Written by Anastasia Hare
SG Communications & Development Manager
Spanning Station Gallery’s exhibition spaces with fantastical scenes painted in lively, sweeping brushstrokes, A Short Trip to the Infinite stirs an excitement of exploration. The large scale paintings, sculptures and installations by Toronto-based artist Gillian Iles contain many cues and clues that lead us on a journey. There are dark forested landscapes, gently lit passageways and staircases, traditional gilded framed artworks…even a train car fitting for the historic station.
The paintings are inhabited by figures and wild animals, often positioned in the way of a destination or curiosity that’s off in the distance. Sculptures of hooded characters in various positions appear as though they’ve stepped right out of the canvas, seemingly caught in mid-action between these spaces and in transition. Gillian explains in her artist statement that this, “…narrative based series follows a group of young protagonists’ confrontation with an awareness of their own potential and how it is shaped by social ideals, social orders and idealized lifestyles.” The installation portrays, “the potential of the next generation in their consideration of what came before and what they want, or allow, to come next.”
Gillian’s studio, where she worked on these projects, is appropriately in a former neighbourhood school. There the artist explained to me that the series evolved from a previous body of work, That’s not how we do things here: “…walking by the schoolyard at recess, it fascinated me… this hierarchy that you could see establishing itself… just in the body language.” She continued, “Then I ended up doing a body of work that was kind of inspired by the sense that, looking at them I felt that I was a total outsider… because I’m now an adult…” and this led to “more thinking about adolescence and how they represent that moment of the potential for anything.”
We share this moment as we navigate through and around the people, places and things in Gillian’s exhibition, teetering between this sense of outsider and becoming a protagonist in the scene. The curious, foreshadowing mood created by the contrasting darkness, shadowy blues and vivid fuchsia and lime colours adds to this felt moment. As Gillian explains, “The possibility of a potential is like twilight and dawn – that time of day when there’s all this change that’s about to happen… Even a lot of the environments, like the skies…with storm clouds coming into a sunny sky or the setting of a transitional time of day. It was just the notion of this potential that was there and the idea that all these different choices start to funnel you down these pathways.”
As we get closer and closer towards the objects in the distance, like Gillian’s protagonists, we begin to consider what it is that we want and where we want to go. What are our goals, what obstacles are in our way, and what paths will we take to get there? What will we notice and how will our experience change along the way?