Teresa Dorey and Sophia Borowska, exhibition Cheville, at galerie atelier b.
I met with textile artist Sophia Borowska and Teresa Dorey, who exhibited at the galerie atelier b for the cheville, exhibition last September. Our meeting took place in Chabanel, once the city’s garment district, which is gradually becoming a centre for artists displaced from the central districts by gentrification.
It's a far cry from the old-fashioned charm of the Mile End and Petite-Patrie studios, yet this arid industrial area is teeming with artists. The photographer Jean-Michael Seminaro accompanied me to document this rich encounter.
Images taken in Teresa Dorey's studio during our visit.
Pictures taken in Sophia Borowska's workshop during our visit.
Sophia and Teresa, in addition to investing distinct mediums in their practice, each occupy a studio in two different buildings: one on Parc, the other on Chabanel Ouest. However, Sophia's studio can be seen from Teresa's window, an invisible bridge between their paths and values, a connection of spirit.
Originally from British Columbia and Alberta respectively, Sophia and Teresa both landed in Montreal to study at Concordia, and have since moved here to develop their careers.
For Teresa, ceramics allow her to remain anchored in the present when her brain starts to overheat. " I like it, because I have the tendency to overthink With ceramics you have to surrender to the clay itself, because you can't always control everything - there’s a give and take with the medium. It's a good balance for me and enhances mindfulness ». Part of her work is devoted to research, particularly on what attracts or repels interactions in terms of forms and images. These reflections are illustrated in her exploration of glazes, from which she can draw an infinite number of tones, colours and textures.
Since meeting during a university course, Cheville, became the embryo of a collaborative work in full development. "Working with Sophia is great," Teresa tells me, "because textile arts work in a similar way to ceramics. We look forward to collaborating further and exploring ways of integrating textiles with ceramics."
Sophia completes: "We both work instinctually. With our next collaboration we wish to echo each other's work: she by digging holes in her sculptures, and I by taking over and passing fibers through this body of clay."
Detail of a work by Sophia Borowska, captured in her studio during our visit.
Ceramic tests by Teresa Dorey, captured at her workshop during our visit.
Soft as cement
They juggle between the apparent fragility of their media and the divergences they wish to produce. If you look at Sophia's pieces, you can recognize cloth and fibers. "You might think it's soft, but in fact it's poured in cement, so there's an aspect of danger. I think it creates an interesting tension in the viewer, more so than if our only goal was to make our works - and our medium - respected in the art world. I don't want to be just a crafts activist. I like that Teresa and I have achieved a subtlety in our practices that allows us to approach our personal experiences through our works, and to show our emotions, our memories, or our personality."
Images taken in the workshops of Teresa Dorey (left) and Sophia Borowska (right).
When I ask the two artists how they have appropriated galerie atelier b, and if it has had an impact on the development of Cheville, I don't have to wait long for the answer .
"It wouldn't be the same anywhere else", Teresa exclaimed.
"It's a very porous space ", Sophia continues about the gallery walls.
"We were really paying attention to how the space spoke to our pieces ", says the ceramist, who was inspired by the colours of the walls for her glazes: a soft peachy pink here, a precise shade of blue there.
The same attention to space has been paid to arranging the works in the gallery, in order to create a dialogue between the space and the pieces. "I think the show has a strong sense of vulnerability, with the fragility of the pieces and some of them being displayed directly on the ground or on plinths that look a little bit like they might fall over ", Sophia tells Teresa.
"It looks precarious, like it could topple over at any time and you know, even walking through the space we needed to be soft and careful, and that's actually how we should be treating each other!", adds Teresa.
Especially in times of pandemic, when we need to renew our ways of caring for others without touching them.
Images from the exhibition Cheville, at galerie atelier b.
The basement as a metaphor
Both artists saw it as a sign that the gallery was located in the basement. "Our practices are about breaking into ourselves and trying to find what's really going on within the depths of the subconscious." For Sophia, this represented a kinship of spirit between their approaches and the space.
Our discussion shifts towards the place of women in contemporary art, and the clean up taking place to restore the legacies of female figures in history. "It's problematic that we modify our history to make it seem better than it is," Teresa insists. "It's problematic not to teach the history of residential schools to children, just as it's problematic to exclude and erase so many voices in the art world."
I see how feminism, but especially intersectionality, occupies a great place in the reflection of Teresa and Sophia, who rightly declares: "It's not feminism if you're only fighting for your own place. You have to make sure everyone's voice is getting heard." To become aware of realities other than one's own requires listening and humility. For Teresa, each step towards the other, however clumsy it may be, is better than immobility. "Talking about it and potentially making mistakes is better than just not talking about it, now is not the time for complacency."
Image of the exhibition Cheville, at galerie atelier b.
Art as a common denominator
One of the issues I like to discuss with the artists I meet is how they position themselves in relation to contemporary art and the utilitarian arts. Sophia and Teresa's posture seems to me to be very uncomplicated.
"I think the conceptual thinking behind an object is important, but you can also appreciate the craftsmanship of something without the magnifying glass of contemporary art: it doesn't always have to be labeled as one or the other. It can be negative to want to put everything in different categories,” says Teresa. She therefore applies herself to creating everyday objects, on the fringes of her artistic practice. This allows her on the one hand to test her glazes and on the other hand to bring a little joy to people while thinking about how objects relate to the body. "Art can become complex when you start interpreting it, which is important and that dialogue has its place. But as much as I value contemporary art, I also think it has the tendency to be elitist at times. I think art can be for everyone and I value accessibility. Utilitarian works are significant as is contemporary art and I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.”
Images from the exhibition Cheville, at galerie atelier b.
The pandemic as an indicator of precariousness
The health measures adopted since last March have upset the fragile balance that the cultural community had built up, here and elsewhere.
"I've always worked in restaurants," Sophia confides. "Since March, I have been forced to think more proactively about the business side of my practice and whether I want to start concentrating more on selling to support myself instead of concentrating purely on the exhibition side."
"I actually started taking a business class online", Teresa continues. "Even if you don't have your own line of products or identify as an entrepreneur, you still need to know the basics of marketing and business, because being an artist is so much more than just making art. You have to be your own manager. We spend about a third of our time writing emails and dealing with paperwork, a third of our time making art, and a third of our time doing post-production things like documentation and planning for the next thing. "
We do not know what the future is made of, since all our certainties took the edge last March. But three observations emerge from my meeting with Teresa and Sophia:
They will continue their work and collaboration to create a common corpus, focused on exchange and discussion.
Distancing or not, we need to have discussions and to come together in communities of heart and mind, now more than ever .
Artists, even if you sometimes feel that your work is futile in relation to the state of the world, you are essential. Now as always. As Teresa says so well: "Art is this incredible thing that connects us and refocuses us on our humanity: it's precisely what we need right now."
Written with the collaboration of Maryse Boyce.
All photos are by Jean-Michael Seminaro.