Back to the McMichael so soon?

It was pouring rain when Danica and I met Desanka and Bob at the gallery recently… not a day for looking at the outdoor art installation by Thom Sokoloski. A return on a nicer day was necessary.

COLOUR OF THE RIVER RUNNING THROUGH US is the title. Brian and I visited on our way home from Orangeville and I freely admit that I am not an installation artist’s ideal viewer. I like to view visual art with a minimum of associated instruction and reading, just to see what I make of it as it appears. Clearly, this weakens my connection with artists’ intentions, but frankly, I am more interested in my unguided impressions. I can always read up later.

What I saw were monumental tripods, well-built and made of wood, like tent poles. Small, broken branches centred under each of the 13 pieces reminded me of fuel for campfires.

A pulley hanging from each tripod suspended mason jars filled with papers upon which haikus were written. There were objects in the jars, too. Offerings? Counterbalancing the jars, large, clear glass bottles dangled, contained in wire mesh. The bottles looked molten on the bottom, and deformed.

I knew (slightly) what the poems were about because I had skimmed a write-up. The preserve jars suggested bygone times. Preserving the past? Past emotions? The bottles held no particular meaning for me; just interesting textures and materials.

The tripods, campfire and hangings from a pulley suggested an outdoor cooking set up, perhaps? I noticed that the pulleys were the kind used for clotheslines. But what about the crescent shapes on top, and the irregular spheres? A canoe? A moon?

Then suddenly, when I looked up to view several of the structures out in the landscape, each one seemed to be a kind of human figure, arms reaching up. The spheres were heads. All the figures alike. A tribe.

I had more impressions, favourable ones, about the scale, the setting, the materials. construction  and so on, but how was my response compared to the artist’s intent? See for yourself.

4 thoughts on “Back to the McMichael so soon?

  1. Bill,

    Your experience and comments are much appreciated. And truly happy you came back.

    My intent…the installation is the manifestation of it, and you seem to have found it.

    All the best.


    • What a treat to receive a blog visit and a comment from the artist himself, Thom! Having now read more about the installation, I think you’re right to say that I picked up on quite a few themes and something of the essence of your ideas.

      You are generous in spirit, to leave me to approach your work in my own way, but I think I have learned something. Had I followed your suggested approach in the first place, my experience could have been richer.

      Of course, there’s nothing wrong with combining many expressive methods in a single work of art … visual elements and descriptive statements working together.

      Information does affect perception of visual art. Why, if the famous Roman equestrian bronze of Marcus Aurelius hadn’t been mistakenly identified as Constantine, the first Christian emperor, it would probably have been condemned as pagan art and melted down.

      I did put a “haiku” in the McMichael bowl (a badly written one with wrong beat measures). Doing so brought back a real “river memory” from my youth.

      Thom, I’m glad I went back to the McMichael to see your installation, too.

  2. i agree . . abstract art should be interpreted by the viewer with the sole assistance from the artist being the chosen title. sometimes even the title does not align with the viewer’s impression.

    that is why a lot of abstract paintings no longer have the artist’s signature on the bottom . . it would dictate, or at least imply, what the artist believes is the top and bottom. without a signature, the viewer has at least four different ways to hang the piece and derive his own impression.

  3. Lloyd, I love these discussions about fine art. There are so many possible points of view, so many ways to present and to approach any given work.

    Look at a sculpture as one looks at a flower? Why not? Will a botanist see more for knowing its Latin name? Will the gardener see more if its label says “perennial”? Yes. That would be analagous to a title for the sculpture, wouldn’t it?

    But then I think of an art form such as opera, with music, lyrics, plots, performers and stage sets. All work together, a collaboration of many artists, bent on affecting an audience in a deliberate way.

    Maybe installation art is a bit like that, except that viewers are invited “on stage” and in Thom Sokoloski’s work, invited to participate.

    I think artists should have an idea about how their work is to be approached. Some guidance for the viewer can be helpful, as you say, with a title. Even your example of leaving the signature off an abstract painting is a decision made by the artist, forcing viewers to decide for themselves which way is up (or hanging it this way and that … no right way or wrong).

    Possibilities are endless. Are we trying to see into another person’s inner life or are we asking to have our own inner lives stimulated, enriched, enlivened and stretched?

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