Luminous Shadows

By: Annie Rueter, Contributor

The McIntosh Gallery is currently featuring Luminous Shadows by Ed Pien, a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist.

Pien’s exhibit features two installation pieces: Spectral Drawings and Imaginary Dwelling. Both pieces challenge viewers to pull apart layers of optical illusion and become involved in their sense of inquiry.

Spectral Drawings is an ever-expanding collection of white ink drawings on black paper that began in 2010. The drawings of ghost-like figures are unevenly pinned on the black walls of the dimly lit gallery space and draw the viewer towards the work.

“Instead of having the drawings pop out at you in the white space, which is normal... I wanted people to go towards the drawings so that over time the eyes are adjusted to the darkness and the white becomes quite white,” says Pien. “At certain moments, there may be that illusion that the white drawings are floating.”

During the process of creating the drawings, Pien transfers ink marks from one sheet of paper to the next while the ink is still wet. This process of picking up traces connects to the idea of ghosts.

“For me, ghosts in a way represent a trace," says Pien. "That to me is interesting, because in a way I feel that whatever we do in the present moment has an impact in the future.... We could come back as our own ghost."

Pien’s second installation, Imaginary Dwelling, also deals with illusion and ghosts. The piece features a large-scale tent with projected shadows of two moving figures and several Mylar homes inside the tent. Imaginary Dwelling exposes the housing crisis in Northern Canada, particularly in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, where Pien did a three-week residency in 2012.

Cape Dorset is a community that was artificially constructed during the Cold War to stake out Canadian territory.

“These houses were built by the whites based on their own sense of how a family would function," explains Pien. "But they had never taken into consideration the cultural impact or the social organization of different families and units.”

Pien’s use of audio adds to the work’s mystical and iridescent quality. The sound element is haunting and indiscernibly voice-like.

“I wanted to reference Inuit throat singing without appropriating the Inuit culture and singing,” says Pien.

“I wanted the voice to create a sense of things transforming, becoming something else: becoming landscape, the water, the wind, and becoming very special and vast,” he continues. “Up in the North all you can fathom is this endless land and the snow. So I wanted to have all that captured in the sound element.”

Through this exhibit, Pien hopes viewers draw from their own imaginations to engage in the visually challenging pieces.

“In this work, I’m conflating the real cast shadows with these projected shadows, and it adds another layer of the uncanny," he says. "I am trying to confound reality and play with perception and illusion and realities.”

Ed Pien: Luminous Shadows is open until Dec. 12. The gallery is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. Admission is free.

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