Surface Tension

Jessica Thalmann, Ryan Van Der Hout


Surface Tension joins two bodies of photo-based work by Jessica Thalmann and Ryan Van Der Hout. Both artists use archival documents to rethink the meaning of identity, history, memory, and loss by simultaneously defacing and exalting filmic and photographic objects.

Thalmann’s series Utopos attempts to understand the relationship between Brutalist architecture and traumatic histories involving protest, shootings, and violence. The project began by focusing on the 1992 Concordia University shooting, where her uncle was killed. Reflecting on the emotional implications of his death and its reverberations throughout her family, the artist distorts images of cold, monolithic Brutalist buildings, folding the photographs to create sculptural reliefs and organic forms.

Van Der Hout’s body of work, Creative Destruction, explores ideas of modernization, progress, and loss by etching into the surface of photographs from the Toronto archives. Working with images from 1890 to 1916, a period of rapid modernization in the city, he physically strips away portions of the chemical emulsion to create marks that veil, alter, or erase the past.

For both artists, the complex relationship between memory and the archive becomes prevalent as seemingly precious photographs are folded, torn, scraped, rubbed, and cut, simultaneously erasing and preserving a past half remembered.