Vicki Clough Curates

Musings on art and life.

The Institue of Empathy- an education in imagination

I recently paid a visit to the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey. The intention of my visit was to see the landscape art of Georgia O’Keefe which was recommended to me by a good friend. Little did we know that the delight that is the art of Saya Woolfalk was in store for us.

Saya’s deeply imaginative Institute of Empathy has beautiful and surreal supporting artwork, which speaks of a wonderfully playful and talented artistic nature.

The institute of Empathy has been a work in progress for some years, originally starting with the project called No Place. The Institute grew out of this body of work to become a fully realised fictional culture that has it’s origins in the discovery of what were first thought to be human remains. The remains, it was found, were from a chimera, a hybrid species of human and plant. Exposure to the bones resulted in an empathetic response to the DNA, transforming anyone who had come into contact with them into an Empathic. The resulting community of Empathics started the community and institution, documenting their physical, mental, and social transformation. The Institute now has it’s headquarters in Greene County, New York where humans can elect to undergo the process of “inter-species hybridization”, and become a fully fledged Empathic.

Saya’s artwork is bright, detailed and aesthetically pleasing, combining intricate textile and costume design, paint, video and photography to document, in detail, the transformation process of an ordinary human into an Empathic.

Star is an installation piece depicting part of the Empathic’s development stage involving “petal formation”, this mutation occurs after a number of sessions of “Utopian Conjuring Therapy”

Gillian is a digital print depicting a junior empathic being guided through a kaleidoscopic lucid dream process called Guided Dream incubation by a senior Empathic.

By far my favourite part of the exhibition was the display of poster sized gouache painting series entitled “Plant Alchemy”, here Saya really shows her artistic skill and eye for detail.

Plant Alchemy 1- original size 40″ x 30″, 2009

plant Alchemy 2- original size 40″x 30″, 2010

Plant Alchemy 3-original size- 40″x 30″, 2011


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This entry was posted on October 26, 2012 by in Art, Curatorial Practice, Photography.
Vicki Clough

Vicki Clough

Vicki is an independent curator and craftsperson with a focus on socially engaged and participatory art and events. In January 2016 she helped launch Reconstructing Resilience, a research and curatorial project that explored various forms of sustainable practice. As a freelance curator she has worked with the Riverdale Hub, Myseum of Totonto/Art Spin and was the Curatorial Director of Figment Toronto from 2014 to 2017. She has also co-curated exhibitions including JAYU's iAM photography project (2016 & 2017), Move to Stillness, for the Harbourfront Centre's Kick Up Your Heels Festival (2015), The Duel, AGO First Thursdays (2014), and What Are You Made Of? OCAD U Graduate Gallery (2013). She initiated the Toronto based workshop model and website Polymers in Action: Socially Engaged Art and the Environment as part of her studies at OCAD University, where she obtained her Master of Fine Arts degree in Criticism and Curatorial Practice. She publishes on anything that interests her deeply and moves her to the point of lengthy verbal expression.

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