“It’s about the fragility of what we think is important, especially when the objects break, or are broken. And in the digital era, there’s still a strong desire for the tactile.” Heather Nicol
Heather Nicol's MFA thesis exhibition, Cordial, held at the OCAD University Student Gallery during Grad Ex reflected on themes of social histories, familiar objects and domestic traditions.
A culmination of two years of study in the Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design (IAMD), Cordial rethinks familiar objects and their social relationship to people. A collection of glass stemware filled with colourful liquids toasts togetherness, collaboration and family. Wallpaper samples on plywood panels adorned with unique artifacts and heirlooms — everything from butterflies and old lace to china cups and picture frames — celebrate nostalgia and traditions, while at the same time positioning the objects on display as feminist reclaimations.
During her formal thesis defense on May 2, Nicol described her established career as an artist and curator, the 22 years she spent in New York City, and the shift in both her life and artistic practice that led her back to university to study again and approach her work in a new way.
“The last ten years of my life have been intensely domestic,” Nicol said. “I moved back to Canada, I’ve been caregiving to children and other people in my life, and discovering the dozens and dozens of invisible gestures that create a home. It’s brought me closer to materials than before.”
Nicol, who experienced the Mad Men style domesticity of the 60s as a child, and later the women’s movement in the 70s as a teenager, observed there’s a sense of ambivalence and fragility in domestic objects. In the slow, labour intensive and passionate process of creating the works in Cordial, she realized this ambivalence remains, even though our gender roles have changed, as has our connection to the material as we move further into the digital realm.
“We want to create a sense of home, and we use objects for their stabilizing effect,” Nicol said. “If you think of the biography of a teacup though, it may be part of a set initially, but over time it’s separated as things get lost or broken. There’s a lifecycle of things and uncertainties involved, and I wanted to play with that.”
Nicol is a President’s Scholar at OCAD U and is well-known in the Toronto arts community for her sculpture and installation using tactile materials like fabric, fur, beads, glass and paper together with theatrical devices including sound and light. In addition to her grad studies at OCAD U, she also holds BFA in Visual Art from the School of Visual Arts and an MA in Arts Education from New York University.
Her goal with her work, including Cordial, is to have a conversation with people from different generations and backgrounds. Her work examines the patterns in our lives, and the social relationship of objects to people.
View Cordial at the OCAD U Student Gallery
52 McCaul Street, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. through May 6