York English Professor Priscila Uppal (BA Hons. ’97, PhD ’04) has a thing for dreams, sometimes dreaming fragments of poems. She adores the odd dialogue that can only happen in that surreal state of being. So when artist Daniel Ehrenworth, a former fine arts cultural studies student at York, asked her to collaborate with him for his latest photography and mixed media installation – Curse.Sleep. (That’s the Thing About Trouble) – Uppal couldn’t resist.
The opening reception for the exhibition, which both Ehrenworth and Uppal will attend, will take place Thursday, Sept. 9, from 6 to 9pm at One 800 Gallery, 800 Dundas St. W., Toronto.
Right: A photograph from Daniel Ehrenworth’s newest exhibit
Uppal has collaborated with Ehrenworth twice before, composing full lyrical poems, interpretations of his photographs, for his exhibitions Holocaust Dream in 2003, which was made into a book, and The Sea of Ending Pt. 1 in 2005. But this time was different. The idea for Curse.Sleep. (That’s the Thing About Trouble) was to “create poetic subtext” or “short, poetic expressions” of the photographs, says Uppal.
They both drew inspiration from the 1958 hit song Sleep Walk by Santo & Johnny. The exhibition also features three audio deconstructions by Ehrenworth of a little-known recording of Sleep Walk by Canadian-born singer Betsy Brye, which features the original lyrics that Santo & Johnny wrote for the song but never recorded.
“This time I see my contribution more as a poetic conversation. We are both very interested in dream landscapes and the space and emotions we inhabit when we dream,” says Uppal. The photos embrace a range of human experience while exploring dream-states, trauma, sexuality and texture.
Left: Part of the Curse.Sleep. (That’s the Thing About Trouble) exhibit featuring the photographs of Daniel Ehrenworth and the poetry of Priscila Uppal
When Uppal first saw Ehrenworth’s photos for his new show, she immediately felt that a brief poetic missive – a line, maybe expressed by the subject of the photo, or something someone in a dream might utter – would be the perfect fit, rather than a full poem. “They’re almost like inner confessions,” she says.
Ehrenworth’s and Uppal’s artistic visions clicked. “When it works it’s so exciting,” says Uppal. For this project, she was able to enter Ehrenworth’s dream space and he was able to enter hers. “Gallery goers can enter their collective dream.” The gallery space is meant to imitate a sleepwalking state.
Uppal describes Ehrenworth’s photos as dark, surreal, stark and haunting. People in the photos take on a sort of mythical, hazy appearance. They blend, at times, into the natural landscape around them. Sort of like a dream.
Her poetry will be written on the wall in charcoal next to or below each photograph. Things like: “Anything from the past bites us like insects”, “Where did you misplace your heart?”, “Shake off memories like snowflakes”, “When you’ve forgotten your phone number, the gods will call” or “I’m headed for a fictional horizon.”
Right: A Daniel Ehrenworth photo on exhibit as part of his latest mixed media installation in collaboration with Priscila Uppal
Ehrenworth is a commercial photographer and a photo-based artist, who has exhibited his work at galleries across the country, including Gallery 44 (Toronto), The MacLaren Art Centre (Barrie), The New Gallery (Calgary) and the Khyber Gallery (Halifax).
Uppal is a Toronto poet and fiction writer. Among her publications are seven collections of poetry, most recently, Ontological Necessities (Exile Editions, 2006), which was shortlisted for the $50,000 Griffin Poetry Prize, Traumatology (Exile Editions, 2010) and Successful Tragedies: Poems 1998-2010 (Bloodaxe Books, 2010). She also has several critically acclaimed novels, including The Divine Economy of Salvation (Doubleday Canada, 2002) and To Whom It May Concern (Doubleday Canada, 2009), as well as the study We Are What We Mourn: The Contemporary English-Canadian Elegy (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009). She is on the Board of Directors at the Toronto Arts Council and was poet-in-residence for Canadian Athletes Now during the 2010 Vancouver Olympic and Paralympic games. Time Out London recently dubbed her “Canada’s coolest poet.”
Curse.Sleep. (That’s the Thing About Trouble) will run from Thursday, Sept. 9, to Sunday, Oct. 3.
For more information and gallery hours, visit the One 800 Gallery Web site.
By Sandra McLean, YFile writer