In parallel to our solo practices, we (Matt Shane and Jim Holyoak) have been drawing together for thirteen years. Our most recent collaborative project is entitled Quagmire, and is currently on display for the 'Yes Naturally' exhibition at the GEM Museum of Contemporary Art in The Hague. Quagmire represents a place where our interests intersect. Shane’s solo work is primarily focused on urban / industrial encroachment and ghost towns, while Holyoak’s work is concerned with paleontology and monsters. Our shared world is one at the borderlands of wilderness and civilization, the real and the imaginary, deep time and the present. We are intrigued by collaborative art because it complicates individual patterns of art making, and also for its visual documentation of relationships, blurring together the seams between art and life. Quagmire was originally created for the Triennale québécoise, in the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. There, we drew on-site for several months, at night while the museum was closed to the public. A camera was set up to take photos at various intervals, resulting in a stop-motion animation that documented our nocturnal activities. In Quagmire, we have represented the swamp as a metaphorical site of disintegration and formlessness, but also of abundant life and regeneration. A swamp is in a constant state of digesting itself. Our mire-home depicts mangrove roots, vines, mud, bulrushes and lilies, as well as entire cities growing on the skin of a dead sperm whale. A ‘quagmire’ can also refer to a difficult or precarious situation. It is an apt metaphor for the situation we find ourselves in as a species, dependent on the fossilized remains of an unfathomable, ancient, swamp world. This swamp-world was the Carboniferous period of geologic time, 354 million - 286 million years ago, also known as the ‘Coal Age.’ On land, the Carboniferous was the age of insects, ferns, and amphibians. Although trees had yet to evolve, there was 40% more oxygen than today. The swamp forests consisted of giant ferns, where dragonflies flew on meter-wide wingspans. The coal we now burn is the fossilized remains of these forests. Carbon, after which the period was named, constitutes both the material we use to draw (ink, graphite and charcoal) and the basis of all living organisms. This summer, we will return to The Hague and work on-site in the GEM, transforming Quagmire with drawings of other animals, landscapes, organs and weather, examining this convergence of the Carboniferous with the Anthropocene. (For more click on 'VIDEOS' above.)
I could not decide if the glowing was in my mind, in my eyes, or if my shadow indeed had a glow of its own. I watched how the other shadows – those of the trees around me – merged with and expanded from my own. They seemed to glow a little too. I saw a shadow the shape of a dog. It glowed also. “Hello shadow the shape of a dog,” I said. “Welcome home,” said the shadow the shape of a dog, “Have you seen my sister?” “Whose home?” I asked, “And who is your sister?” “It is not my home,” said the shadow the shape of a dog, “but I live here anyway. My sister is lost in the forest on the other side.” “I was just there, but I have not seen anyone who looks like you. What are you anyway?” I asked. “I am the shadow of a trapped wolf,” he said, “I am the Nowherewolf. I wonder, what do I look like to you?” “You look like a shadow who glows a little bit. What are you made of?” I asked. “I am made of something that is not there. I cannot escape this island, but I cannot quite be here, so I walk in circles, and since I cannot be where I am meant to be, I am only a shadow. Light is the shadow cast by darkness. I am negative light.” “Do you think I am made of something like that too?” I asked, “What do I look like to you?” “You look like some exquisite-wolf-woman,” said the Nowherewolf, “But I do not think you are a shadow.” “How different do you think we are? Are we more similar than we are different?” I asked. “The glow keeps us different - the shade blends us together.” “Then what will happen when the sun rises?” I asked. “The sun does not rise here. At the end of every dawn, night falls again. In the middle of the night, you will be made of the same shadow as me. Everything will be, except for the moon.” “Why not the moon?” I asked, “Where does moonlight come from?” “Moonlight comes from my imagination,” said the Nowherewolf, “If the moon sets on a cloudy night, the whole land falls under the spell.” “Where did you come from?” I asked. “I came from your imagination,” said the Nowherewolf, and then he was gone.
Time passed, and more time passed, before the slow shape of something emerged beneath the water’s surface. It was the size of a whale, and she half-hoped it had come to eat her, but the thing was not a whale. This monster was a ball of drifting nets, heavy with dead things, but not quite full enough to sink. Of all the things it held, only one thing still lived.
Holocene|ˈhäləˌsēn; ˈhōlə-| adjective Geology of, relating to, or denoting the present epoch, which is the second epoch in the Quaternary period and followed the Pleistocene. Also called Recent. • [as n. ] (the Holocene) the Holocene epoch or the system of deposits laid down during this time. The Holocene is now. It quite literally means "completely recent." It began 12,000 years ago, and in geologic time it is scarcely worth mentioning -- a blink. It is the last stage of the Cenozoic era. What sets the Holocene apart is that it is not defined by evolutionary or geological phenomena, but by the impact of humans on the rest of the biosphere. We are currently experiencing the Holocene Extinction, which is human caused, and is the sixth mass extinction in the history of the Earth. Inside the vitrine at the Faculty of Fine Arts Gallery (FOFA,) I generated a 10'9" tall, 115' long drawing installation Within this long, glass hallway, I drew a geological timescape inhabited by endangered, extinct, and imaginary animals. Thinking of myself as an amateur paleoecologist, and of the FOFA vitrine as a large terrarium, I volunteered myself as a semi-captive specimen, and grew a paper forest. This indoor forest was not only a timescape, but also a mindscape - a realm of fact and fantasy, inhabited by monsters and other animals, extinct and endangered, throughout the span of life on Earth. Like a conscientious gardener, I tended to the space every day, for one month. The aim of this exhibition was to blur the perceived lines between human and animal, real and unreal, what exists now and what is gone forever. By treating myself as a specimen, I hoped to become more aware of my own animal nature, to examine human alienation from the natural world, and to question the commonly taken-for-granted attitude of human supremacy. I hoped also to increase general mindfulness of the fact that we, as homo sapiens, belong to but a single species among multitudes of Earthlings. From this perspective we can better know who we are as humans. Viewers were invited to comment and collaborate by mailing me postcards, drawings, etc., which were incorporated inside the exhibition.
I love drawing while people play music. Most of these drawings are from the 2011 Suoni Per Il Popolo festival (www.villavillanola.com/suoni/) in Montreal. I went to concerts almost every night for the month of June, and drew what I heard. Over the last many years, I’ve done a lot of observational drawing of people and places. It was a small leap from going to concerts and drawing pictures of what the musicians look like, to drawing what they sound like. Most of these pictures were made with my eyes closed, using both hands at the same time, often holding four utensils (like chopsticks in both hands.) I usually made one drawing per song, following the music as carefully as I can – ascent/descent, volume, percussion, rhythm, harmony, dissonance, the mix of instruments, atmosphere, etc. At the end of each night, I took the stack of new drawings to my studio and gave some of them washes of with water and/or ink, to causing water soluble and resistant materials to react, but I didn’t add any new lines. In my documentation, I have digitally inverted many of the images. These drawings are a both a description and a response to the sound – somewhere between recording what I hear, and improvising along with the music, playing a silent instrument (besides the scratching of pens and pencils.) The physically immersive qualities of live music, plus drawing with my eyes closed, allowed me to work from touch as much as from hearing or seeing. I could not help thinking the closest parallel might be dance.
“Day dream, which is to thought as the nebula is to the star, borders on sleep and is concerned with it as its frontier. An atmosphere is inhabited by living transparencies: there’s a beginning of the unknown. But beyond it the Possible opens out, immense. Other beings, other facts, are there. No supernaturalism, only the occult continuation of infinite nature...Sleep is also in contact with the Possible, which we also call the improbable. The world of night is a world. Night, as night, is a universe...The dark things of the unknown world become neighbors of man, whether by true communication or by visionary enlargement of the distances of the abyss...and the sleeper, not quite seeing, not quite unconscious, glimpses the strange animalities, weird vegetation, terrible or radiant pallors, ghosts, masks, figures, hydras, confusions, moonless moon lights, obscure unmakings of miracle, growths and vanishings within a murky depth, shapes floating in shadow, the whole mystery which we call Dreaming, and which is nothing other than the approach of an invisible reality. The dream is the aquarium of the night.” -Victor Hugo
We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction since life began about 3.7 billion years ago. The last extinction of this magnitude was 65 million years ago, when the K-T meteorite collided with the Gulf of Mexico, suddenly ending the Cretaceous period. According to the paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, “For each of the Big Five there are theories of what caused them, some of them compelling, but none proven. For the sixth extinction, however, we do know the culprit. We are.” Our species is now responsible for pushing approximately “one hundred species a day, four species an hour, into evolutionary oblivion.”
It is a quality of human psychology to see the unknown as a threat, and to appreciate things as special only when they become rare enough to be exotic. As more and more species approach extinction, they step closer to becoming unreal, magical, and imaginary. Wilderness becomes this way too, with more than half of us now living in cities, consuming the products of animals and forests and fossils and oceans, without tangibly understanding their ‘harvest’ or 'extraction.' Once gone, these lost worlds haunt our memories, memories being hybrids themselves, somewhere between fact and fiction. In the future, unfathomable animals will evolve, but for now they don’t exist.
These drawings are from a series of human / non-human hybrids that include skin prints from my body. I’ve drawn these out of concern for various other animals, and the plight of their habitats. I’ve also drawn them out of desire to imagine what it would be like to metamorphose – to have a body other than my own. I will never know what it is like to belong to another species, but I am tying to bridge this psychological void. Knowing that I can’t know, I yet suspect that there’s value in the attempt, and the questions that arise. What do we have in common with other species? How are we different? What is the value of our real and supposed differences? Do we seem to relate, or do we feel alienated? Are humans separate from the rest of nature, or is this separation an illusion? Is there a way to break the spell? These drawings wish for the day when the lives of non-humans will be considered within a larger circle of compassion. As with many hybrids, they are omens of the monstrous. If monsters are animals that don’t exist, then living creatures are monsters for real.
A tough-skinned terrestrial mollusk that typically lacks a shell and secretes a film of mucus for protection. My Mom has always been an avid gardener, feeding our family backyard vegetables throughout my childhood. As such, she hates slugs, for invading the lettuce, and for positioning themselves beneath her bare feet. Mom used to kill them by burring them, but this gave her nightmares of enormous slugs climbing back out of the ground like zombies. So, she offered to pay me a bounty of a penny per slug if I’d go through her garden, collecting and executing the gastropods on her behalf. I didn’t mind the work, but never really hated slugs the way Mom does, and was distracted by the tent-caterpillars before I ever made a dollar off the slugs.
"Extinction is ultimately the fate of all creatures. That's why it is so arrogant of us to think of dinosaurs as unsuccessful because they are dead. After all, they were around for 120 million years or so, and we have been around for only 250,000. And what's the chance that we're going to live 500 times longer than we have already?" - Stephen Gould
For a whole night Book was speechless. She’d lost her voice, and went looking everywhere, but could not find it. It wasn’t in the sky, or the desert, or the lake. It wasn’t on her face or in her throat. She still had a throat, though she’d lost her mouth. It scabbed over and disappeared without her voice. Then she lost her throat too, and she looked like this:
Over the course of one month, Matt Shane and I transformed articule (artist run centre, Montreal) into an immersive and interactive drawing installation that amalgamated notions of ‘studio', 'home' and 'exhibition space'. The walls of the gallery were covered with paper and drawn on throughout the entire exhibition. During this time, we lived, worked and slept on-site at articule. Our goal was to draw spontaneously and to respond to what happened as the work evolved. Viewers were encouraged to wander through the landscape of drawings, and to react and participate in the process freely. We provided ink and materials to anyone wishing to draw with us (or against us). Throughout the project's length, pictures of the gallery were automatically taken every five minutes, creating a stop-motion animation. (For more click on 'VIDEOS' above.)
'The Utopic Dream of the Sun in a Box' was a collaboration between myself, Matt Shane, and Fike Anderson. We covered all the walls of our Victoria (British Columbia) basement suite with paper, and drew all over our house for a year, allowing visitors to join in and leave their marks during this time. We then transported our paper walls to our new home in Montreal. There we built a labyrinth on which to re-exhibit these drawings, fingerprints, stains, scrawl, graffiti, burn holes, spaghetti splatter - traces and memories of a distant home in basement on an island in the North Pacific.
When I Get Back Home was a collection of greyscale ink drawings made in three-way collaboration with Matt Shane and Scott Lewis. These drawings detail dream-like architecture, creatures, and landscapes. Having worked together and separately on each drawing, When I Get Back Home was as much about final artworks as it was about the collaborative friendships that produced them.
'Big Fleas Have Little Fleas' was a collaborative installation Jim Holyoak, Airom Bleicher and Matt Shane. A continual work-in-progress, elements within the installation were open for interaction and collaboration with the public and special guest artists. “So, naturalists observe, a flea Hath smaller fleas that on him prey, And these have smaller still to bite ‘em, And so proceed as infinitum.” - Jonathan Swift
Horror Vacui, was an exhibition at the McClure Gallery (Montréal) featuring the work of four artists who explore drawing as their primary means of expression. In the visual arts, the term ‘Horror Vacui’ refers to a pre-occupation with covering the entire surface of an artwork with detail, leaving no empty spaces. This produces the effect of visual overload, overwhelming the eye with a surplus of information and defying conventional compositional hierarchy. These works are characterized by a feeling of vertigo rather than an organized, structured vision, or clear recognition of what is depicted. The imagery of these four artists emerges from the darker, less traveled regions of the mind. This exhibition provides access to the unbridled accounts of the rambling nocturnal journeys of a group of adept explorers who bring back powerful images and ideas. Simon Bossé, born in Montréal, has participated in numerous Bande dessinée projects.. Kristin Eiriksdottir is an artist and writer from Iceland. Her work has been exhibited in Scandinavia and Germany, as well as Iceland, where she has published three books of poetry and drawings. Jim Holyoak was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan but raised in Aldergrove, British Columbia. His work has been exhibited throughout Canada and the US, and to a lesser extent in Europe. Patrick McEown, born in Ottawa, teaches drawing at Concordia. His graphic novel, The Hair Shirt, was recently published by Gallimard. Eric Simon acted as curator for the exhibition. Simon, who teaches painting at Concordia, is a well known artist and the author of numerous essays and novels.
‘The earth is the third planet from the sun in the solar system, orbiting between Venus and Mars at an average distance of 90 million miles (149.6 million km) from the sun, and has one natural satellite, the moon. It has an equatorial diameter of 7,654 miles (12,756 km), an average density 5.5 times that of water, and is believed to have formed about 4,600 million years ago. The earth, which is three-quarters covered by oceans and has a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and oxygen, is the only planet known to support life.’
Broken Arms, Long Shadows, was an installation of collaborative work by artists Mike Saijo, Jim Holyoak, Airom Bleicher, presented at the Kristi Engle Gallery in Los Angeles. Broken Arms, Long Shadows reflects the common ground between each of the artist’s perspectives on history and memory emphasizing the relationship between the imagination and past experience. Throughout the exhibition, the artists investigate how historical events from the past can coexist with one’s personal experience - the way a presently occurring event can trigger a memory of past events or cause us to imagine future possibilities. The artists seek to impede the temporal linearity of experience, allowing a unique interplay between ideas and events. Distinct and personal representations of historical and imaginary events are based on shared themes rather than chronological order. Depicted subjects interact in a thematic, associative way in an effort to override a traditional understanding of history. The exhibition included drawing, painting and mixed media works as well as a series of related and connected sound works. The sound compositions began at a different points in time in several areas of the gallery. They were constructed to have matching tempos and time signatures that when played together were heard in harmony at specific locations within the gallery. As viewers move through the gallery, the past, present and future of the composition intersect, intensifying the temporal and thematic crossovers of the visual pieces.
"Il se peut que ma vie ne soit qu'une image de ce genre, et que je sois condamné à revenir sur mes pas tout en croyant que j'explore, à essayer de connaître ce que je devrais fort bien reconnaître, à apprendre une faible partie de ce que j'ai oublié." - André Breton, Nadja,1928. "Perhaps my life is nothing but an image of this kind: perhaps I am doomed to retrace my steps under the illusion that I am exploring, doomed to try to learn what I should simply recognize, learning a mere fraction of what I have forgotten." - André Breton, Nadja,1928. I've spent much time looking through my drawings as a collection, trying to identify themes and then pursue them intentionally rather than by 'discovery.' The big book, entitled, 'Book of a Mere Fraction', is essentially a morgue - a habit of image collecting that I have exercised my whole life – a habit accentuated by my art practice. ‘The Book of a Mere Fraction,’ is a 50 lbs, and 80 hand-bound pages of collaged drawings and debris, each page 40”x40”. The recurrent motifs therein include: garbage, bats, dreams, notes to self, birds, adds, napkins, relics from travels, farm animals, life drawings, reptiles, felines, amphibians, insects, arachnids, childhood drawings, dinosaurs, poems, people jumping off cliffs, portraits, human-animal hybrids, imaginary creatures, cigarette warnings, doodles, note books, photo-copied text books, werewolves, ink tests, factory farms, newspaper clippings, politicians, family, friends, bullies, riot cops, Nazis, monks, punks, protesters, collaborative comics, quotes, rodents, zine excerpts, cephalopods, pterosaurs, moths, overcoming depression pamphlets, veganism pamphlets, mythology, fish, lost cat posters, lost dog posters, Egon the one-eared zombie, sex positions, birth and death stages, the sun, the stars, undersea, mountains, swamp, forest… The collection is a useful reference in my researching ideas, and it documents the physical and mental debris of my process. Each page is held together with masking tape stitches, and composed of drawings, photographs, and found images that I’ve gathered mainly over a five-year period. The individual pieces of paper are in various stages of ripening and decay, somewhere within their anti-archival lifespans. Like a diary, it is an intimate memoir, a psychological self-portrait of a certain age, via the associations of interconnected images. It is a testament of relentless image making and collection - an obsessive, bottomless endeavor.
'The Guy' is a handmade book, cut throughout with stencils that make up visual poetry about the trials of an anonymous ‘guy.’ The predicaments proceed as follows: the guy, the guy was high, the guy was blue, she was sick and tired of that guy, this guy’s day was so crappy even heaven couldn’t make him happy, this guy had a huge soul but it had a hole, this guy used to be shy, a guy without a history, the guy in the corner looked over his shoulder, this guy had the deepest sigh...
Monsters for Real: Eleven Love Letters, is novella in zine form. Each of the eleven zines are chapters, 260 pages in total. It is an autobiography about growing up in a small town in British Columbia, Canada, in which I described as vividly as I could the most haunting sexual and spiritual rites of passage that I can remember. These stories are coupled with black and white imagery from a variety of sources – found, digitized, hand drawn, often times taken from the archives of my childhood treasure boxes. Without losing (hopefully) my sense of humor, I've here attempted to confront sexism and fundamentalist Christianity with honest description of my own adolescence.