Timber and ceramics
Commissioned by Nuit Blanche, Toronto and Clint Roenisch Gallery, 2015
In the summer of 2015 Heather and Ivan Morison were the lead faculty at the Banff Centre, Canada, guiding a group of artists through a thematic residency on expanding art practices outside of the gallery. One project that the group worked on was a large collaborative dinner where guests were invited from across the campus – from musicians to mathematicians – this was called the Impossible Rainbow dinner. For this dinner Heather and Ivan Morison made a special ceramic dinner service of two hundred and fifty pieces, to seat fifty people, casting various meaningful objects in clay to be used as cups, bowls and plates; the punch cups were casts of a coconut brought back from a recent trip to Cambodia, the borscht bowls were casts of an old abandoned soccer ball found in the bog at the back of the artists house in England, and the sweetcorn plates came from casts of a Rockies river rock found five minutes from where they held the dinner. Something special happened the evening of that dinner, something the artists were keen to investigate.
The dinner service was crated and sent to Clint Roenisch gallery in Toronto, where they planned to expand it and use it as the starting point for a new work, The Cleaving.
The Cleaving begins down at the port of Toronto, in a yard where the city dump all their diseased or dangerous trees, over 5,000 per year. It’s commonly referred to as the tree graveyard. Over two days, Heather and Ivan Morison, with the help of a fleet of dump trucks, cleared the tree graveyard and repurposed them to form a huge carefully arranged mass of timber towering across the main lake front street in Toronto. A narrow passageway was left diagonally through the blockade, allowing a dangerous pathway through its middle. The work only existed in its finished form for twelve hours, between sundown and sunrise the next day, and in that time over one million people passed through or around the work as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche.
The very next morning the work was dismantled. The finest of those huge logs were taken, not back to the graveyard, but to Clint Roenisch Gallery, where over the next few days they are dragged into the gallery, stacked and yet again rearranged to create a brutal zigzagging dining table and seating.
The table was set with Heather and Ivan Morison’s dinner service, now specially expanded to include small digestif vessels cast from a Fanny Bay oyster shell saved from the opening of the artists first show at the same gallery six years previously, which in the interim has lived at the bottom of the gallerist’s fish tank; a set of fifty small bowls cast from the gallerist’s right ear, used for the amuse-bouche; a set of larger bowls cast from a huge west coast oyster, the largest the gallerist had every eaten, and which was now used as his soap dish; and a set of tallow candles cast from beef marrow bones. The dinner service at this point was made up of over four hundred pieces.
That night a dinner was held. The Cleaving. The great and the good of Toronto were invited. A special new cocktail was served, The Electric Sheep, in the ceramic coconut cups, there was a huge fire outside over which elements of each course were cooked - seasonal corn in its husks to start and Cointreau soaked peaches to end. Fermentation and process played a large part in the menu, as did colour - the kvas, bubbling for ten days bringing a glorious deep purple to the borst.
There were sixty dinner guests but no one to cook, serve or clear. Guests were picked out by the artists or jumped up to help. Politicians took over the grill, architects ladled the borscht, the gallerist recited poetry and collectors collected the dirty dishes. It became a generous and anarchic performance in its own right. “A night for the ages” as the architect of the Moscow opera house later wrote.
Next day the artists reflected on their memories of the night before and the ruinous remains left in the gallery. The tables were cleared, the crockery washed, and the table reset to create an installation that reflected on the night before; the remains of the enemy’s table after a Bacchurian feast - black fluid leaking from upturned bowls and beef tallow running in rivers off the tables. That night the exhibition opened, candles lit but guttering, a very different scene from the night before. The installation accompanied by a live improvised dissonant electric guitar piece, the player sat alone amongst the logs.
The Cleaving is a very special performative evening, bringing together specially made elements along with specially invited people to create something totally unique. The diners become the performers and the audience.
At its heart The Cleaving is a dinner service, currently consisting of over four hundred pieces of ceramics, cast from variously meaningful objects. Each time the dinner is held new pieces are made and the service expands. Each time pieces are sold other different pieces are made in their place; dispersing, changing and evolving all the time.