Such Sweet Sorrow
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Such Sweet Sorrow

Upon completion of their degrees, twelve students who met in the sculpture studio at York University decided to destroy their artwork, many wielding the same tools that they used to create the pieces, and share the broken pieces with the public.
Calling themselves “the emerging artists of The Repository Project”—in reference to a project that they’re working towards for 2010—this collective chose to unify their diverse sculptural practices through this destructive act rather than the application of a loose thematic umbrella. The pulverized artworks are currently on exhibit at Board of Directors in the show “Parting,” where the chaos is organized into neat rows, like some form of scientific classification.

According to their curatorial statement, the artists “…disassemble their own artworks in order to understand their artworks not only as art, but also particulate matter. Art objects are reduced to fragments of what they once were. Their remnants are hoarded meticulously and spread out along the gallery floor. In physically deconstructing these works, the artists of Parting begin a process of theoretical deconstruction.”
Torontoist spoke to Maggie Flynn, a member of the collective, about how they arrived at the concept behind this project. “We talked about what really unified us as artists. Some of the questions that came up were: what is the relationship of the art object to the rest of the world, what is its place, and how does it gain value? What is the importance of the artist’s hand and intention? Where does meaning lie? As we worked to pull apart our own pre-conceived notions about art and making, we decided to make that struggle for answers the theme of our exhibition.…By situating it in the gallery, we knew the work would be accepted as art but its form would challenge viewers to question the nature of this ‘art.’”
The kinds of questions they’re asking and the process they’ve gone through suggest a surprising level of objectivity for such a young group.
However, their investigation is self-reflective; the artist looks in a mirror in an effort to see their place in the world. They’ve taken the very existence of art and made that the subject of their work. It’s art about art, and in making art about art, you have to acknowledge that you are making art for artists, for those already on the inside. It’s not necessarily a criticism, but it is a rather insular practice. It narrows the audience and prospective scope of influence that the work can have.
Fortunately, there is stark evidence of some genuine soul-searching in a group of students who, upon reaching the end of their formal training on a subject, chose to destroy the things they’ve been judged against in an inquest of their value to society. It’s hard to imagine a business major or a chemistry grad having the same critical awareness of the tenuous and subjective nature of the significance they place on the things they’ve been working towards. This kind of honest intent, made manifest in such a dramatic visual display, just might have the emotive clout to breach the self-centric tendencies of art about art.
In fact, the aesthetics of this exhibition have a rather fair shot at creating entry points for people outside of the art community. The walls of the gallery are bare, the work so low to the ground and the volume of the gallery so void that it creates a spatial impression of ruin. To view the show, you walk through the room with your eyes to the ground, searching for recognizable scraps that may help you figure out what you’re looking at. The artists have chosen not to individually attribute or title their works, adding to the anonymity. It’s like trolling the aftermath of someone else’s misfortune.
Vague impressions of former forms appear here and there; the pages of a torn book still hang together, a broken plaster foot peeks out of rubble. The universal visual language of destruction is being spoken, and that’s something we all understand and react to on some emotional level. In this situation it’s a rather liberating sorrow.
“Parting” is at Board of Directors (1080–1086 Queen Street West) until this Friday, July 24. The emerging artists of The Repository Project are Simon Black, 
Kailey Bryan, Robert Clements, Candice Davies, Maggie Flynn, Jeannette Hicks, Phoebe Lo, Alex Mainella, Meiko Maruyama, Meghan Scott, Tasha Turner, and Maxine Wong.
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.