Ossington art exhibit reveals globalism in miniature
When I first walk into Karine Giboulo's exhibit on Ossington I actually feel dizzy. The installation at Angell Gallery is home not just to Giboulo's huge, multi-room (and multi platform) HYPERland diorama, but more than a half dozen other, smaller works. It's a lot to take in.
While I'd seen the Montreal artist's dioramas online, it was when I first saw What is My Name? / Quel est Mon Nom? at Art Toronto that I learned how powerful her work is. Tiny children and a nun make up a scene within a multi room dollhouse perched in a tree. The dollhouse is a residential school, and the scene is rendered from the same materials as generations of kitschy Canadian arts and crafts.
This work is not on show at Angell, but Giboulo has the small front gallery as well as the main room, and there she focuses on Canadiana, rather than the global themes found in the rest of the show. A 3D family of tiny campers behind glass are duplicated in a photo on the wall, and a moose on a toy dump truck is pictured again, as a drawing, a metre away.
The doubles carry on throughout, and at first it's jarring to see photos of the dioramas, often closeups, next to the works themselves: suspiciously commercial. But soon it becomes part of the narrative. Giboulo demands communication at any cost, and no matter how far she peers over the edge of good taste, her balance never gives.
HYPERland dominates in the main gallery. Toronto visitors will recognize its condo-like form: boxes riding boxes into the air. Seven tiers reduce the global market to its barest of identifiers: sweat shop workers and drought below, pristine zoo enclosures above, and between, the one per cent, the rat race, a factory farm, and an eerie mini Gursky tribute: rows upon rows of dollar store items, repeating ad nauseam thanks to mirrors.
Mirrors help make HYPERland so effective: motifs repeat on and on, while as you circle the piece shadows crossing the hyperbolic parched desert below make the viewer a participant, intentional or not.
Cheesy zebra skin patterns are exported from HYPERland to smaller works like one showing a tourist in Africa. In a small case in the gallery's corner, a shark flashes red gums and jagged teeth at a precarious boat of refugees, while in another nautical piece a floating raft is surrounded by the Great Pacific garbage patch. It's completely over the top - so why does it work?
Giboulo's hand is the answer here. Her subversion of kitschy, nationalistic Canadiana, the kind of stuff more likely to be found in a cozy Muskoka cabin than a reputable contemporary gallery, derails the innocence of a playful nick knack or model train set up. Yet you can't divorce her work from the tedious and detail-oriented workmanship of toy making.
When I thought about talking to Giboulo, I realized my most urgent question was how she got her tiny, perfect labels on the replicated dollar store-like items in the shop and floating at sea. But how much do I know about the process involved with the real thing?
Grass and sand is powder glued to a false terrain, models are unashamedly hand painted, and all the tiny consumer goods are meticulously labeled. You can feel a hobbyist's obsessive touch, but these painstaking scenes have complex, if familiar, messages. Using cliched work to tell cliched stories, Giboulo reminds us that we care. Or that we don't, which is equally disruptive.
Karine Giboulo's Hyperland is on until December 20th at Angell Gallery (12 Ossington Ave.)
Photos by Derek Flack
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