Expectations I, 2015. 
Cedar driftwood, cedar branches, acrylic paint, mixed media, 33 x 46 x 33 cm
photo credit: Peggy Taylor-Reid 

Expectations II,  2016 Spruce tree, cedar branches, foam, acrylic paint, steel base, 50 x 38 x 28 inches  

Expectations II,  2016
Spruce tree, cedar branches, foam, acrylic paint, steel base, 50 x 38 x 28 inches

 

SALLY THURLOW:  SYSTEMS FAILURE 
AUGUST 31 TO SEPTEMBER 24, 2016
OPENING RECEPTION: SATURDAY SEPTEMBER 10 , 1-5 PM
THE RED HEAD GALLERY, 401 RICHMOND STREET WEST, TORONTO

Expectations IV (detail), 2016 Acrylic, styrofoam, wood, steel, acrylic paint, Roomba vacuum cleaner, 52 x 13 x 13 inches  

Expectations IV (detail), 2016
Acrylic, styrofoam, wood, steel, acrylic paint, Roomba vacuum cleaner, 52 x 13 x 13 inches

 

Sally Thurlow’s sculptural practice gives form to a subtle and deeply personal voice that protests the degradation of the environment, opposes the marginalization of social groups, and grieves the breakdown of family.  In Systems Failure, we confront the visual force of four ribbed characters, familiar yet uncomfortably strange. What do they expect from one another?  Is their system on the edge of failure or success?  We cannot tell.

There is a relationship between the four characters.  One work, the caged heart, travelling on a robot vacuum, a “Roomba” has a compulsive need to visit the other characters. Is this a symbol of an over-caring parent, striving to hold everything together while sacrificing herself?  Or perhaps a social worker, or an activist trying to make a difference in an indifferent world? The reading of all the characters is deliberately ambivalent. 

Thurlow believes we are all complicit inside the systems we are in.  Our individual responses, taken together, can lead to the failure of a whole system, disintegrating national, social, and family goals. For every hierarchical group there is a delicate balance between autonomy and dependency, social and sexual functioning and healthy growth that allows for individuals to become mature and self aware. Since it is an ever-evolving cycle, there are always Systems Failures for which we all carry some responsibility in varying degrees. 

Thurlow has taken on the theme systems failure in her earlier work.  Inspired by the film The Matrix,  she created a multimedia work for her travelling exhibition Canoe Dreamings that featured a canoe that metamorphoses into a dream-hammock for a Native hunter. It was an act in support toward indigenous peoples.  Thurlow’s material choices, while mainly ecological, now exhibit quirky juxtapositions. Increasingly sophisticated, her characters have evolved from lyrical driftwood characters toward a new kind of surrealism, that includes the manufactured, the machined, and the robotic.
 
Thurlow notes optimistically that out of the ability to withstand failure there usually comes a positive reaction where some individuals, cooperative groups, companies, and countries fire up their imaginations to create their very best. Much innovation has come through desperate times and the need for transformation. Culture it seems, expresses itself more keenly on the cusp of change.