted the stud structures in a way that calls to mind an image of the Gaddi Torso or Myron’s Discobolus. Much like the figures found in the Weight Bearing sculptures, Vieira transforms these remnants of architectural materials into counter-posing figures that draw our attention to history, time, the body and natural order.

By using Greek monuments as a point of departure, Kajander similarly echoes this inversion of construction and decay through his own process of décollage. His ongoing series All That was Solid (For Greece) takes pictures from Greek sculpture books published in the 1970s by art historian and archeologist John Boardman for source material. Kajander’s process turns the photographs from the books into impossibly eroded sculptural forms. Where collage is the process of building up an image through various other images and materials, décollage is achieved through stripping, cutting away, and masking the image. Kajander applies acrylic and gouache to his source material, obliterating aspects of the original that challenge our perception of resolved forms while at the same time working against photography’s ability to preserve an object in time. Interestingly, the abstracted images of these stone monuments begin to appear as disfigured bodies; limbs protrude from unformed torsos, misaligned pelvic bones emerge from solid bases and a ravaged figure reclines gently, waiting indefinitely. In this sense, much like the Sawzall scars on Vieira’s sculptures, the movement of acrylic and gouache on the images becomes a metaphor for the passage of time, mirroring the possibilities of disintegration, or rather time’s ability to give rise to new forms from old ones, which eventually fracture into nothingness.

In the way that Vieira acknowledges and repurposes her original source material, Kajander similarly points towards the sources he uses to create these new works. The images that Kajander manipulates are laid on two-page spreads of paper scaled to the same dimensions of Boardman’s book. Kajander repurposes the page numbers from the original by placing them at the bottom corner of the new pages. The work is then framed as two-page spreads, hung side by side and in sequence, oriented to be read as if we, like Kajander, once flipped through the original book. The works are not protected by glass; instead, they remain poised in their frames, vulnerable to the observer’s gaze and the effects of time.

The title of the exhibition, All Beneath the Moon Decays, comes from William Drummond of Hawthornden’s original poem, I Know That All Beneath the Moon Decays, published in the 17th century.

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