New York/Toronto curator Anaïs Castro’s exhibition Mystic Toolkit explores the spiritual practices that inform artists’ work. Within the context of the pandemic, these daily spiritual and secular rituals take on a heightened prominence as strategies for coping, healing and grieving during this time of collective anxiety when the home became a conflicted space — both a sanctuary and a prison. The exhibit features 7 artists — Shanie Tomassini (Montreal), Vanessa Brown (Berlin), Jennifer Ling Datchuk (San Antonio), Rachael Starbuck (Austin), Julian Yi-Zhong Hou (Vernon, Canada), Alicia Adamerovich (Brooklyn), and Erika De Freitas (Toronto).
Tomassini’s terracotta sculptures reference vessels for carrying water, as well as altars for burning incense. Upon closer examination, each vessel contains a phone talisman cast out of charcoal, herbs, and flower petals. I had the pleasure of witnessing the artist burn one of the incense phones, leaving the ashes as detritus in the vessel. This is an act of purging —our phones are an extension of our bodies — an extension that is our connection to the outside world, but also one that can result in an unhealthy distraction/obsession.
Brown’s sculptures Robe for Daydreaming and Robe for Sleepwalking allude to the shift in personal attire and loss of time that came with the pandemic. Beautifully constructed, the mesh fabric reflects the light, illuminating the absence of the body.
In Handhold, Starbuck’s elegant, minimalistic sculptures remind me of the poignant loss of touching other humans during lockdown. The artist lovingly held the work’s material, hydrocal, in her hand to create the forms, anthropomorphizing the object into a surrogate.
Ling Datchuk’s porcelain vessels pay homage to the death of her beloved felines during the pandemic. Lighting a candle in memory of a loved one has many symbolic meanings in different religions. The artist sculpted cat paws as the candle holders, which made me smile. As our 4-legged children gave us so much solace during home confinement, it is fitting that we reflect and thank them for their comfort and love.
De Freitas’ drawings, Compositions for Wailing, intrigued me. Labeled as dirges, which in music means lamentations for grief, these sketches use the visual language of mapping. Curator Anais Castro told me that they will be performed as an oral sound work. I’m interested in how the schematic translates into an auditory performance.
The thoughtfully curated exhibit challenges viewers to consider their own rituals — those that function as mechanisms for coping vs. those that contribute to wellness and growth.
Mystic Toolkit is on view through May 1, 2022 at Artpace, San Antonio