Review: Often By Inertia


Robert Anthony O’Halloran’s Often By Inertia 11/26/2016 was a temporary sculptural exhibition in a public storage unit in Toronto. He came to occupy it after transitioning out of a long term relationship. This work is a continuation of earlier works called Groundwork which continue to evolve as the events of Robert’s life unfold. Often By Inertia was released quietly by the artist via Instagram as a series of video instructions on how to find and enter his storage unit with a hidden key. The viewer was left alone to find their way inside the dismal storage facilities – a transitional space for human objects and sentiments. Opening the door to Robert’s locker was revealing, sad and beautiful. I asked him to write notes about it. We also include text by Jaclyn Bruneau, written to accompany the installation. – Darby Milbrath


Material plays for me, perhaps the most significant role in the exhibition, concrete, silicone rubber, cat litter, urine, dying roses sustained by vodka, mouthwash and lake water I took during the last visit to my now inaccessible family cottage, lead for its weight and toxicity, a bone stuffed with sea salt soap, lubricated with coconut oil. The exhibition, through the significance of material, was a way to sweat out all that would otherwise prevent me from entering into the next phase of things. It’s still hard to talk about. I labour and make work to heal and feel release, in the hopes of enticing viewers to do the same. I try to make works that are direct enough that we can move straight past language and just feel it, or get it.


  • On top of the concrete are 5 sculptures (in order of appearance)
  • 1. A cow bone, bathed in hydrogen peroxide with scraps of cartilage remaining. Replacing the marrow of the bone is sea salt soap, cut with vegetable glycerin. The shaft and cut face of the bone are coated in coconut oil.
  • 2. A lead cast sculpture of a tall can digitally stretched over the curving surface of Groundwork.
  • 3. Three roses are fed either vodka, amber mouthwash, or lake water with a penny (ways of preserving fresh cut flowers that I found on the internet)
  • 4. A pair of underwear made of a milky silicone has particles of pine cat litter and clay cast into the rubber. A urine sample is poured, and partially freezes due to the cold of the warehouse, on top of the object.
  • 5. A dime bag printed with Nike checks, contains dried everlasting flowers (whole)


I work site-specifically, it’s how I am most motivated/activated to make work. The exhibition is deeply personal, the most honestly embodied work I can say that I’ve made to date and so, it scares me. Part of that comes from its immediacy to an important life event. The production of the work was an active working through of my heartbreak and I needed to make the work in order to quarantine the insanity of my emotional/mental environment, to make it safer to touch. I think that’s why the works feel so charged, so sexual, toxic and tender, they are blunt about my human mess.

The name of the company, Public Storage, seems perfect for the work. It’s a way to share and connect without my ever being physically present, there is no opening, I’m never seen with the work. As a viewer you have to work for it, maybe you’re scared, you might get caught, maybe that’s the attraction to it, what pulls you in. The work is unprotected, it could have been damaged or stolen, but those who went to see it protected it, kept it safe somehow, respected what it was doing. I try to make work that is smart enough that I never have to be there to give face or voice to it, work that can function on its own. Jaclyn’s text captures/teases out nuances in the work richly, and I’m grateful for her on-going collaboration.


containers are too large for their contents—
this time, closer

a body translated to sugar cane raised to
temperatures fit for welding, burnt and wet
on clothes and tools, weeping hard,

your self as a child = your true love

a mass the weight of your dread

a new opportunity to throw away a pair of underwear,
a sigh, a down jacket,
a painted problem, difficulty remembering

a pained moan, you jerk your head away and
make a strong, short sound to meet your stale guilt in private:
a weird smile follows — you walk to a mirror to see it
and it looks worse than you imagined

160 lbs of lead loaded back into the rental vehicle

the day finishes and everyone there feels ok
about how things went with everyone today

padded palm to invitations that remind you of things you can’t have,
or don’t (having chosen);
turning the other cheek, but
not knowing how to tell an old story anymore, because your voice has changed
or the temperature or you don’t smoke anymore or