Vicki Clough Curates

Musings on art and life.

Exhibition Review: VSVSVS “Not Together, but Alongside” at Mercer Union

I have a confession to make… I don’t really enjoy exhibition openings. As a curator, it’s a real shame because there are few other opportunities to see my colleagues all in one place and with the singular purpose of enjoying art in a social setting, not to mention meeting artists (sometimes for the first time) and celebrating their work. I usually go to exhibitions to enjoy the liminal experience of spending time with the art, learning something new and getting some mental distance from the world outside. It’s rare for everyone present to be engaged with the art in any tactile, fun way, which is exactly what happened with the opening of Not Together, but Alongside in May.

VSVSVS at Mercer Union

VSVSVS access by sketchy ladder only at Mercer Union

VSVSVS are a collective of 7 artists who live and work together in a Toronto docklands converted warehouse/gallery/artist run centre. Anthony Cooper, James Gardner, Laura Simon, Miles Stemp, Ryan Clayton, Stephen McLeod and Wallis Cheung all have individual practices, but also work together on large-scale immersive and interactive installations (among other things). Not Together was an exemplary collaborative work from this dynamic group that took up the entirety of Mercer Union’s front gallery. Walking into the space was an exercise in radical patience, as the bar is positioned right in the entrance to the gallery, but once inside it was possible to regain some composure and breathe properly again.

VSVSVS at Mercer Union

VSVSVS view from platform at Mercer Union


VSVSVS at Mercer Union

VSVSVS atop platform at Mercer Union

I’m wary of using words like “transformed” to describe exhibition spaces, because ultimately, it’s still a white cube, but VSVSVS managed to create spaces that were at the same time intimate and social and encouraged play. Ladders, stairs, hidden nooks, passageways and balconies allowed for a variety of perspectives and experiences and for once, the heavy press of other people’s bodies actually enhanced the atmosphere and affect of the work. Being too much of a chicken to climb the ladder, I opted for the stairs and found an amusing tableau of people playing with a colourful light projection and moveable screen in a space below me that had been inaccessible from the entrance to the room due to the press of bodies. On the way up I was treated to the sounds of a woman’s giggles coming from a tiny space below my feet. With the right company, I would guess this would conjure memories of sneaky teenage trysts…

VSVSVS view from ground at Mercer Union


VSVSVS at Mercer Union

VSVSVS view from platform at Mercer Union

Various forms of seating allowed visitors to relax and chat, taking in the interesting light boxes, video and soundscapes. The space that I (and probably many others) spent the most time in, was a small room with three benches, under the aforementioned platform. The neatest thing about this space was the vibrations coming through the seats that were synchronized to the overhead video projection. While loud at times, this particular space encouraged conversation and the opportunity to meet new people. During my hour(ish) getting a good back and butt massage and sharing my bench with friendly strangers and friends alike, the rest of the gallery had become almost empty. I found myself a little disappointed by the reduced number of people enjoying the little points of interest and things to play with. A most unusual ending to an exhibition opening, for me.

VSVSVS at Mercer Union

VSVSVS butt and back massaging benches at Mercer Union

Kudos to VSVSVS for another exciting show and thank you to Anthony for the entertaining chat about collaborative and participatory art-making. All images courtesy of Mercer Union, via VSVSVS.



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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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