KAI CHAN at the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre), to May 1. 416-599-5321. $15, srs $10, stu $6; pwyc Wednesday 5-8 pm. See listing. Rating: NNNN
In the quiet space of the Textile Museum, Toronto-based artist Kai Chan gently, elegantly makes magic out of the hang of a trailing thread or the curve of a twig.
Using humble materials like string, sticks, toothpicks and buttons that he says he learned to value during his childhood in China, Chan makes freestanding sculptures and wall works that explore an ethereal East-meets-West aesthetic.
Earlier works have a more massive quality, including Aurora, a long pole hung with billowing and knotted red cotton yarn, and Playing Mountains, Playing Marriage, two free-standing columnar bundles of small sticks entwined with thread, which brings to mind Meoto Iwa, the "married" rocks in Futami, Japan.
Themes of moons and mountains come up repeatedly in delicate, graceful sculptures. Family Moon, a collection of buttons nailed to the wall, charms with its collection of sewer's tiny treasures. In 3-D works like Moon In Water, a shallow rectangle made of twigs hung with gesso discs, and Mountains And Waters, a wall-mounted sculpture of curving sticks, shadows cast on the wall add a second layer of linear play.
Beautiful shadows are also an integral part of wall works that employ toothpicks as marks: Yellowing Yellow, a horizontal panel that intensifies on one side, and Rainbow Legs, a pair of Pride-style dancing pants made of multicoloured toothpicks.
In my favourite, Shangri-La, a landscape of Chinese-scroll-like mountain peaks is drawn with lines of dried grass blades inserted into tiny glass seed beads. With the most minuscule and ephemeral of elements, Chan evokes the planet's most massive and solid forms, making sly comments on art and illusion and Western fantasies of Asia.
Chan also has shows at the Varley Gallery and the David Kaye Gallery. See Listings.