Story by the artist.
Ivan Jurakic is an artist, curator, writer and educator who has been largely based in Hamilton throughout his career. He is the current Director/Curator at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery.
The following are his stories about his major works during the 1990s:
Taken shortly after I moved back to Hamilton on the occasion of the inaugural group exhibition at the original location of the former Grant Gallery on the second floor of 3 Rebecca Street in October 1991. My box assemblage Trinity is on the wall behind me. The gallery introduced me to artists Philip Grant and Michael Allgoewer.
Installation shot of my first large mixed media artwork first exhibited at Cambridge Galleries Preston branch in 1993. This was an important work as it was the first time I had successfully incorporated assemblage and found objects with text, and my first use of neon.
Installation detail of the left component engraved ‘Faith’. The granite was salvaged from Leslie Spit in Toronto.
Installation detail of the middle component featuring ‘Eros’ fabricated in neon. The cursive font was based on my handwriting.
Installation detail of the right component featuring ‘Thanatos’ engraved in granite. The granite was the broken other half of the same piece as ‘Faith’ was engraved on. The piece is meant to evoke a poetic cycle of life and death.
Installation detail of a plywood assemblage celebrating my deep affection for the drawings of comic book artist Jack Kirby who passed away that year. This is also the first artwork I exhibited at the former Hammer Gallery located on the third floor of 10 James Street North. The Hammer Gallery was coordinated by Denise Lisson and Jim Mullin who generously invited artists to show in their loft space. It was a shambolic yet exciting space that defined the Hamilton art scene in the early 1990s. The piece no longer exists.
Installation detail of my first solo installation at the former Dofasco Gallery at the Dundas Valley School of Art. The installation was a vaguely cosmic extension of ideas explored in my earlier piece Entropy Suite but came off the wall and included an expanded range of materials.
The floor piece features 23 individually engraved marble markers that spell out ‘Even Angels Have Dirty Feet’. Eventually I traded the piece with artist Dianne Bos for a pair of her pinhole photographs. I believe it’s on display in her garden out west.
Osmosis was a Hamilton art collective featuring Michael Allgoewer, Christianne L’Espérance, Philip Grant, Clare Pearson, Carolyn Samkova, and myself. For our inaugural exhibition at the Hammer Gallery in 1995 we put together a fetish shelf featuring items that influenced or inspired us. I was deep in some kind of Catholic phase, hence the bust of Jesus.
Installation shot of artworks by myself, Christianne L’Espérance, Philip Grant (from left to right), and Clare Pearson (foreground). Funnily enough, the collective started by accident. We had actually pitched two separate proposals for three-person exhibitions at the Hammer Gallery and because of exhibition scheduling demands they booked us together. The in-joke was that we came together by osmosis and the name stuck. Carol Podedworny was an independent curator at the time and wrote a lovely review of the exhibition. (Reviewed by Carol Podedworny, “Fin de siécle Hammer”, C International, no. 47, p. 28-31).
Installation shot of artworks by Clare Pearson, Philip Grant, Christianne L’Espérance, Carolyn Samkova (from left to right), and myself (foreground). Osmosis continued as a collaborative effort throughout the mid- to late-1990s. By 1996, The Hammer Gallery had closed its doors and by that time Michael Allgoewer and I were sharing a large loft space on the second floor of 231 Bay Street North. We dubbed it the Observatory and started putting on our own exhibitions. The second Osmosis exhibition ‘Gravity and Grace’ inaugurated the space. (Reviewed by: Cynthia J. Klassen, “Osmosis at the Observatory…”, View, vol. 2, no. 15, p. 4).
My piece from the Osmosis exhibition ‘Aftermath’. The third exhibition took place in the second location of the Grant Gallery, a three-story walk-up across from Gore Park. The sculpture included a significant architectural detail recovered from the historic Lister Block. I actually found it lying on the sidewalk late one night on King William Street after it had literally fallen off the building. The show was reviewed in the Spectator and the piece got a full-colour photo. It was subsequently purchased and remains part of a private collection as far as I know. (Reviewed by: Jeff Mahoney, “Riches to be found…”, The Hamilton Spectator, Nov. 2, W5).
‘Father and Son’ was another exhibition Michael Allgoewer and I put on at the Observatory, featuring Philip Grant, Paul Ropel-Morski, and ourselves, exhibiting alongside artworks and inventions by our dads. It was a novel premise that led to some pretty interesting juxtapositions and cross-generational conversations.
Titled after the Croatian translation of Father and Son—Tata i Sin—the installation featured roughly cast hands of my father and myself connected by a pair of battery jumper cables. Hand-cut vinyl enlarged from my dad’s handwriting completed the circuit.
Osmosis secured a group exhibition at the McMaster Museum of Art based on our proposal to make new works in response to artworks from their Levy Collection. It was a novel approach and a very big deal for us. We were all immensely proud and honoured to be given such an opportunity by then Director Kim Ness. I chose Antony Gormley’s Proof, a sculpture of a crouching male figure, so my pose responds to the other artwork. And yes, fabulous 90s hair. (Exhibition publication: By Osmosis, McMaster Museum of Art, introduction by Kim G. Ness).
Inventory followed on the heels or Monologue. I wanted to follow-up on this unique combination of image, text, and readymade materials, so I sourced vintage objects with a retro-futurist edge: a wind-up robot, an electric razor, camera, and transistor radio. Each transparency was face mounted to Plexiglas and framed within a 48 inch square welded steel frame. Each rig was mounted off-the-wall using C-clamps. There was a lot of trial and error. It was heavy and difficult to install properly. It was also really difficult to document properly because of its height and all the glare. Exhibited at Artcite in Windsor (1998) and later at Museum London (1999). It’s been in storage for a decade. Still have the toy robot. The working title for the project was ‘How Soon Is Now’ which I lifted from one of my favourite bands The Smiths. Wish I’d stuck with that as the title.
By Proxy is an enlarged detail of a photo taken at my mom’s surrogate wedding. My parents had an arranged marriage. They wrote letters to one another but never met in person. My mom was married in Croatia with my dad’s brother as a witness to ease her immigration to Canada. So this image evokes an in-between state. The vinyl text was blown up from her handwriting. The work is part of a private collection.
‘Proxy’ was a body of artworks that included By Proxy, Big Baby, Monologue (left to right), and Inventory (not pictured). The exhibition attempted to present a cohesive visual narrative connecting images and materials relating to family and personal history. This body of work encapsulated themes and a working methodology that would inform my work in coming years. (Reviewed by: Kate Milberry, “Hamilton artist’s ironic self tribute”, Room (Windsor), no. 51, p. 8). Proxy was first exhibited at Artcite in Windsor (1998), and later at the Woodstock Art Gallery (2001).
I’d used neon in several early works before a number of opportunities appeared in quick succession. Trinity was originally conceived as part of a group exhibition at Niagara Artists Centre in 1997 but gained a second life once we secured approval to do an off-site exhibition in the former Bank of Montreal in Jackson Square on the corner of King and James Street. Fittingly titled Exile on James Street, it was the first of three large group exhibitions in the space. The exhibitions were also notable because they included early works by Tor Lukasik-Foss, Simon Frank, and Dave Hind. Trinity was installed in the abandoned vault. The remnants of three burnt telephone posts suspended over a 36 inch diameter of neon. The piece no longer exists.
Conduit was first conceived in my loft space at 231 Bay Street North which had 15 foot high ceilings and was originally exhibited as part of the Osmosis exhibition Gravity and Grace in 1996. The piece no longer exists.
The Art Gallery of Hamilton had to build walls in the Southam gallery to exhibit Bill Viola’s video installation The Messenger. Bryce Kanbara generously offered the remaining space to area artists as part of an exhibition titled Messages. The temporary renovation created a tall, narrow corridor that seemed custom designed for Conduit—a 14 foot long branch from a plane tree felled by a storm and suspended over a glowing spiral of neon. (Exhibition publication: Messages, Art Gallery of Hamilton, introduction by Bryce Kanbara).
Miss Hit Sunk was the last of an informal trilogy of neon installations that included Conduit and Trinity. It referenced the board game Battleship. The game was played over three gallery walls, each of which had a grid of 100 holes drilled into it. Reclaimed piano tuning pegs were inserted in select holes in lieu of plastic pegs. Five neon silhouettes represented the battleships. Four were white. One was red. In retrospect, this may have been my pessimistic response to the then fast approaching Millennium. Then curator of the Art Gallery of Hamilton generously contributed an essay to: Exhibition publication: Shapeshifting, Grimsby Public Art Gallery, essay by Shirley Madill. Reviewed by: Laura Arseneau, “Six artist in search of time…”, The Globe & Mail, Nov. 24, T3.
Miss Hit Sunk was designed for the last Osmosis exhibition ‘Shapeshifting’ in the original basement location of the Grimsby Public Art Gallery. No recriminations. No regrets. Just six people coming to the end of something and moving on at the end of the ‘90s.
Big Baby connected my fascination with vintage objects to personal artifacts. Growing up my dad worked in the foundry at Dofasco, and as an 18-year old I started working there as a student labourer. It was filthy work, but the factory itself proved weirdly inspiring, and it paid my way through school over four consecutive summers. So the boots are actually the last pair of safety shoes I wore to work in the late 80s, and they’re mirrored by a pair of boots I wore throughout the ‘90s jokingly referred to as my “curator shoes”. The contrast encapsulated history, labour, and the awkward dichotomy of Hamilton.
Left: Dofasco safety boots. Electroplated thanks to an emerging artist grant from the Ontario Arts Council. There was an elderly gentleman who ran a small dry cleaning business in Jackson Square that offered baby shoe bronzing as a sideline. I made an inquiry but he misunderstood my request and quoted me an insanely low price. When I showed up a few days later with two pairs of size 11 boots he frantically waved me away, but I persisted. After haggling on a scrap of paper we agreed on a fair price.
Right: Curator Shoes. Big Baby was first exhibited in 1998 as part of the ‘Proxy’ exhibition, but was best installed as part of Mitchell, a large group exhibition of emerging artists curated by Andrew Hunter for Museum London.
View-Master resolved all of themes and materials that I’d been exploring over the previous years. The installation featured two 4×5 foot steel-framed transparencies of my parents prior to marriage: Filip to the left, Zlata on the right. The amateur portraits were taken roughly 10 years apart and the panels compare and contrast each other: male/female, labourer/homemaker, work/holiday, country/city, Canada/Croatia. The title is borrowed from the once popular stereoscopic picture reel viewer displayed in the bottom right hand corner of the image of my dad. View-Master is perhaps the single artwork I’m most proud of and is now part of the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton. (Exhibition publication: Mitchell, Museum London, introduction by Andrew Hunter).
View-Master installed alongside Inventory as part of Mitchell, a large group exhibition of emerging artists curated by Andrew Hunter for Museum London.
Credits and further reading
Canadian Art: Ivan Jurakic
Gallery 44: Ivan Jurakic
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