6 May 2023 - 7 September 2023
Mercer Union’s SPACE billboard commission has invited artist Lotus Laurie Kang for its 2022–23 season for a yearlong series titled, Mother Always Has a Mother. Known for her sprawling installations and distinctive material repertoire, Kang’s practice is a dialogue with entropy. Elegantly disordered and richly layered, her site-sensitive works explore the relational bonds between time, personal history, and cultural knowledge. They seek to disrupt a human-centred perspective of the world with a broad curiosity for life and matter tangled in states of exchange that produce and are reproduced by their environments.
Sunlight, Kang’s earliest collaborator, accumulates and rewrites much of the photographic works for which she is best known. While materials like steel, silicone, perishable or manufactured goods assist as other forms of carriers. In Mother Always Has a Mother the artist offers something new, working for the first time with textiles to produce a series of three sculptural works that translate ideas of inheritance, loss, and lineage through the vernacular of seams, frayed edges, and folds. A deconstructed industrial grain bag suggests the pattern from which Kang assembles the works in this series in heavy cloth. Each edition features reproductions of renderings by the artist in photographic chemistry. Conjuring memory of her paternal grandmother, who opened a seed and grain shop in Seoul after fleeing North Korea, the artist contemplates the grain bag as evidence of an accelerated world. Mother Always Has a Mother considers what we carry by revealing the tension between conscious memory and embodied knowledge: one coded in time, the other in flesh; each in continual transformation.
The title Mother Always Has a Mother is borrowed from the chapter “Grandma’s Story” in Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism (2009) by Trinh T. Minh-Ha. Brick features tracings of buckwheat seeds with an ear, forsythia flowers, a liver, a photograph of my grandmother holding me as a baby, and vessels in an open-air market. — Lotus Laurie Kang
Brick is the third edition in the yearlong series; accompanying the work is a text written by Katie Lawson that can be found below.
Installation views: Lotus Laurie Kang, Mother Always Has a Mother: Brick. Commissioned by Mercer Union, 2022. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Vuk Dragojevic.
Brick: a body among other bodies
The third iteration of Lotus Laurie Kang’s Mother Always Has a Mother is backed by the worn exterior of Mercer Union. The skin of the building has weathered the seasons of over a hundred years, despite the transformation of its interior—the main floor once a cinema and entertainment complex, later a restaurant and dining lounge, now a gallery. Lotus’ work takes up residence on the east facing exterior wall, and much like the bricks that carry traces of time passing, the textile sculpture is in a perpetual state of becoming, co-constituted with its surroundings. It is a body among other bodies, always in relation and more porous than assumed. This final edition carries the subtitle of Brick—a material that has always carried the mark of its maker, whether that be of the hand or its industrial extensions. As a mixture of organic and inorganic matter, brick is the transformation of an environment into an object through labour. I think about the disparate landscapes that are made present through the material memory of this site, within a wider web of non-human actants and witnesses.
Mother Always Has a Mother marks an expansion in material practice for Lotus, the heavy cloth sculpture functioning much in the way that her photograms do, unfixed film tanning in the sunlight like animal skins. Fleshy vessels are brought closer to their textile kin, the warp and weft of the sack, the seed bag. As the third of three in a sequence of works, I have come to know the previous editions, Burnt Orange and Wheat, over time. My sequential and durational experience of them invokes the tenuous forms of connection and transmission that reach across generations and growing seasons. Families unfurl through iterative processes—have I strayed from the pattern? The refrain comes around again: Mother Always Has A Mother, and even if we are cut from the same cloth, there are fluctuations within every continuum.
As we move into summer, the robust duck canvas will transform through exposure to sunlight, wind, rain, and pollen; to car exhaust, summer smog and the smoke of cigarettes and joints; to birds, bugs and perhaps a rogue branch that falls from a nearby tree and becomes lodged in the nooks and crannies of the work’s cuts and folds. Loose threads dangle from raw edges. The contours of the artist’s expressively rendered relations—a familial embrace, vessels in an open-air market, seeds and blooms which ground stories of migration—may fade, but the canvas will endure. Memory bursts forth from seeds after a grey winter. What we choose to plant carries lessons from the past and promises for the future. The days are getting longer. As I write this, the forsythia blooms.
Lotus Laurie Kang is an artist working with photography, sculpture, and site-responsive installation, whose work takes up the body as an ongoing process and environment. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include Helena Anrather, New York (2021); Franz Kaka, Toronto (2020); and Oakville Galleries (2019). She has participated in group exhibitions at Cooper Cole, Toronto (2022); Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver (2022); The New Museum, New York (2021); SculptureCenter, New York (2020); Remai Modern, Saskatoon (2019); and Galerie Antoine Ertaskiran, Montréal (2019). Artist residencies include Triangle Arts Association, Brooklyn (2022); Horizon Art Foundation, Los Angeles (2022); and Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity (2020). She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the Milton Avery School of the Arts at Bard College, New York.
Katie Lawson is a curator and writer based in Toronto. Most recently, she was a curator for the Toronto Biennial of Art, working with Candice Hopkins and Tairone Bastien on the inaugural 2019 and 2022 editions. She has curated exhibitions at Images Festival, Toronto (2023); MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie (2021); the Art Museum at the University of Toronto (2018); the Art Gallery of Ontario (2018); Y+ Contemporary, Scarborough (2017), and RYMD, Reykjavik (2017). Katie is a graduate of the Master of Visual Studies Curatorial program at the University of Toronto, where she previously completed her Master of Arts in Art History. She is currently working towards a PhD in Art and Visual Culture at Western University, with an interest in contemporary art and climate change. Lawson was awarded the Hnatyshyn Foundation Fogo Island Arts Young Curator Residency in 2023.
SPACE invites one artist to produce a yearlong series of images for a public-facing billboard located on the east façade of Mercer Union. Lotus Laurie Kang’s Mother Always Has a Mother: Brick (2023) is the third edition in a series of three billboard images commissioned by Mercer Union.
Kang would like to thank Laura Honsberger for production assistance.
Image: detail from Lotus Laurie Kang, Mother Always Has a Mother: Brick, 2023. Courtesy the artist. Commissioned by Mercer Union, Toronto.