Room 1

Gabi Dao

geetha thurairajah





Some time in the recent past, we flew on planes. From the past into the future, from the here into the there. We once hugged and touched everything; we ate with our hands; we sang loudly and laughed with our mouths cranked all the way open. We watched movies full of contagions that were not our contagions. We never thought a thing about bats, or snakes, or cats. We quit, but were not laid off; we felt differently towards money. We tried not to worry about statues or cops in the city.

But all this was before what happened next. Before backwards-looking became more or less counterproductive, flawed. What does it mean to make art in this moment? What beliefs do we honour or exploit for our survival?

Gabi describes, in conversation, being out of work at the height of the pandemic and scouring barren grocery store shelves for materials that might be useful for sculptures. No toilet paper or all-purpose flour to be found—only flypaper, limp fruit, and heaps and heaps of tapioca starch. From the abundance of tapioca starch she makes a waxy, fruit-leather “quitting work” coat embedded with decaying dandelions and dirt; elsewhere, makeshift shrines are resurrected from unspooling flypaper, incense, and fake fruit, the latter cast out of a fleshy, glycerine-and-makeup concoction typically used in the movie industry to create fake wounds. Counteracting the popular conception of the bat as a carrier of disease, these shrines to the bat gods instead seek to reclaim the creature as a symbol of immunity and ecological interconnection. 

geetha’s paintings, meanwhile, turn a shrewd eye to the belief systems that continue to underpin our changing definitions of individual and world. Set in jewel-toned golds, blues, and mauves, the stars of these paintings include enigmatic laughing Buddhas, phallic zoomed-in Hieronymus Bosch blooms, kitsch garden-décor-genre suns and moons, and regal aliens traversing metaphysical archways. In this way, the artist’s use of a wild array of symbols (and imposter symbols) in uncanny palettes provokes disturbing new reorderings of the universe. In some of these reorderings, her paintings seem to suggest, irony might even trade as highly as any genuine struggle to understand.

soothsay is an exhibition about what happens when the recent past collides with these new spiritual and material conditions. Supposing that something new, and newly strange, is possible after all, working without and against a readymade history.

- Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross


Gabi Dao is an artist and former co-organizer at Duplex, a DIY project space + studio collective based on the unceded territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. Her practice insists on counter-memory, intimacy, hyphenation, multiple truths and blurred temporalities. Often this looks-sounds-feels like sculpture, installation, moving image and sound and begins with interests in “patchwork” conceptions of time and materiality, tracing histories of the everyday through themes of globalization, consumption, belief and belonging. Her work has been included in exhibitions in Ontario at The National Gallery of Canada and Pleasure Dome, in British Colombia at Unit 17, The Vancouver Art Gallery, Artspeak, and Burnaby Art Gallery, in Manitoba at Blinkers, as well the Kamias Triennial in the Philippines, IFFR in The Netherlands and Le Studio in Austria.

geetha thurairajah is from Waterloo (ON. She lives and works in Brooklyn (NY). Her practice relies on allegory gleaned from art history, personal narrative and observations of modern life to recreate spaces that defy hierarchies of genre. thurairajah studied at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Wilfrid Laurier University. In 2018, she received an Honourable Mention at the RBC Painting Competition. Recent exhibitions include Suspended Disbelief, Arsenal Contemporary Art (Toronto) (2021); Soothsay, Unit 17, Vancouver (2020); Migration is more momentous than ancient invasions, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery; No body to talk to, Invisible Exports, New York; Downward Flower, Fourteen30, Portland (all 2019); An Assembly of Shapes, Oakville Galleries (2018); Mingling with flowers panthers’ eyes, The New Gallery, Calgary; Here’s Looking at You, Loyal Gallery, Stockholm (both 2017) and Goodbye here no matter where, 8eleven, Toronto (2016). 

The artists would like to thank Unit 17, Christian Vistan, Jacquie Ross, Eric Lowe and the Canada Council for the Arts.