Review: Intensive Nesting



Tiziana La Melia Innocent Oyster, 2015, 27″ × 29″, Watercolour, flashe, collage on waterjetcut aluminium, LED lights

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The left column recites a list of debris that author Jane Bennett found in the grate over a storm drain on Cold Spring Lane in Baltimore; the right column recounts an inventory of items located in curator Loreta Lamargese’s apartment on Parc Avenue in Montreal. It would be remiss not to mention that in addition to being best friends for almost a decade, Loreta and I also lived together, adding affect to my approach of this inside-out world she created. These assemblages, whether in the context of New Materialist Philosophy (Bennett), or as inspiration for a contemporary art exhibition (Lamargese), create an intimate, active engagement between dull matter and vibrant life. These actants are not only utilized by humans needs (i.e. to eat, sit on, wear, feel, etc.), but also have unique forces, wills and tendencies of their own. Intensive Nesting, presented at Division Gallery in Montreal, Quebec, creates a platform for more attentive encounters between people and things, promoting new visions for happiness and human survival. 


Erin Jane Nelson IgLK (Indigo Lick), 2015, 48″ × 33″, Inkjet on cotton, various fabrics, felted wool, offset photograph, nylon ribbon


Erin Jane Nelson: LOrS (Lisp Ornery Salt), 2015, 42″ × 23″, Inkjet on cotton, various fabrics, ink, offset photographs, d-ring chain, nickel jewelry, tea balls, chipotle pepper


Tiziana La Melia Mouse in the House, 2015, 26″ × 20″, Oil paint and sand on waterjet cut aluminium


Tiziana La Melia Dazed and Weary Pussy, 2015, 17″ × 23″, Fleshe, silverleaf, and watercolour on waterjet cut aluminium

As a predominantly female production, there is a soft yet powerful aura that colors the bright white space. I can’t help being reminded of Lamargese’s adorable, ultra-femme pink kitchen in her own home. The objects in this exhibition – whether an entangled rack of ceramic dishware, a kitschy painting of James Dean’s home, or colorfully illuminated cut-out fish – all have a story. Although these items would normally remain entrapped in the “feminine realm” through exhausted semiotics of terms like chores, craft, ritual, and/or domesticity, Lamargese highlights not only their betoken human activity (i.e. invisible labour, personal attachment and love relations) but also the attention they command in global networks (i.e. politics of space, economical provenance and social media). This idea of “thing-power,” which signals the moment when an object becomes the Other, initiates a subsequent queering of matter. Boundaries are blurred between narrative conventions of history and fiction, biography and appropriation, as well as socialized conventions of pleasure and disobedience, intimacy and privacy. The inherent porousness of portals, whether in a virtual or architectural sense, is exposed through a projection of idealized desires into the outside world.

Many of the works in Intensive Nesting are rooted in autobiography. Brad Phillips, for example, creates conglomerations of his everyday life (past addictions, current lovers, and future writing), confined primarily within his home/studio space. Prolifically mediated through social media platforms, he skews our perception of reality: for example, The most expensive hotel room in Niagara Falls is a painted rendition of one of his Instagram photos. However, the color of his partner’s bodysuit and the walls of the room have been altered, leading us to question whether the title of the piece is in fact an accurate description of the image. Similarly, Keith Mayerson’s hybridization of personal memory with American history – often masking individual/collective trauma through the lens of kitschy quaintness – disrupts traditional understandings of the archive, including its association to idolatry and domestic values. His painting of James Dean’s family home (Mayerson being a big fan of the heartthrob), embodies a layering of private/public, objective/subjective, closeness/distance. Allison Katz also creates a playful lexicon of the self: appropriating, repeating and deconstructing motifs from both her personal life (i.e. noses) and her surroundings (i.e. arches). These symbols are manipulated through mediation: for example, in Collapse, the poster she made to advertise her performance at the Tate was later included as a piece, then painted – finally acting as a sort of self-portrait (although her face remains strategically and partially concealed). 


Brad Phillips Colourful Painting, 2015, 22″ × 15″, Watercolour on paper



Allison Katz Screen, 2013, 78″ × 38″, Oil and colored pencil on canvas

The other artists in the show use social and economic networks as vehicles to displace or re-imagine personal attachment. Erin Jane Nelson and Nicole Wermers subvert the “feminine” connotations of craft through semantics. Nelson applies “Dylan” as the transformative agent through its dual definition as a glassware trinket and as a 90’s home computer script, while Wermers detaches ceramics from the traditionally female chore of washing dishes and instead ties them to their economical provenance, exposing the dysfunctional power relations of consumerism. Tiziana La Melia uses tropes from literature, namely Mark Twain’s Aquarium Club, to create an ever-expanding series that mirrors the dissociative state to people and places that Twain experienced near the end of his life. Loretta Fahrenholz also explores the neuroses of insulated dwelling through literature: scripted by a Kathy Acker play from the 1980’s and set in a high-rise hotel on post-911 Ground Zero, Fahrenholz’s video reiterates the tense nature of our environment, marked by history while also penetrable through interpersonal, technological and temporal slippages.

Intensive Nesting re-instills the magic of curating. The carefully selected images and objects act as mirrors to the self as well as windows to the world, constantly growing through phenomenological engagement. The artists, by extension, are given agency to hide behind their work or to participate in a dialogue with other narrative vessels. I, among many other Montrealers, struggle through the winter months, debilitated by social anxiety and consumed by obsessive buying and purging. I would advise people to visit this exhibition as a much-needed therapeutic retreat: although you may not be fed empty promises or existential remedies, it quietly reminds you that you’re not alone.