Variations on Anne Kahane


Variations on Anne Kahane

A reflection on our interview with furniture designer, Nicole Coon.

Written by Grace Jackson

So often, art is preceded by the research and opinions of art historical authorities, who have prescribed how we are to feel, and what we are to think. Through our latest series of artist talks, Variations on, we hope to create an open dialogue surrounding our collection, and the Canadian art historical canon. As part of this ongoing series, we invited Toronto-based furniture designer, Nicole Coon, to the gallery to explore a piece by Anne Kahane. Through her work, Coon explores traditional furniture design practices, creating an unusual collection of highly distinctive objects. In a traditional gallery or museum, the presence of wall texts, exhibition catalogues, and audio guides serve to suggest that there is information we need to know in order to understand works of art. However, more often than not, it is through discussion and personal exploration that we can achieve the most meaningful interpretation of a work of art. Variations on seeks to engage with our collection from a unique vantage point, providing viewers with a new way to explore the work. Coon is thoughtful and knowledgeable when it comes to her materials, so we invited her to the gallery to speak with our director about the woodwork sculptures of Anne Kahane.

Horizontal Figure (1963), Anne Kahane

Horizontal Figure (1963), Anne Kahane

In our collection, we host a number of unique artworks from around the world. One of our most unassuming, yet intriguing works is the piece Horizontal Figure, by Anne Kahane. Kahane uses tool marking techniques to create a reclining human figure with an uneven surface that plays with light. The sculpture is small, but its reflective surface attracts the eye making it hard to miss against our grey concrete walls. As she explains in an interview:

“Wood suits me: I like the challenges of its restrictions. […] Unpolished wood has a quality of breathing and scintillating, of catching every flicker, like a drawing.” (CCCA)

Though she uses one uniform block of wood to create Horizontal Figure, she has worked with her material to allow it to engage with any environment. Kahane was always interested in how an artwork could exist once she was no longer there to describe it. Even when the sculpture is sitting still, it is dynamic, changing as we alter our perspective and move around the room.

anne kahane detail slide.jpg

Through our discussions, I came to appreciate a similar intention in Coon’s work. With each object, Coon has an awareness of how it will act and exist in its future home. The inspiration for her work, Cabinet of one colour, comes from a number of sources including, Yves Klein’s monochromatic paintings, Olafur Eliasson’s Room for One Colour and Goethe’s description of a potent and primary blue:

Cabinet for one colour (2018), Nicole Coon.

Cabinet for one colour (2018), Nicole Coon.

“This colour has a peculiar and almost indescribable effect on the eye. As a hue, it is powerful - but it is the negative side, and in its highest purity is a stimulating negation. Its appearance then is a kind of contradiction between excitement and repose.” (Goethe)

Goethe describes blue as a somewhat mystifying colour, that holds contradictory themes within its aura. The colour can create a sense of calm, while also maintaining an ability to engage us and stimulate thought. Coon took this idea and applied it to her cabinet, explaining:

“I liked the idea that it could be a colour that was both visually exciting and kind of tranquil in the space.” (Nicole Coon)

The Cabinet maintains a simplistic form, and by using only one colour, Coon creates something that could easily fit within any home. At the same time, however, she has created an object that will not sit idle within a space. The translucent blue glass changes the objects within, rendering them all shades of the same colour. As well, the colour of the cabinet is playful and pleasant, creating dimension within any interior space. Coon’s objects maintain their ability to engage with their environment, even when she is no longer there.

These artists have imbued their pieces with a life that persists in any context, both in terms of their physical properties, as well as the themes they explore. Through our discussions, Coon mentioned her interpretation of the work, explaining how it looked like the figure is in a state of discomfort. She outlined how the position seemed unnatural; the feet were missing, and the hands had grown into the legs. I was surprised by this interpretation primarily because it was so different from my own. For me, the sculpture appears more as a sort of stretch or recline and this sense of discomfort was wholly absent. Through our discussions, however, both of our perspectives changed and influenced each other.

Orgasmic Man (1969),    Peter Hujar.

Orgasmic Man (1969), Peter Hujar.

Together we discussed physical expressions of pain, comfort, and joy and I was reminded of a piece by Peter Hujar titled Orgasmic Man. The photograph is of a man who appears to be in extreme pain, but the photo was in fact taken while he was experiencing an orgasm. As an unknowing viewer, I was initially inclined to believe that this is a natural expression of discomfort. But upon further reading, I learned that the image was indeed one of extreme pleasure. Though we do not know Kahane’s original intention with this particular work, we can understand through our disparate interpretations, that the meaning could be similar to that of Hujar’s Orgasmic Man. Together, Nicole and I came to an understanding that perhaps Kahane was trying to express some sense of human vulnerability.

Our intention with this series is to recognize subjectivity when it comes to exploring art. For that reason, our difference in initial opinion was the most inspiring aspect of this process. The similarities and contrasts that arose through our exploration of Kahane's sculpture provoked discussions and encouraged us to reevaluate what we had surmised initially. Without prescribing an intended understanding of the works, Kahane and Coon leave space for viewers to explore on their own. There is room for us to create conversations such as this one, and invite new perspectives in to expand our general understanding of the work. We are given autonomy and asked to explore for ourselves, ignoring prescribed definitions and context, instead, favouring our emotional and physical response. The initial differences in our opinions, led to an exploration of our personal perspective, eventually pushing us to come to a new understanding of what Kahane might have meant. In the sense that we look to art to expand our world view, gain empathy and learn about the people around us, it is important to remember that a description of an artwork posted to a wall by an authoritative figure, is not the only possible description. Art can empower us to think for ourselves; however, this is something that is often easily forgotten.

For more information on Nicole’s work visit her website.