Nicholas Crombach and Nurielle Stern
September 7 – October 2, 2021
Artist Talk: September 15, 2021
Catalogue: Essay by Esmé Hogeveen, published by the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery
Whale Fall is a collaborative exhibition by Nicholas Crombach and Nurielle Stern. Through their shared entanglements with ceramic and sculptural objects, Crombach and Stern present an immersive tableau inspired by humanity's fascination with the natural world. At the heart of Whale Fall, a toppling structure rests on the floor, made of piled furniture stripped of upholstery, and carved into skeletal forms. Clusters of partially recognizable porcelain objects can be seen within its frame, alluding to both the decaying flesh of a whale and Baroque still-life painting. The installation's title is shared with the exhibition, and gestures towards the natural process and occurrence of a whale fall. That is, when a deceased whale sinks to the abyssal plain, its body, or whale fall, provides a concentrated and complex localized ecosystem that supplies sustenance to deep-sea organisms for decades. Whale Fall oscillates between shipwreck and whale carcass: glowing from within, it is an otherworldly creature in its own right; a fleshy thing in a moment of arrested decay.
Along with references to baroque still-lifes, the artists present tongue-in-cheek variations of 16th century fake and frankensteined natural history specimens. When you can see right through me includes groupings of illuminators draped with fabricated x-rays of invented creatures printed on silk. Sourced from the Royal Ontario Museum and the Toronto Zoo Veterinary x-ray collections, each creature is composed of multiple species. The analog cyanotype process lends a false veracity to the x-rays and their hybrid subject matter. Translucent porcelain objects constructed into the shape of bones, odds and ends, and workshop tools can be found in an organized clutter on a light table. In essence, the gallery space becomes an immersive lab experience, where we are invited to explore the artists' curiosities, question the sculptural objects' origins and deeply consider our complex human-nature relationships. Whale Fall as a whole references the history of ceramics and the medium's historical, complex colonial trade routes that continue to shape contemporary global markets, while also pointing towards environmental degradation and destruction brought on by anthropocentric views of the natural world.
Nicholas Crombach (BFA 2012, OCAD University, Toronto) is an artist working in Kingston, ON. Crombach has been awarded the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Award. His recent solo exhibitions include Behind Elegantly Carved Wooden Doors (Art Mûr Montreal in 2017) and The End Of The Chase (New Art Projects, London, in 2018, Art Mûr Berlin in 2018, and Art Mûr Montréal in 2019). In 2021, Crombach completed Horse and Cart, a public artwork commissioned by the City of Kingston for Victoria Park.
Nurielle Stern (MFA 2014, Alfred University, NY) is a Toronto-based sculpture and installation artist. Her most recent exhibition, Fable, is a large-scale installation commissioned by the Gardiner Museum. Stern is the 2019 recipient of the Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramic Art, and a 2020 recipient of the NCECA Emerging Artist Award. Her work is in the collections of the Gardiner Museum (Toronto, ON), the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery (Waterloo, ON), and the Schein-Joseph International Museum of Ceramic Art (Alfred, NY).
Crombach and Stern began working together in Toronto in the fall of 2017. Their collaborative exhibition, Whale Fall, was shown at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery in 2019. Whale Fall was produced with the support of the Ontario Arts Council. Their collaborative work has also been exhibited at Art Mûr Gallery, Montreal, for their 25th Anniversary Exhibition, Terra Nova. Together, they explore subject matter derived from the problematic and mythologized human relationship to the natural world.
Union Gallery extends sincere thanks to the Provost's Advisory Committee on the Promotion of the Arts at Queen's University for supporting Whale Fall and affiliated programming through the George Taylor Richardson Memorial Fund. Whale Fall by Nicholas Crombach and Nurielle Stern is the culmination of a year of working together. The exhibition was first presented at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery (Waterloo, ON) in 2019, and supported by an Ontario Arts Council Project Grant awarded to the artists. The artists express thanks to the Royal Ontario Museum and Toronto Zoo for providing valuable source material.
A big thank you to our volunteers: Akosua Adasi, Elise Ngo, Charlotte Beyries, Rachel Salem-Wiseman, and Cicley Haggerty.
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