AGYU artist-in-residence plays with perceptions and connections

Space, perceptions, connections, meaning and distance is what artist-in-residence at the Art Gallery of York University (AGYU) , Rodrigo Matheus, is playing with in creating a concept for the gallery’s three vitrines.

“I’m working with a sense of space that is not only a vitrine that shows things, but of a vitrine that is a space about what is not going on,” says Matheus, whose work often incorporates faux corporate logos, electronics, furniture and security systems. It is his way of shining a light on the road ahead with increasing consumer consumption, fear, marketing and corporate control.

Right: Rodrigo Matheus

This Brazilian artist is what AGYU curator Emelie Chhangur calls up and coming. “I think he’ll be really well-known one day.” Matheus has been commissioned by the AGYU to create site-specific work for the vitrines, which are along the north side of the colonnade in the Accolade East Building at York, Keele campus. “He plays a lot with what you can do with things. He creates highly-refined things that feign other things; that don’t look quite right.”

Matheus is still getting adjusted to York having only arrived on July 8 but he has until Aug. 11 to finish his work, which will open on Sept. 17 in conjunction with the fall exhibition, titled no, it is opposition, by Carla Zaccagnini – another Brazilian artist. In fact it was Zaccagnini who suggested Matheus for the vitrines.

“So there really is a connection between the vitrines and the rest of the exhibit,” says Matheus. Usually, that is not the case, but this time the vitrines are an extension of the regular exhibit. It is part of creating a sense of inversion that extends beyond the work itself and touches on the people and activities behind the scenes as well. The vitrines will take a playful look at what real and what is not.

“In his work Rodrigo deals with the subtleties of how things happen, the symbolic and perceptual,” says AGYU Director Philip Monk. “He also deals with connecting things that wouldn’t normally be connected.”

Left: The Rebirth of Architecture, 2005, by Rodrigo Matheus

Matheus plans to incorporate elements of downtown Toronto’s lifestyle into the space along with local elements, connecting things that are usually separate. “I think there is a connection on many levels when understanding a space; which values of the space are significant, what is real and what is symbolic?,” says Matheus.

The first vitrine will have a pair of blinds completely shut with a potted plant in front and a hand-painted sign saying ‘Country Site’ across the glass. Visitors will have no idea what is going on behind the shut blinds, how far back it goes or where it leads. In the second vitrine, the blinds will be partially closed. A disco ball will hang from the ceiling where two spot lights will shine at it, while the word ‘Spirits’ is written on the glass front.

In the third, the blinds will be fully open to a display of undergraduate trophies from one of the two vitrines in York’s Schulich School of Business, once again playing with the cross-over of meaning, inversion and reality. Matheus is still figuring out exactly what the third vitrine will encompass as well as what he’ll create in the vitrine emptied of trophies at the Schulich School of Business.

Matheus wants gallery goers to ponder the work in front of them; he doesn’t want to make it obvious. It will take time to figure out what it all means and to catch the cross over references hidden in the work.

Right: North Wing, Block B, Center 3, 2006, Engeoplan series by Rodrigo Matheus

Matheus has had solo exhibitions at the Galeria Fortes Viaça in São Paulo, the Galeria Box 4 in Rio de Janeiro and the Galeria Casa Triângulo in São Paulo, and collective exhibitions at the Diaz Contemporary Gallery in Toronto, as part of the Microwave International New Media Festival in Hong Kong and at York Quay Gallery in Toronto. This is not his first time exhibiting at the AGYU; he was part of the Images Festival there earlier this year with his video animation New World Airlines.

Chhangur thinks the original intent of the three vitrines was to advertise the gallery’s upcoming shows, but the AGYU saw things a little differently and immediately turned it into an artist’s space. “It creates a kind of narrative,” she says. “We have a new work in the vitrines every time we open a new exhibition.”

Commissioning artists for the vitrines is the gallery’s way of collecting young artists’ contemporary work that the AGYU otherwise wouldn’t have the funds for doing. It’s also a space where artists can play with a theme from one vitrine to the next.

“This is one of the most democratic places on campus,” says Chhangur. “Sometimes when people see them their first impression is to think they’re ‘weird’, but we get repeat visitors and the work slowly reveals itself to them.”

The first vitrine project was opened in January 2006. Matheus is only the second international artist commissioned for the vitrines.

For more information, visit the AGYU Web site or contact curator Emelie Chhangur at

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer.