Karen Azoulay at the Toronto International Art Fair as part of Fountain of Youth Saturday (November 15), 5 pm, and at the Paul Petro and Othergallery booths Friday through Monday (November 14-17). Rating: NNNNN
Karen Azoulay walks into the al lan Gardens conservatory wildly coloured and crested with a dyed feather - the feather she promised would make her stand out from the crowd and that prompted Marilyn Manson to tell her she has pirate blood. The odd rocker made the comment at the recent Scope art fair in Los Angeles, the latest stage in her rise as a young art up-and-comer, not just in Canada but internationally.
Just three years out of school, Azoulay is being featured in the Fountain Of Youth show at the TIAF and is soon to build a greenhouse at the Toronto Zoo - "Not as palatial and large as this one," she smiles - to fill it with her signature organic installations.
"I like creating fantasy landscapes and environments that surround people," she says, strolling through the lush and humid environment of the indoor garden. Pausing to reach up to a plant with long fernlike leaves that hang down to touch her hand, she adds, "The ways these branch out gives me ideas of how to attach things. I've never made literal references to plants or flowers, but I'm always creating organic forms."
Azoulay's work is make-you-gasp stunning. She mixes everyday things like coffee filters (she says she eats a lot of pre-cut pineapples and mushrooms for the styrofoam plates) with crafty things like pompoms to create elaborate works every bit as gorgeous as the flowers and plants around us.
"Two of the visual themes of my work are garlands and confetti. In many cultures, garlands and confetti are ways of distributing love and blessings through flower cuttings. I just love that. And that's what I want to give with the work I do. It's about feelings."
She tells me a story that seems to mirror her art practice.
"There was this Victorian pastime of arranging bouquets where each flower or plant or pine cone would be imbued with a certain sentiment. People had dictionaries and they would send a message, and the person receiving it would have to decipher the flowers and arrange them to receive the sentiment. I think that's sweet."
In her arrangements, Azoulay often depicts weather scenarios where organic floral forms are fluttering down on the viewer.
"The strange thing is," she says with complete candour, "every time I've done a weather installation, that weather has happened on that day. I've done all kinds of rain, a snowstorm - it was unseasonable, but it snowed - and then a tropical rainstorm at sunset, and that was the night the hurricane came."
You can relax, though. Her installation for the fair is a garland, not a snowstorm.