Mapping Time: “Mystic Toolkit” at Artpace, San Antonio

by Colette Copeland April 12, 2022
Exhibition view with sculptural work on the floor in the foreground, and a black sheer robe in the background with a rose window made of drain pipes hanging on the wall in the back.

Exhibition view of “Mystic Toolkit” on view at Artpace, San Antonio. Photo by Beth Devillier

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).  

Image of a terra cotta incense burner

Shanie Tomassini, “Tower,” 2021, incense, sandalwood, copal, charcoal, and gum tragacanth on ceramic stands (terracotta). Photo by Colette Copeland

Photo of an artist burning a piece with a handheld blow torch

Shanie Tomassini burning incense phone. Photo by Colette Copeland

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. 

Exhibition image with work by three artists on the walls and on a plinth in the space.

Installation view of “Mystic Toolkit” with work by Shanie Tomassini, Rachel Starbuck, Vanessa Brown

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. 

7 small white balls the same size as the palm of a hand lined up on a white shelf

Rachael Starbuck, “Handhold,” 2020-2021, hydrocal plaster and Durham’s water putty. Photo by Beth Devillier

Sculptural work by artist Jennifer Ling Datchuk of oddly shaped white and black porcelain candle holders

Jennifer Ling Datchuk, “Ying and Yang,” 2021, porcelain, candles and mirror acrylic. On view in “Mystic Toolkit,” at Artpace, San Antonio. Photo by Beth Devillier

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. 

Image of a pencil drawing on paper that shows a composition of wailing.

Erika DeFreitas, “Composition for Wailing No. 2,” 2019, pencil on paper. On view in Mystic Toolkit at Artpace San Antonio. Photo by Chris Eugene Mills.

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.  

Installation view of black and white porcelain candle holders on the left and sculptural work on the wall.

Exhibition view with work by Jennifer lIng Datchuk and Shanie Tomassini in “Mystic Toolkit” at Artpace, San Antonio. Photo by Beth Devillier

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

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