Surface Tension @ Harbourfront Centre, January 18 – March 3, 2019

Posted by on Feb 1, 2019 in News

@Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON, January 18 – March 3, 2019

Karen Miranda Abel, Atelier Mey, Douglas Coupland, Julie Gladstone, Robert Hengeveld, Colin Hill, Lisa Hirmer, Eva Kolcze, Lisa Myers, Polymetis, Eli Schwanz, and Unit Lab


Water abounds. Here too.

Surface Tension examines the forces at work on water. Exploring the theme of water from many perspectives, the exhibition seeks to think about water in its broadest senses. These include habitat, weather, waste, value, access, place, and beauty, expressed in film, video, sculpture, installation, functional objects, and photography. The exhibition asks how the attributes of, and tensions within, water manifest within contemporary culture as both a physical substance and salient topic.

The presence of water itself is significant. For Unit Lab, the calming attributes of water are replicated in a series of objects for the home. Water is present in a pair of underwater glasses, as well as in the stacked pails that support their viewing. Water also plays an important role in Robert Hengeveld’s work, where a continuous loop of water fills a sink and drains it, leaving bits of ocean plastic to be read like tea leaves. Douglas Coupland likewise collects pieces of ocean plastic, coating them in more plastic (acrylic paint), and sealing them in an acrylic gallery case. Layers of plastic, like nesting dolls, encase the debris found on the shores of Haida Gwaii. Focusing on an everyday vessel and carrying container, the single-use plastic water bottle, Julie Gladstone recreates them as colourful hand-made objects, made with water collected in Toronto.

In Lisa Myer’s Through Surface Tension, the viewer is both under and above water, seeing water and land from a new perspective. It gives pause and opportunity to rethink our relationship with water and its many dualities, specifically our comfort with, or fear of, the substance itself – what lives by and what dies by water. Looking at water through geological time, Eva Kolcze’s film takes us on a tour of the Scarborough Bluffs, a natural topography that resists human occupation and development. The Bluffs were shaped by water, one of the few records remaining of the last Ice Age.

Conversely, water’s absence is equally significant. Karen Miranda Abel’s Desert Pools (Atacama) reflects on water in the driest place on earth, underlining the importance of water physically and psychologically, as well as through deep time and sacred places. Water is also conspicuously absent in Atelier Mey’s photographs that document the consequences of flooding – the “relentlessness of water” – on the architectural fabric of the Atchafalaya River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. These properties of water also define Lisa Hirmer’s project that addresses the movement of water. In Water Gleaners, photographs capture how water (a slippery substance) can be collected in simple ways, drawing attention to how natural properties of water contradict its ownership. Water is both abundant and scarce. Our relationship to water is subject to change.

Polymetis uses a traditional method of measuring the depths of a body of water (bathymetry) to create a scale model of Lake Ontario, breaking the lake into two parts to draw attention to what is organic (the physical body of water) with what is abstract (a political boundary). In a further act of abstraction, Eli Schwanz takes water’s slippery qualities into another realm, where three lines of water are visualized as organic and continuous flows. The currents in Flash Splash are a stand-in for the real thing. For Colin Hill, a found mattress spring is made to resemble a waveform created by deliberate form-making. Here, “spring” has multiple meanings: movement, source, season, escape, and resilience.

This exhibition is curated by DesignTO, and co-presented with Harbourfront Centre. It is generously supported by the British Council and the Government of Ontario.