Commissioning Program


Major Commissions of International Significance

 
The Commissioning Program at The Power Plant is an ambitious ongoing program to develop and premier major new works by the most exciting Canadian and international artists at work today.

The commissions reflect international, national and local dialogues. This has occurred in terms of the content of the commissions, which have referenced the specificity of Toronto’s historical past and a more global cultural present, and through their production, which has involved the local arts community and the general public.

Our past commissions have attracted thousands of visitors to The Power Plant and have created tremendous excitement around contemporary art in Toronto. Commissioned works have been acquired by local collecting institutions where they will be seen by hundreds of thousands, tour to significant galleries around the world, and make a lasting contribution to the cultural life of the region.


2015


Carlos Amorales: Black Cloud
The Power Plant presented its first iteration of the Fleck Clerestory Commission Program, a site-specific installation by Carlos Amorales. Black Cloud (2015) enveloped spectators in a territory that fluctuated between the obscure and the optimistic, the macabre and the alluring, distilling a kind of claustrophobic sensuality.  The artist replicated thirty-six types of moths—all culled from his archive—in thousands of life-size, black paper cut-outs that were individually hand-glued to the walls and ceiling of the space. Multiplied to create a dense mass with both wondrous and threatening qualities, Black Cloud became a surreal yet sublime gathering of insects delicately poised in sculptural formation, a phenomenon that suggested the potential for harm, destruction, and irreversible doom.

Black Cloud was presented in partnership with Nuit Blanche, Toronto and Guest Curated by Christine Shaw. Black Cloud was featured in the exhibition The Work of the Wind, also curated by Christine Shaw for Nuit Blanche in October 2015.


Tercerunquinto: Mine
In 2005 the collective jointly known as Tercerunquinto, was invited to create a site-specific intervention at The Power Plant within the framework of a group exhibition entitled Dedicated to you but you weren’t listening. Ten years later, Tercerunquinto returned to The Power Plant to reflect upon the changes to the site and the surroundings of the institution. Their response reduced the white cube to a hole in the ground, a gesture that touched upon the traditions of indoor earthworks and its foray into a history of institutional critique. Mine was a commissioned project with a title that referred on the one hand to the commercial activity that involves extracting valuable subterranean minerals and, on the other, appropriates the possessive pronoun referring to that which belongs to the associated speaker. Through the artists’ allusion to linguistic and geographic references, their project points to questions surrounding shifting conceptions of territory.


Bik Van der Pol: Eminent Domain
For their commissioned project at The Power Plant, Bik Van der Pol continued their investigation on the ways human activity in the globalized age has a direct effect on ecological systems. Through installation and sound, they conceived of an environment that made it possible to grasp the overwhelming data related to ecology and species extinction figures. Soundscape Ecologist Dr. Bernie Krause contributed to the environment through the installation of collective and structured sounds produced in healthy habitats that have since changed drastically, as a direct result of human intervention and natural disasters. Paired with Krause’s soundscapes was a carpet listing the scientific names of species that have become extinct since 1500. The list was derived from the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, an indicator of the changing state of global diversity. Situating the viewer amongst these statistics, Bik Van der Pol’s project turned abstract data into a physical experience, while examining the re-articulation of public and private property and the threat of such activities on natural environments.


YES! Association:  (art)work(sport)work(sex)work
The Power Plant presented a commissioned project by YES! Association/Föreningen JA!, (art)work(sport)work(sex)work, which aimed to map how ideologies, socially accepted norms and legislations govern the conditions of work and participation within the fields of contemporary art, multi-sports events and sex trade. The piece specifically addressed The Power Plant, the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games, hosted in Toronto in Summer 2015, and Canada’s new sex trade law Bill C-36. In an effort to triangulate these fields and situate them within the urban space of Toronto, a series of bus rides took place each Saturday throughout the duration of the exhibition. People and groups based in Ontario who work within the fields of visual art, sports culture and sex trade were invited to host each week’s ride. The gallery was transformed into a liminal space, a bus terminal of sorts, housing material and objects in relation to the invited hosts’ work and engagements. The space itself was everl-evolving, as documentation from each ride was sequentially added.


Nadia Belerique, Laurie Kang, and Lili Huston-Herterich: The Mouth Holds the Tongue
Invited to work collectively for The Power Plant, Nadia Belerique, Laurie Kang and Lili Huston-Herterich’s first group project appeared within the frame of a wider examination of contemporary collaboration. Taking this invitation as its starting point, The Mouth Holds the Tongue foregrounds the pleasures inherent in representing and experiencing time and space. The structure they created was derived from architect Aldo Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek Pavilion. The pavilion sought to achieve Van Eyck’s concept of labyrinthine clarity, an architectural approach aimed at offering a more playful and fluid interaction amongst individual users. The artists’ reworking of Van Eyck’s Sonsbeek redistributed the architectural elements typically found in the white cube. Having been turned upside-down, the walls of the structure curved and bent spontaneously and hung above the gallery floor in an effort to propose a more horizontal approach to interaction. Moreover, the artists’ choice of construction materials themselves evoked the possibility for growth and activity to occur.


Shelagh Keeley: 1983 Kisangani Zaire
This site specific commission for The Power Plant’s Clerestory was made up of photographs taken in 1983 in Kisangani, Zaire. Keeley’s work which echoed a film strip, faced the artist’s previous commissioned wall work titled Notes on Obsolescence (2014). Keeley shot the images covertly, as photography was forbidden during the presidency of Mobutu Sese Seko (1930-1997). Decades later, the images remain significant documents, which depict Belgian modernist architecture that was later destroyed in subsequent conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo. For Keeley, these interior and exterior views of failed late-modernist architecture–scarred by corruption, warfare, political turmoil, and colonialism–are quiet personal documents, in contrast to the images that are in circulation from this region in contemporary media.


2014


Shelagh Keeley: Notes on Obsolescence
In the late 1970s Shelagh Keeley began employing drawing as both a response to and exploration of Conceptual Art, where the gesture of her hand the physicality of her body were integral to her mark making. Keeley’s work involves a high degree of physical effort, with the concrete resistance of the wall in juxtaposition with the fluidity of her hand and the extensions of her body. The boundaries of the wall provide the artist with a counterpoint to the openness and improvisation of her physical action. Each of her wall drawings are created in-situ, marking a moment in space and time when the work–a visual document of her movement–is created. For her commissioned project Notes on Obsolescence (2014), Keeley created a new wall drawing that enveloped the clerestory walls. Her drawings on these grand canvases were the remnants of her corporeal action and articulated the movement of her body. As a result, Keeley’s drawings become performative objects, emerging from choreographed gestures as they relate to the limits and conditions of a bound space.


Vasco Araújo: Retrato
The exhibition of Vasco Araújo’s work at The Power Plant included new and recent projects that examine the artist’s ongoing interest in the human condition. Working across media, Araújo draws upon Western traditions in opera, dance, theatre and literature in order to introduce divergent readings on such cultural histories. In so doing, Araújo wrests and confronts historical references in order to question both contemporary notions of representation and the writing and canonization of history. His commissioned video installation Retrato (2014) incorporates portraits by 20th-century painter and writer Eduardo Malta. The reproductions of these paintings within the film comingle with domestic objects that themselves represent contested history and power dynamics. Retrato pointed to Araújo’s interest in culling 20th-century imagery throughout his practice. This work, in conversation with Araújo’s other exhibited pieces, aimed to interrogate cultural codes and conventions that are essential in how we understand history and ourselves.


2013


Mike Nelson
The Power Plant presented the first solo exhibition in Toronto of work by the renowned British artist Mike Nelson. Entitled Amnesiac Hide, the exhibition comprised two significant commissions including the sculptural work Gang of Seven (2013), produced in partnership with the Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver and Double Negative (the Genie) (2014). In Gang of Seven the sculptural elements are constructed from material gathered from the beaches around Vancouver. Nelson imagines this detritus spat out by the ocean as the material language of a gigantic intelligent entity which the roving characters, The Amnesiacs, have come together to interpret. Their assemblages are akin to some form of disjointed memory or flashback that, when brought together, may affect communication, reveal hidden meaning or hold the potential for a new and unified system of understanding. Nelson originally developed these thoughts after the unexpected death of his friend and collaborator, Erlend Williamson. In 1996 he had fallen to his death whilst climbing in the Scottish Highlands, at the time when Nelson was working on his first incarnation of what would become The Amnesiacs.

Williamson contributes again, this time parts of his own narrative, in Nelson’s Double Negative (the Genie) (2014). Nelson created an environment constructed to resemble a rudimentary office setting, where photocopied pages from an unpublished travelogue were enlarged and taped together. The narrative describes a journey Nelson took across China. When the film from this expedition was later developed, it had been double exposed with images from an earlier installation Nelson had worked on with Williamson, including images of Williamson himself. The unseen investigators of this text appear to be navigating their own psychological journey through the past, seeking the truth in the material evidence of a story depicting a time gone by.


Jimmy Robert: Draw the Line
In his first Canadian solo exhibition, Jimmy Robert addressed questions of limits: of his body, of the media he uses, of our understanding of exhibitions and the various discplines his work encompasses. At the centre of Draw the Line was a commissioned performance that took place within an installation of new and past works at The Power Plant. The work took Carolee Schneemann’s performance Up To and Including Her Limits (1973-1976) as its point of departure. Robert’s choreography did not re-enact Schneemann’s score, but rather his gestures were dictated by the limits of a roll of paper. His body acted as a tool for drawing wherein the imprint of his gestures is what remained on the page. Movement was evoked in every sense of Draw the Line and in the exhibition framework–above all else, rethinking the limitations of an exhibition and challenging viewer expectations as it unfolded and transformed over time.


2011


Derek Sullivan: Albatross Omnibus
The Power Plant’s 2011 commission Albatross Omnibus by Toronto-based artist Derek Sullivan involved new artist books, and a drawing and installation project. The commission’s core was a series of 52 limited edition books produced through print-on-demand technology. The project drew on the history of artists’ book production to examine its relationship to the larger art economy, while also exploring an interplay between book, furniture and garden design; concrete poetry; minimalism and conceptual art; authorship and appropriation; and the idea of reading as a stand in for interpretation. Ultimately the physical form of the book both supported and was the artwork.


2010


Ian Wallace: Abstract Paintings I–XII (The Financial District)
The Power Plant commissioned a suite of twelve large-scale photolamination paintings by senior Vancouver artist Ian Wallace titled Abstract Paintings I–XII (The Financial District). The commission formed the centrepiece of Wallace’s exhibition The Economy of the Image, a major multi-part installation of past and present work. The commissioned paintings reference photographs taken by the artist in the heart of Canada’s most important financial district in downtown Toronto. With this project, Wallace continues his ongoing examination of the aesthetic and social legacies of modernism, reflecting specifically on the context of Toronto (as previously commissioned artists have before him) in a manner that resonates both nationally and internationally.


Pae White: Sea Beast
The Power Plant commissioned a new monumental tapestry, Sea Beast, from the acclaimed Los Angeles artist Pae White. White began creating tapestries in 2004, ambitious undertakings that use digitally manipulated photos of crumpled aluminum foil, plumes of smoke and dynamic image collages as their content. Sea Beast is a large-scale image of a found macramé wall hanging. The commission signals a new visual direction in White’s work while representing her continued practice of blurring materials and appropriating scraps and ephemera. The commission was the centrepiece of the survey exhibition Pae White: Material Mutters, which contextualized her new work with several of her past tapestries of epic scale, as well as video animations and works on paper.


2009


Candice Breitz: Factum
The Power Plant commissioned a series of seven multi-channel video installations entitled Factum by the South African-born, Berlin-based artist Candice Breitz. Referencing Robert Rauschenberg’s 1957 set of near-identical paintings, Breitz finds in identical twins a fascinating case study of how we negotiate the "script" of genetic inheritance and social conditioning. Interviewing the twins – and one set of triplets – in Toronto, each separated from their sibling but asked the same questions, Breitz created a series of dynamically edited video portraits exploring the myriad ways that the twins differentiate and distinguish themselves in a world that often values nothing more than the individual. Factum was the centerpiece of Breitz’s survey exhibition, Same Same.


Lawrence Weiner: CUL-DE-SAC
The Power Plant commissioned a text-based installation by the pioneering New York conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner. Spanning both sides of The Power Plant’s skylit clerestory, CUL-DE-SAC responded to the forty-foot-high walls of the space. The piece was one of five text-based works in Weiner’s exhibition THE OTHER SIDE OF A CUL-DE-SAC, each functioning as a fragment of a whole. The lobby of The Power Plant created the entrance to the exhibition FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE (2001), while the LePage gallery contained MORE THAN ENOUGH (1998). This alchemical work culminated in the fragment MORE THAN ENOUGH, commissioned expressly for the smokestack of The Power Plant.


2008


Scott Lyall: The Power/Color Ball
The Power Plant commissioned the Toronto artist Scott Lyall’s largest solo exhibition to date. The new installation, The Power/Color Ball, was named after a fictitious gala party reminiscent of the gallery’s annual Power Ball. The Power/Color Ball drew from seven previous projects where Lyall used the figure of dance (and, partly, lyric poetry) as an empty sign for material production. The result was an exhibition that fell somewhere between a survey of past work and an entirely new assemblage. Strange and surprising connections also emerged from the artist’s placement of seemingly disparate shapes, forms, surfaces and images in physical space. The effect was one of improvisation and incompleteness married with calm predetermination.

Simon Starling: Infestation Piece (Musselled Moore)
The Power Plant commissioned a new work by the British artist Simon Starling, Infestation Piece (Musselled Moore). The work alludes to the close relationship between Henry Moore and the city of Toronto. Moore’s bronze Warrior with Shield (1953–54) provided a jumping off point for Starling’s commission, as did the invasion of the Eastern European zebra mussel throughout the Great Lakes. Starling combined his interests in Moore and the zebra mussel by creating a steel copy of Warrior with Shield and submerging it into Lake Ontario for 18 months where it was gradually colonized by zebra mussels. The removed sculpture is now covered with dried mussel shells, and formed the centrepiece of Starling’s survey exhibition, Cuttings (Supplement).


2007


Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: Pulse Front
The Power Plant commissioned a new large-scale interactive installation, Pulse Front (Relational Architecture 12), by the Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer – his first major light sculpture in Canada. Pulse Front featured a matrix of light over The Power Plant and Harbourfront Centre, made with light beams from twenty of the world's most powerful robotic searchlights. Ten metal sculptures with embedded sensors and computers were placed along the harbour. The sculptures detected the pulses of people who interacted them and converted them into light pulses. With 200,000 watts of power and fifteen kilometres of visibility, the work blended the intimate with the spectacular in one of the most emblematic public spaces in Toronto.