Markham based artist Xiaojing Yan and Varley Art Gallery Curator Anik Glaude wanted visitors to Out from among the tranquil woods to feel like they had entered a new world where time had stopped and nature was suspended for all to see. This is exactly how I felt upon walking into the exhibit. Glaude told me that lot of time was spent on layout and design of the show to achieve the goal of creating an intimate visitor experience. In mid December, a friend and I made the hour and a half drive to Unionville, Markham to see the show. I wish that I had seen it earlier in the fall, because it's definitely worth repeat viewings, and Unionville is such a cute village. Gallery attendance averages about 4,000 people per show. As the show received a lot of press, I was curious to find out where the majority of the visitors for this show came from and from how far away, but unfortunately, that information was not available.
The title for the exhibition comes from a sixth century poem:
As the sun starts to go down,
From the wild comes the soft wind;
Out from among the tranquil woods,
Begins the cicada to sing.
—Shen Chun U, sixth-century poet
Cicadas, nature, and organic materials all figure heavily into this show. It took around three years for things to go from ideas to a fully realized exhibition, and so far it is Yan's most ambitious exhibition. Yan is Chinese born and most of the materials that she used have deep roots in Chinese culture. Almost half of the population of Markham is Chinese. I asked about the reaction to the work from the Chinese community. She said that people really loved it and that most Chinese people would be able to interpret her work in the Chinese cultural context, and associate it with their memories and experiences.
Walking into the gallery, the first thing I noticed was the fantastic green wall behind the reception desk. This colour (the helpful gallery staff informed us that the colour was aptly called "Secret Garden") continues into the exhibition space and really highlights the work. Having studied and practiced interior design, I enjoyed hearing about the process for selecting the colour. Glaude explains:
"I love to paint and the design of our Collections Gallery always includes different colours to complement the works on display. While this works for historical paints, white walls are usually better for exhibitions of contemporary art. I knew I wanted something different for Xiaojing's show and had seen her exhibition at the Latcham Gallery where the back wall had been painted a wonderful dark blue. She had installed one of her smaller pearl pieces and it looked fantastic against a contrasting colour. I chose several different options for the artist to consider and painted around 6 or 8 samples for her to look at. This included several shades of green, a burgundy, a blue-ish grey, etc. It's important to bring these swatches into the gallery as the LED lighting is quite different than other types of bulbs. We narrowed it down to Secret Garden and the green that was one or two shades lighter. She decided from those two after bringing the swatches home and considering the artwork in relation to the colour. It was a really fun process!"
Xiaojing is currently in China (she has a solo exhibition at Suzhou Museum in China this month) but she has invited me to visit her studio in the spring when she returns to Ontario. I am looking forward to the visit and to spending more time in Unionville. In addition to the solo show in China, Richmond Art Gallery in BC will present her solo exhibition in September 2018, and there are a few other possible opportunities that are still in discussion.
You have until January 7th to see this transportive show.
Details from Under the Willow Tree, 2017.
Spirit Cloud, 2017 is made up of filament, aluminum, and over 33,000 freshwater pearls. It's easy to see why I was drawn to it and kept going back to look at it. I saw something new each time. I asked Yan what was the strangest or funniest thing that someone has said they've seen in Spirit Cloud. She replied that she has always enjoyed watching clouds since she was little, and like many people, she likes to use her imagination to interpret the clouds she was watching. One of the most important things of Chinese art is it’s suggestive. So she created this cloud to let people to explore in their own imagination. There is a Lingzhi mushroom shaped cloud there. Someone saw jaguar；someone saw two people hugging....
Spirit Cloud, 2017
If you had a chance to visit this show, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.
Story and photos by Glodeane Brown.
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