The Artist Project is an annual art fair that showcases works by independent, emerging artists that recently celebrated its fifth instalment. I call it ‘indie darling of art fairs’, but don’t be fooled into thinking that The Artist Project is a neat little show that you can take in lightly. Produced by MMPI, a mega production company that presents well-known art fairs all over the world, The Artist Project is just as large in scale and brimming with big talents waiting to be discovered.
One thing that really makes TAP unique is the fact that the artist is present. And they’re friendly. It’s different from bigger art fairs where the booths are occupied by gallery owners who scrutinize (or so I felt) the gaggle of visitors to make out the buyers from spectators, or from gallery shows where the art hangs silently while the hipster receptionist hardly glances up from their iPads. At The Artist Project, the artists want to talk, always present at the booth, ready to answer questions, to engage with the audience. One enthusiastic artist took a quick look at my media badge before shouting out, “Do you want to interview me!?”
Out of two hundred artists that filled up the Queen Elizabeth Building for four days, I’ve picked five artists that captured my attention and kept me coming back. They are in the order that I stumbled across them.
Christine Kim, Booth 346
Kim’s pieces are delicate, intricate, and whimsical. She cuts and pastes paper fragments that she drew and painted, thereby liberating them from their respective medium, free to cast their own shadows. When I visited her booth, she was working on another project. “Keeps me busy, since I have to be here all day,” said Kim with a smile. Interested in a play of light and shadow, her objective is “to make people stop, and step closer.” As people move in front of her pieces, they cast yet another layer of shadow, imbuing her art with a haunted presence.
Harry Enchin, Booth 232
Enchin presents a view of Toronto, transformed. Seamlessly superimposing photographs of the present Toronto street scenes with those of the past, he creates a vision of Toronto that is neither in the past or present, but timeless. Are we looking back, or are the people in the past looking into the future? As my friend Vicki observed, this body of work was possible only because this is Toronto. If, say, this were done in the context of Japan, the result would have been jarring, not seamless. (National Post did a similar juxtaposing of images, pre- and post-Tsunami.)
Omar Aljebouri + Michael CC Lin
This duo is one of the winners of UNTAPPED, a juried competition that awards emerging artists—including current students and recent graduates. Aljebourie and Lin are both graduate students at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. With laser-cut wood, plaster, plexiglass and found objects spray painted white, they captured the diverse neighbourhoods of Toronto in small, stacked clear cubes, creating a fantastic landscape of Toronto in the most whimsical way possible. “It took a lot of research, to come up with an interesting design that represents each neighbourhood,” said Lin. For example, Regent Park sports what looks like a goat with a pair of hipster glasses.
Pierre Bruneau, 206
On the opening night, I completely missed this booth. I almost missed it again on the third day I visited, and only during the last run-through of the place did I notice a sign that read “Entrance,” with a black curtain. “Go ahead, it won’t bite you,” said the artist playfully. Curious, I entered the space expecting fantastical installation art of some sort; but all I saw was a few monochromatic paintings in a cramped space. I immediately blurted out, “What is this?” Then the light dimmed, until it was pitch dark. Then I saw it—the glimmering faces on the canvases. As the light gradually came back on, the ghost of the faces lingered on for just a second, then vanished, leaving a haunted residue. Bruneau experiments with the medium of phosphorescence, brilliantly done in an inconspicuous set-up. I came out of the booth completely mesmerized.
Ryan Louis, U-4
Louis is another UNTAPPED artist, and my favourite of the whole fair. “I haven’t exhibited much, this is nerve-wrecking,” quipped Louis, bubbly and enthusiastic. Similarly, his works are playful with a hint of delicacy. Louis plays with cutouts and found objects with the medium of photography, creating staged shots with shadows that are real in depth. The scenes he creates are open-ended, as he believes that the viewer should have a hand in creating a narrative. When I nonetheless ask him to explain one of his works, She’s So Smashed—also a headline image for the fair’s programme brochure—he offers up a question instead. “Is she smashed, as in drunk, or is she smashed/broken free from tradition?” And so the cutouts he incorporates in the constructed scenes are freed from their original medium, their original context. The effect is eerie yet pleasant, thought-provoking yet unrestrictive.
At The Artist Project, art is aesthetically appealing, approachable, and affordable—they are art that you’d like to have in your living room, so to speak. And I do not say this in any derogatory way whatsoever. The artists are exemplary in experimenting with various mediums and pushing boundaries, but the art remains friendly to first-time art buyers. Even as I strolled around on the third day of the fair, red stickers were being plastered all over the place. The artists looked exhausted, but they didn’t seem to mind. As I left the fair, I wished big success to all the artists, so that in the future I can nonchalantly say, “I knew them when they were indie before they got mainstreamed.”
The Artist Project 2012 ran from 1 to 4 March, 2012 at Queen Elizabeth Building.