The lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have heightened anxiety over matters largely out of the control of the individual. It’s hard to even know what to believe these days. I have the sense I am being manipulated by propaganda coming from many directions. Here’s my latest mantra in trying to cope: STOP DOUG FORD!
Karine Giboulo at The Gardiner Museum
( FYI: The Gardiner Museum is open until 9:00 pm on Wednesday nights, and after 5:00 pm it’s Free!)
From March of 2020 to March of 2022 Covid-19 was in full control. Karine Giboulo spent those distressing years confronting the unfolding catastrophes she saw all around her. She did so by creating a sculptural approximation of her own living space and the mental minefield it contained. Her exhibition at The Gardiner Museum, titled Housewarming includes the layout of a typical North American home with a kitchen, living room, bedrooms and so on. It also contains over 500 individual clay sculptures, mostly figures of tiny, expressive humans.
We quickly get the sense Karine Giboulo can’t escape the misery just outside her door. Entering the kitchen, we see on the counter, a long, bedraggled line of hungry humans, waiting to retreive something to eat from the local food bank.
At the other end of the counter, an open oven door displays a ghastly tableau of “death by global warming,” i.e. an animal carcass embedded in baked earth.
Want a sandwich? Looking around for a jar of mayonnaise in the fridge, we are reminded of the horrors of factory farming, via a scene tucked into one of the crisper drawers.
In the psyche of Karine Giboulo no aspect of our lives are free from suffering and attendant guilt. The top drawer of her innocuous pink dresser reveals a soul-destroying shift at H&M in Kolkata, or some other distant locale, where young women can be hired for the low wages that make fast fashion possible.
A pup tent in the backyard loses its innocence and becomes a grim reminder of the those who endure homelessness.
The elderly suffered the most during the pandemic. In the bedroom of the Housewarming installation, Karine Giboulo arranged numerous belljars on shelves, airless isolation chambers, each holding a solitary patient or caregiver.
Some of the dioramas are more ambiguous and I like those the best. Is this elderly knitter, encased in the Zenith portable, seeking revenge like a contemporary Madame Defarge, who, during the French Revolution, used “yarn to measure out the life of a man, and cut it to end it?”
Or the ominous clock diorama, presumably containing a self portrait of the artist herself, poring over her phone as sleep eludes her.
Wandering through this fictional house we encounter environmental degradation, threats to wildlife through the climate crisis and tourism, exploitation of the vulnerable, the lure of addictive technology, greed and idiocy among the captains of industry, in fact the whole trainwreck of current human blunders is on display.
Texts that accompany the exhibition introduce Karine Giboulo with an emphasis on the fact that she is a “self-taught” artist. This struck me as peculiar, almost like a slightly apologetic explanation for her earnest engagement with the huge social problems that impact us all. The “self-taught” moniker felt like a wink and a nudge indicating that this isn’t quite typical contemporary art. There is no layer of obsfucation for intellectual play and invention. Karine Giboulo doesn’t want to risk losing her audience in obscure, abstract or metaphysical currents, so she plays it straight and lays it out as she sees it.
Maybe this idea is also there to let the viewer know that Karine Giboulo is not a global superstar just hitching a ride on the pain of others.
Ai Weiwei, for example, was slammed for posing to replicate the death of a three-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi who died on a European beach while attempting to flee the war with his family. The photograph shot around the world as a viral meme, but it wasn’t always received well.
Opportunistic, careerist, callous, tasteless victim porn, crude, thoughtless and egotistical are some of the reactions to this piece by Ai Weiwei.
Of course, these artists — Ai Weiwei and Karine Giboulo — are different in so many ways it doesn’t make sense to compare except to note that Karine Giboulo approaches her subject matter with a sense of tenderness and humility and that is evident throughout the exhibition.
One of the workshops being held at the Gardiner, in connection with this show is called: Micro meets Macro: Taking Action on Food Insecurity and Housing Instability. The workshop will apparently explore a report by Daily Bread Food Bank “examining trends in food bank use and food insecurity in Toronto.”
It takes place on February 1, 2023.