Brett Despotovich: ‘CHORDATA’

Brett Despotovich was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1982. He studied briefly at the Ontario College of Art and Design, leaving in 2005 to dedicate himself to working on FLicKeR, a multi-award winning feature-length documentary. He lives and works in Toronto.
Despotovich’s work is in private collections in Canada, the US and Europe, notably the Sobey Collection. His recent solo exhibition in September 2014 was reviewed in Magenta Magazine. In addition to his artistic production, Despotovich has been involved in facilitating the presentation of other artists, as a member of the founding committee for XPACE, working as a docent for the Canadian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2013, 2015), as Head of Gallery Operations and Visitor Services at MOCCA, to operating the alternative gallery Afterhours Projects.
Despotovich’s most recent work, ‘chordata’, is an exhibition of new drawings on mirror Mylar, which investigate resonance and interference, harmony and discord.


detail of transmission (2016)

Q: In your artist statement, you describe the ‘chordata’ series as an investigation into harmony and discord. How did these conflicting forces inspire your work, and what kind of findings did you hope to convey in your pieces?

A: I don’t regard harmony and discord necessarily as being in conflict with each other, they’re just different moments within a story. Chaotic periods lead to the harmonious, and these in their time will return to the chaos. That chaos is incredibly fertile and necessary. The imagery of each drawing informs the whole show, and it’s something that I’m still digesting.

chordata is simply the diagram of a Pythagorean major scale turned to a vertical orientation.

scale is a 12th c. zoomorphic diagram explaining a musical note relationship, but nested within the image of an animal.

polyhedræ is from a drawing of Astronomer Johannes Kepler’s early, and failed, attempt to rationalize the movement of the five planets known in his time. He later went on to bring the studies of astronomy and physics together, and formulate an understanding of planetary motion that we still use today.

slit I and slit II are two different results from the Double Slit Test, an experiment used to investigate the movement of light and matter as being both waves and particles.

transmission is an image most well known as the cover art for Joy Division’s album Unknown Pleasures. It depicts the first 80 successive pulses of the first pulsar observed, CP1919.

The work presents a lot of duality through the pairing of historical with more contemporary representations. I’m still learning from what I’ve chosen, and I’d hope that the viewers take an interest in the content as well.

Q: Mythology is obviously an influence in your work. What is it about these works from the past that fascinate you? How does your nod to mythology connect to the other themes you are investigating in the series?

A: Several years ago I shifted my focus from trying to keep up to the minute with the contemporary art world in favour of following my own course of study, to which mythology played a huge part. The art I’m interested in usually needs to come with an understanding of the context from which it came, and I find it difficult to gain that from behind a screen. It made sense to investigate the place that I feel artistic practice comes from, with artists being those within a culture who are sensitive to its subtleties and changes. Artists are our myth makers.


scale (2016) ; Photograph by Artur Augustynowicz

Q: Chordate is defined as an animal phylum in which there are four main shared traits, including the formation of a notochord, or spine. How does the term “chordata” resonate, and even elaborate, upon the theme of this body of work?

A: The title is a bit of a bad pun. ‘chordata’ is part ‘chord data’, as in the analytical breakdown of music, as evidenced within some of the work very directly, but I’m also referring to our animal. I speak to this directly with the two music drawings in the show, chordata and scale. The Pythagorean major scale of the piece chordata has been flipped to a vertical orientation to not only make the central line its core, but also to match the central notation element of scale.
The opportunity to exhibit was offered to me around the same time as two other projects, so there’s a narrative between them. In January I curated a five day long music festival called CHANNEL, which was hosted by Katzman Contemporary, and I’ll open another solo exhibition of new work at The Black Cat later this month. Just before that I’m performing as a part of an experimental music series called Casual Drones. I’ve considered these projects within the ADSR parameter (Attack / Decay / Sustain / Release). CHANNEL was the Attack, ‘chordata’ is the Sustain, ‘disseminate’ (at The Black Cat, Feb 18-24) is the Decay, with Casual Drones being the bridge between the two solo exhibitions. Release is next, I guess.

 Q: The works in this series are created using mirror Mylar, a medium that is not especially forgiving. Can you speak a bit about the delicate and unique process in creating these pieces?

A: Mirror Mylar is absolutely unforgiving of mistakes! Any surface scuff, dimple, or missed mark is impossible to correct, and that’s a big part of what I love about the language of the work. Each of the six drawings in ‘chordata’ is the first attempt at execution, which was surprising to me. I can plan how to make the things as much as I’d like, but it isn’t until marks start being made that I know how it will work. If there is a slip, it’s either incorporated into the piece successfully, or it needs to be restarted. These six drawings were purposefully made larger than I’ve worked before in order to test working limitations, and hopefully reap the benefits of scale. Much of the work was made using full body movement, not just hand and arm.

 Q: Your other exhibitions, ‘Black is the Ultimate’ and ‘(the fall)’, also featured works in mirror Mylar or foil. What is it about using these reflective materials that you connect with?

A: Honestly, I first picked up a sheet of mirror Mylar as a joke when I worked at an art supply store. It was one of the most ridiculous, garish products they carried, but impulse buys are easier when you have an employee discount. One day in 2012 I must have found the sheet when cleaning my studio and thought of how I could make use of it. I simply enjoyed how seductive the viewing experience is, and with some luck the viewer pays some attention to what the image distorting their reflection actually is! With those two previous exhibitions the mylar was paired with work on cinefoil, which is a theatre lighting black-out material. Both use aluminum for their distinctive qualities, but the mylar is meant to be as reflective as possible whereas the cinefoil is the complete opposite. The mylar drawings need to be started with a very clear intention and the cinefoil work allows me to draw something from a void, properties that also lend themselves to the conceptual interest I attempt to convey.


slit I (2016)

Q: How does ‘chordata’ fit within the context of your other two bodies of work – do you feel that it continues a conversation or investigation that you previously began?

A: There is a thread that continues through these exhibitions, but it’s more indicative of a personal interest or study. This includes my curatorial efforts as well, specifically ‘The Fire Doesn’t Burn Itself’ (Afterhours Projects, December 2014) and CHANNEL (Katzman Contemporary, January 2016). ‘(the fall)’ was very much a dedication, and through its production cemented the interest in thinking in scientific or mythological terms to understand the other. ‘BLACK IS THE ULTIMATE’ was a split exhibition with Samuel
de Lange dealing with artistic production and alchemical practice – withdrawing substance or meaning from a void. The Fire Doesn’t Burn Itself was a huge group show, with 8.5” x 11” works on paper by almost 50 artists. The idea was that it opened at noon, closed at midnight, and whatever hadn’t sold by then was burned. It was a huge success! CHANNEL was used as an opportunity to really get music back into galleries. “Channel” is a term that’s both receptive and reactive, and over the five nights performers were backed with projected video that they provided the live soundtrack for. Each night was themed based on a hierarchy of melodrama, and it was a totally different installation for each event. The music interest of CHANNEL flows directly into ‘chordata’ and my Casual Drones performance. ‘disseminate’ will work with the entropy of the record and communication of information.

Q: You have been involved in the Toronto art scene for many years, working at the MoCCA and other galleries, and creating your own projects in the community. What do you see for the future of contemporary Canadian art?

A: I think there’s a lot of incredible potential in Canadian artists, but it’s not something that will come from staying home. This might sound dismissive, but too many are caught up in the politics of their career before it’s even begun. BFAs and MFAs, most residencies, and almost all teaching appointments are filled with distractions away from their work, but I’ve seen a lot of hope in the increasing reaction to that formula.

 Q: Who are currently some of your favourite artists? 

A: Many, but for the sake of brevity, Louise Bourgeois and Matthew Barney have made the greatest impression on me. You can discern a narrative through their careers, and the work contains a lexicon of their interests and influences. Marguerite Humeau is a great young artist I met at her incredible exhibition ‘Echoes’ at DUVE, Berlin in spring 2015. Her 2015 work “Beaufort 9: Requiem for Harley Warren (“Screams from Hell”)” was presented at the 2015 Nuit Blanche. I’ve also enjoyed Camille Henrot’s work, first seeing her video ‘Grosse Fatigue’ at the 2013 Venice Biennale, and then at MOCCA, MoMA, and MACM.


Brett Despotovich’s exhibition ‘chordata’ opened on February 4th at Project Gallery (1109 Queen St. E) and will be on display Wed-Sun 12-5pm until February 21st.