Selected Group Exhibitions
Grants & Awards
Bibliography & Press
1. Stephanie Anne D’Amico
Knocking our Socks Off: Kim Stanford’s Dirty
Gallery 1313 is about to get dirty. Dirty socks, that is.
Dirty is the debut solo exhibition by Toronto-based artist, Kim Stanford. With the support of the Toronto Arts Council, Stanford has filled Queen West’s Gallery 1313 with scores of monochromatic sock sculptures originally developed during an artist residency at the Toronto School of Art. Marshalled along the floor, this army of phallic foot garments derives from Stanford’s entry into motherhood and somewhat reluctant responsibility to clean up, straighten out, and pick up after her family. “I always wanted to be a mother, and my family is an immensely rewarding part of my life,” Stanford explains, “but negotiating a domestic subjectivity did not come easily to me.” Raised in a radical feminist household, Stanford found domestic life to be a rude awakening; most of all, she despised the daily routine of picking up others’ dirty socks, a chore she described as “a slap in the face to my equality.”
As the psychic weight around discarded socks came to a head, Stanford endeavoured to catalogue, journal, and even obsessively sketch out her frustrations. None of these modes, however, proved large or lively enough to do justice to her concept. Journals, catalogues, and sketchbooks all shared an enclosed, domestic nature, as well as a removed politeness that did not suit the brazen quality of the work she aimed to create. Her solution was to adopt socks as both the subject and the medium of her work. By reclaiming the sock as artist’s material, Stanford transforms an object of oppression and confinement into a medium for creative expression. The conflation of subject matter and object matter also gives added dimension to Dirty, pushing the work beyond a simple conversation about housework.
Posting on community threads and forums, Stanford accrued nearly 1000 socks and, in the process, grabbed the attention of national media outlets including the CBC. To create the sculptures, she uses balloons as moulds and an industrial glue to harden the socks into phallic shapes with suggestions of nipples and vulvae. The compound gendering of the socks complicates otherwise banal readings of the work as a second-wave feminist critique, bemoaning the patriarchal values that historically exempted men from a variety of domestic responsibilities. Dirty is not a complaint or a call to action, and Stanford is not concerned whether her installation will inspire visitors to be more conscientious about picking up their dirty socks. On the contrary, her background in critical theory and experimental treatments for youth drug users has brought her attention to the power that seemingly small daily rituals have in shaping human subjectivity. Dirty socks are the perfect vehicle to illustrate how meaning is cached in the everyday. They remind us that the accretion of ordinary moments informs our identity just as much if not more than one-time extraordinary circumstances.
There are, of course, certain realities about motherhood that also play a part in Dirty, and more generally in Stanford’s recent practice. The artist envisions motherhood as a gradual exhaustion of resources, both material and psychological. Reflecting on childbirth, nursing, and childrearing in general, Stanford remarks: “I was struck by the loss of my body and how my relationship to my body changed when I had children. There was a real animality about the whole thing. I realised that no matter how much you do, or give, it will never be enough.” Throughout her practice, Stanford unravels idyllic myths about motherhood, but not out of disdain for care-giving. Instead, she extracts the complexity and difficulties inherent in domestic life to eschew reductive portrayals of mothering, housekeeping, and giving.
Working with themes of exhaustion, depletion, and fertility, Stanford has developed an installation-based practice that has at times been labour intensive and focused on household materials. In 2012, she exhibited a large-scale installation of painfully handcrafted steel wool sculptures. While studying at the TSA, she documented life with an infant, indexically photographing herself each time she was awoken in the night. In the end, she arrived at installation as a natural field, perhaps because of its proximity to homemaking. Appropriately, Dirty also includes a window display of Stanford’s large-scale intertwined sock sculptures. Sutured together to resemble a hybrid of brightly-coloured spilled intestines and cured sausages, this piece is at once an homage to the organic forms of Eva Hesse and a visual cue evoking digestion, eating, the kitchen and, ultimately, the home.
Nevertheless, Stanford insists that Dirty is not exclusively about being a wife and a mother. Sure, the prominence of laundry, housekeeping, and textiles as a traditionally feminine medium seems to hurtle any interpretation of Dirty back into the domestic sphere. But to lock this work in the home is to ignore Stanford’s highly unconventional use of textiles and of multiples. Each multiple is in fact an original, one of hundreds of socks donated to the project with its own unique history and journey. The multiples reflect the many times the artist has picked up socks; just as there is a uniformity in this daily ritual there is also a uniqueness to each individual event. When viewed together, all of these small moments blend into a single grey, black, and taupe knit picture. “It’s really not about housework,” says Stanford, “Dirty is a reflection on human subjectivity, and on the way in which insignificant moments multiply and magnify until they have a real role in shaping our relation to ourselves and our world.”
Stephanie Anne D’Amico was appointed Director of Toronto’s loop Gallery in 2011. She holds a BFA from York University and an MA in Contemporary Art History from Concordia University. While in Montreal, she joined the board of directors for the artist residency program and exhibition venue, Studio Béluga. She has co-curated exhibitions in Toronto and Montreal and has published essays with the Canadian Heritage Information Network, The McIntosh Gallery Curatorial Study Centre, and Art Mûr Gallery.
2. Tara Bursey
Frida Kahlo makes explicit the openness, fragility and leakiness of the body-self, as not just object and subject, but also as always potentially ‘abject.’ Reading this sentence in an art history text, I am reminded of my break from childhood to adulthood. What things change between these periods that could serves as signposts, you ask?
I remember when I was about twenty-one, living in my second apartment; I learned I wasn’t afraid of “gross” anymore. I remember doing the dishes, determined to wash each plate and mug until it was perfectly spotless. I relished in the steamy scent of green detergent wafting in my nostrils. By the time I finished this chore and the chortle of the last trace of grimy water circled the drain, there would be chunks of tomato and bloated grains of rice gathered at the bottom of the sink. Sometimes I would try to jam it all down the drain with my thumb. Other times I would scoop up the slimy detritus with my hand and throw it in the garbage under the sink unfazed. The bottom line is it didn’t bother me like it might have a year or two earlier, when I would have just let the dishes slide for another day.
When I was a child, I was afraid of everything gross. The country was gross. The way dragonflies skittered across the surface of a lake did not fill me with a wide-eyed sense of wonder, but rather with tiny jabs of fear that bordered on disgust. The mosquito avenged the contempt I had for nature. Their bites would swell to the size of fried eggs on my young, fleshy body, resembling breasts I did not yet have.
Gross is never in style for teenage girls, and for a while it wasn’t for me either. But at one point, I realized that gross could be a weapon. I put egg white and Kool-Aid in my hair; put black tar around my eyes to look like a cross between a movie monster and a mocking caricature of femininity.
Kool-aid, egg white and milk, socks and diapers and drain detritus, breasts and flesh and intestines are the stuff of Kim Stanford’s material explorations. In this installation, socks become beautiful yet absurd sausage links adorned with spun gold and lime green moss. Low-budget movie monsters meet Cookie Monsters, drudgery meets celebration and confrontation at the corner of uncertainty and unease. Hanging out with Kim in her studio is like hanging out with your coolest girlfriend– a grown-up who never lost the spunk of that girl in the back row of class who dyed her hair with Kool-aid. But Kim is a certified grown-up– a wife and a mother at that. While Kim insists that motherhood doesn’t make gross any less gross, I feel like her objects laugh in the face of gross. Her work is like the space between childhood and adulthood; her revelry in the spaces between gross, playful and mundane remind us what it means to be gloriously (and imperfectly) alive.
Emerging artist Kim Stanford works with common, often domestic objects (such as steel wool, socks, and tape) to construct absurd and beautifully abject installations and sculptural assemblages. Her tedious process echoes the over and over drudgery of chore work, and investigates how a monumental repetition of tiny mundane moments informs relations with self and others. How she makes an work of art aligns with why she makes it: to open a conversation about the universal dialectic between the taken-for-granted and a search for meaning.
Tara Bursey is an interdisciplinary artist and curator. She has studied at Toronto School of Art and Maryland Institute College of Art, and recently graduated from OCAD University’s Criticism and Curatorial Practice program.