12 September – late Spring 1999
Guest curated by Gregory Salzman
In September 1999, Welsh artist Melanie Counsell presented an outdoor sculptural work to be installed in The Pit, at the Morrow Avenue gallery complex (15-23 Morrow Ave.) in downtown Toronto. The exhibition was organized for the AGYU by Toronto independent curator Gregory Salzman.
Melanie Counsell is one of the leading lights of a new generation of British artists, although her work differs in spirit from what we have come to expect from Britain. Instead of the irony and brash iconoclastic attitudes that typify the new wave of British art, Counsell's work by comparison is elegiac and earthy. It deals with aspects of grief, melancholy, human tragedy and loss.
Counsell's art links abstract, formal considerations with psychological content, and equivocates between natural processes and the world of construction or manufacture. She favours industrial materials but connects them to the natural processes thus endowing the material with a sense of delicacy and fragility. Many works involve physical decay or transformation - signs of change and process that lend the work a human presence and a feeling of mortality. Light and water, as membranous, reflective elements, also figure prominently, as do sounds and smells.
The strong physical presence of her materials, however, is offset by a condition of disembodiment that figures in the art through its ghostly diffuse effects of light and shadow, semi-transparencies and shattered reflections. In her recent work one usually observes a space through transparent, gridded scrims that effectively seal off the space to prevent access. These scrims become distancing devices that turn her sculptures into paintings and are partly responsible for the acute sense of longing that pervades her work.
Over the past ten years Melanie Counsell has executed several in situ sculptural works in urban architectural settings such as derelict factory spaces, an abandoned psychological hospital, a cinema, and in the spaces of the two galleries that represent her work (Matts' Gallery, London; and Galerie Jennifer Flay, Paris). In 1991 she produced a work for the space of the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, which marked her only other North America exhibition to date.
This exhibition is produced with the assistance of The Canada Council for the Arts, The British Council, and The Henry Moore Foundation. With Special thanks to Bill Halkiw, Olga Korper, and Christopher Cutts.