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Music: Sendgeance by birdboy


"Inviting you into this space and into yourself, Bleiwas asks:

do you know this place?"


In contemporary art, there’s nothing worse than walking into a gallery and having no idea what you're supposed to be getting out of the work on display. Nothing worse, that is, except reading the exhibition text, bogged down in the nonsensical “International Art English” that has spawned dozens of joke artist statement generators, and thinking “Really? All that… for this?” No matter who you are, when you encounter the work of Toronto-based sculptor Ellen Bleiwas, you will have thoughts and feelings and they will be entirely your own because that’s the nature of the experience she’s creating: a confrontation with yourself. Drawing from her background in architecture and a couple formative experiences visiting ancient sacred architectural sites, Ellen utilizes space, material and a manipulation of the senses to create emotionally, psychologically and, if you’re open to it, perhaps even spiritually powerful experiences. 


Consider for a moment the menhirs and megaliths that inspire Ellen’s work. When you gaze upon them, you’ll likely have many sensible questions like “Who made this?” and “How?” and most of all “Why?!” They’re often so impossible, or at least unlikely, in their construction that it would honestly make more sense that they were put there by aliens than humans. That’s why they fill us with awe - partially for their immensity, but mostly for their strange and mysterious quality. Ellen’s sculptures are likewise uncanny objects that serve as a litmus test for where you’re at. Do you feel peaceful or anxious inside the womb-tomb that is one of her industrial felt “Passages”? Are you attracted or repulsed by the flesh-like latex, tubed “Protrusions” that seem to grow out from the gallery floor? Or, as with most curiosities, do you experience some complex and obscure combination of the two emotions?


There’s too few artists making work today that genuinely affects its audience on such a visceral level, so it’s a pleasure to follow the success of one who does. At the time that we visited Ellen’s studio at 401 Richmond, she was completing her tenure there as the 2017 Career Launcher Prize Winner. Since then, she’s completed a residency with The RBC Artist Incubator Lab at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery (RMG), which produced a series of incredible clay sculptures - exhibited like an early Bronze-Age stone circle - AND she’s begun another residency with The New York Art Residency and Studios (NARS) Foundation. Follow @ellenbleiwas and check out her website for art that will make you shriek with delight, squirm with discomfort and maybe reconsider your place in the universe?! It’s some of the best contemporary art coming out of Toronto right now and Ellen is definitely one to watch.

Ellen Bleiwas would like to acknowledge the support her practice has received from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Toronto Arts Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the 401 Richmond Career Launcher Award, the RBC Foundation and The Felt Store.

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