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RBC Work Room Art Gallery of Alberta March 10 - July 1, 2018

Metamorphosis Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed Into different bodies. I summon the supernatural beings Who first contrived The transmogrifications In the stuff of life. You did it for your own amusement. Descend again, be pleased to reanimate This revival of those marvels. Ovid, Creation… from the Metamorphoses, c. 44 BCE1 For more than two millennia, either directly or indirectly, visual artists, poets, musicians and playwrights have been provoked to creativity by Ovid’s vivid tales of metamorphosis. Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, James Joyce, T.S Eliot; Botticelli, Andrea Mantegna, Velasquez, Auguste Rodin, Jean Arp, Pablo Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Anish Kapoor—so many historic and contemporary figures in the arts have looked to Ovid for imagery, for psychological colour, for cadence, or for emotional tone. Metamorphosis should prove to be an acutely apt metaphor for the title of the current RBC Work Room project of emergent works by Gloria Mok. The artist, who was born in Hong Kong, spent a significant portion of her childhood in Taiwan. After peripatetic undergraduate studies, spanning the United States and Canada, Mok trained in medicine at the University of Alberta. She finished her medical degree in 1974. Although Mok studied both piano and Chinese painting in her youth, a more formalized approach to the visual arts came later. Mok considers herself to have been extremely fortunate in that she was accepted as a special student in Fine Arts classes at the University of Alberta. Due to the responsibilities of her medical practice, Mok’s availability for the requisite studio attendance in painting classes was limited, but the mature art student found a way to do both: to accommodate her professional responsibilities and to respect the constraints of the course requirements. 3

GM: I believe that if you look back at the child, that you will always find the roots of what—or how—that child will later become. …When I was a child, I was always trying to organize my environment, to establish order—to get things done. There is a certain kind of natural discipline that attends those who, like Gloria Mok, have both the desire and the ability to excel at their chosen practices. As a result of this natural discipline, an easy, alert optimism—a “can do” attitude—is evident in Mok’s personality, and in her demeanor. Some of the initial challenges that the artist faces in the new creative space of the AGA’s RBC Work Room are logistical. For example, the works that are generated during the exhibition will be, at base, gouaches. Gouache is, more or less, an opaque watercolour paint. So, clean water needs to be transported to the gallery studio daily. Gouache can be a messy medium, so the artist must govern overly exuberant brushwork. And, in a sense, the artist’s creative productivity is, while in residence, “on demand.” The intent of the exhibition is to showcase, in situ, an artist’s creative process from inception through to the finished works of art. The exhibition space in the gallery was intended to approximate, but not duplicate, Mok’s own studio space in downtown Edmonton. In order to work productively on site, Mok needed to make the public space her own. To that end, the artist selected and then transported some familiar and utilitarian vintage medical cabinets from her studio to the exhibition space. The rounded contours and pastel colours of the transplanted studio cabinets add personality and soft warmth to the white box, tabula rasa, that is any modern or white cube gallery space. Work tables, designed and sized by Mok to suit her needs and comfort, were also moved from the studio and installed. The lighting inside the exhibition space needed adjustment. Mok’s own studio features a tall corner of windows, and much natural light. White craft paper covering the work tables has helped to brighten the workspace, and to bounce some light back to the artist as she paints. A manifold of objects selected from Mok’s vast personal collection—aesthetically satisfying medical instruments, lyrically twisted forms from the natural world, and numerous other curiosities are displayed along a low shelf at the back wall. Randomly pinned onto a bulletin board—a de facto studio wall—are photographic images of 4



works that Mok loves from art’s long history, miscellaneous and sometimes personal snapshots, folio pages from natural history texts and medical books and images of her own work. Gouaches of works in progress, and finished works—as well as those that may later be mined by Mok for a shape, a colour, or perhaps, a line—are affixed, frameless, to the gallery walls. These objects and images serve at least two functions: they are didactic, in that they quickly alert the viewer to what interests the artist; and, they are a visual roust for Mok as she works. GM (when asked about the feasibility of interdisciplinarity): But there is so much knowledge! In both areas—there’s so much to learn—you can’t ever completely master, pull the two areas [art and science] together! But, you can certainly draw from each. As an artist/physician, Mok currently maintains a medical famiy practice in Edmonton. In recent decades, she has both sought and deployed, in her artistic avocation, an intuitive way to examine critically and to visually respond to what has often been drawn throughout modernity, as an unfortunate, albeit arbitrary, dichotomy between art and science. Mok is dedicated to revealing and sharing the beauty in each arena; bridging, if not closing, any perceived chasm. She has, with a surgical precision, dissected images from 19th century natural history texts, or medical illustrations, and recombined them in crisply edged collages of improbable worlds, to a superbly surreal effect. Collage as a technique dates to the 12th century, in Japan, but Mok’s closer forebears could be Max Ernst, Hannah Hoch or Joseph Cornell. The most recent of Mok’s collage suites is Wonderland: Nature Reconfigured, 2014 (figure 1). Dr. Mok approaches the conundrum that is at the crux of the creative with much the same degree of empirical and intellectual rigour, coupled with careful observation that must inform, also, good doctoring. 7



GM (when asked about her conception of metamorphosis in relation to the poet Ovid’s 1st century poems of transformation, Metamorphoses): Of course, I have heard about it [Ovid’s poem], but that’s about it. I chose the name Metamorphosis for my exhibition because it is a scientific term, with precise scientific meanings and processes. Metamorphosis, as a modern term, comes down to us from the ancient Greek metamorphoun, meaning “to transform, or (fig. 1) Temptation, 2014. Collage, to change shape.” If we follow the etymology 40.64 x 52.07 cm. of the word, what is often a significant Image courtesy Scott Gallery. part of the meaning is the idea that the spiritual or even the magical is at play in the transformation. The transformation may be so complete that the product of the final stage of metamorphosis bears no resemblance whatsoever to that which was transformed. The metabolic transformation of the lumbering, viscid caterpillar to a diaphanous, winged butterfly is among the most well known of metamorphoses, and one of the most metaphorical. The butterfly, for example, is a symbol of the soul, for beauty, for spiritual transformation, transcendence, or for creativity. Metamorphosis, when it occurs in nature, can be fraught with peril. At every stage of the transformation—egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly—the process and the organism are in mortal jeopardy. Metamorphosis is complex, and because of that complexity, it always exists at the edge of entropy. The butterfly, with all its connotations of transformation and creativity, is a fitting motif for this exhibition. As they enter the studio space of the gallery, visitors are provided with butterfly templates, scissors and coloured markers. They are each invited to create a butterfly, and, typically, they do not hesitate to do so. This ever10



propagating kaleidoscope inhabits two adjacent walls at the entrance to the gallery, and signals the creative activities of the studio space within. And, if the artist is working in the gallery, whenever a visitor enters, Mok calls out “Hi! I’m the artist. You can ask me anything!” With her current explorations, Mok took a brief step back from the precision cuts of her collaged work, and returned to the brush. She paints loosely with gouache on wet paper for these newer works. Mok paints very rapidly, seemingly without a conscious plan for either subject or composition. Her calligraphic marks and her brush handling bespeak the Chinese painting she studied during her youth in Asia. And as the nature of each work changes when the gouache dries, each painting, she says, will need to be reconsidered in terms of what it, or parts of it, can offer to the process. GM: These paintings are more like layers of thought or of experiences—or ideas, rather than of specific things. …You start with a point, which becomes a line, and so on—and, you never know, when you paint, or even when you draw, where you will end up!

Endnote 1 Hughes, T., (trans), Tales from Ovid. Twenty-four passages from the Metamorphoses, London, Faber and Faber Ltd, 1997, p. 3.




Gloria Mok is an Edmonton artist whose art practice focuses on science and medicine. She uses diverse media including drawing, painting, collage as well others such as x-ray and computer technology.

Melinda Pinfold, PhD is an awardwinning educator (AASUA Award for Teaching Excellence, 2007; Sessional Teaching Award, Faculty of Arts, 2000; Canadian Psychological Association Certificate of Academic Excellence for the Doctoral Thesis, 2009). A curator, researcher, and writer, Dr. Pinfold’s academic background includes Special Education/Psychology, History of Art, Design and Visual Culture, and Psychology. Her research interests explore the conjunction of the histories of art and psychology; the interpenetration of the arts and the sciences; creativity; nonverbal metaphor; the social consequences of art and design; and advertising (Art as a Lure... 1998). Dr. Pinfold has been a Contract Lecturer at the University of Alberta since 1994.

Her interest stems from her education and profession in medicine. Art education began after she became a doctor, initially at Langara College in Vancouver; subsequently she was a special student at University of Alberta. She attended various art residencies at Emma Lake, Prairie North and Banff Centre. She has exhibited at public galleries in Edmonton, Calgary and Medicine Hat. She received funding from Alberta Art Foundation and Canada Council for a collaborative residency. Her works are in the collections of Alberta Art Foundation, University of Alberta Hospital and Alberta Art Gallery. Her work as a physician and administrator has enriched her art.


List of work Metamorphosis, 2018 Multi-media installation

RBC Work Room is an extension of the RBC New Works Gallery, which features new artworks by Alberta artists. This project series continues the Art Gallery of Alberta’s commitment to supporting the work of Alberta artists. Organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta and presented as a part of the Poole Centre of Design.

Š Art Gallery of Alberta 2018 ISBN: 978-1-77179-028-4 Editor: Catherine Crowston Copy Editing: Leonore-Namkha Beschi, Laura Ritchie Design: Charles Cousins Photography: Charles Cousins Essay: Melinda Pinfold Printing: Burke Group Printed in Canada The Art Gallery of Alberta is grateful for the generous support of our many public and private donors and sponsors, as well as the ongoing support of the City of Edmonton, the Edmonton Arts Council, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Cover Image: Metamorphosis (detail), 2018. Multi-media installation


Gloria Mok: Metamorphosis ePub  

A catalogue from RBC Work Room exhibition "Gloria Mok: Metamorphosis". RBC Work Room is an initiative that supports the development of loc...

Gloria Mok: Metamorphosis ePub  

A catalogue from RBC Work Room exhibition "Gloria Mok: Metamorphosis". RBC Work Room is an initiative that supports the development of loc...