First Draft, Second Draft …
October 31 - November 24, 2013
In my art practice, I have been exploring the ambiguities inherent in the comprehension of language and the multiple meanings that texts generate. In my artwork, I simulate script. How we construct and interpret meaning from texts is the essence of my work.
This current body of work is inspired by the handwritten, extensively edited drafts of autograph manuscript pages by authors as diverse as James Joyce, Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf. These manuscript pages bear witness to the working process of the authors showing corrections, deletions, even doodles. I examined the way in which each author organized his or her thoughts and marks on the page. Through this I gained great insight into their creative process as well as something of the authors themselves, which was very poignant to me.
The word-like shapes in the gauze works are created by pulling snags in the fabric to which pigment is applied. Although these shapes appear to be a familiar script, they are, in fact, indecipherable. Using gauze and a variety of paper such as vellum and player piano rolls, I aim to translate each manuscript page into gestural marks, which although not legible, still retain the essence of each individual author.
Photography by: Michel Boucher
Sylvia Ptak, Marcel Proust, Time Regained (detail), 2011, gauze, pigment, 8 1/2 X 7 in. (composed of 6 sections), framedSylvia Ptak, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How Do I Love Thee, Let me Count the Ways, 2013, gauze, pigment, 9 1/2 X 7 1/4 in.Sylvia Ptak, Sylvia Ptak, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, How Do I Love Thee, Let me Count the Ways (detail), 2013, gauze, pigment, 9 1/2 X 7 1/4 in.Sylvia Ptak, Victor Hugo, Les Misérables, 2013, gauze, pigment, 10 1/2 X 7 1/2 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (detail), 2013, gauze, pigment, 10 1/2 X 7 1/2 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, James Joyce, Ulysses, 2012, gauze, pigment, 9 1/2 X 7 1/2 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, James Joyce, Ulysses (detail), 2012, gauze, pigment, 9 1/2 X 7 1/2 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 2013, gauze, pigment, 10 X 7 1/2 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (detail), 2013, gauze, pigment, 10 X 7 1/2 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, Altered Drafts: an installation, 2012/13, vellum, paper, ink, 62 X 47 in., SOLD.Sylvia Ptak, Herman Melville, The Confidence Man: His Masquerade, 2013, gauze, pigment, 8 3/8 X 11 1/4 in.
Sylvia Ptak, Herman Melville, The Confidence Man: His Masquerade (detail), 2013, gauze, pigment, 8 3/8 X 11 1/4 in.Sylvia Ptak, Emily Dickinson, source unknown, 2013, gauze, pigment, 8 3/4 X 9 3/4 in.Emily Dickinson, source unknown (detail), 2013, gauze, pigment, 8 3/4 X 9 3/4 in.Sylvia Ptak, Jane Austen, The Watsons, an unfinished novel, 2012, gauze, pigment, 8 X 10 1/8 in.
Sylvia Ptak, Jane Austen, The Watsons, an unfinished novel, (detail), 2012, gauze, pigment, 8 X 10 1/8 in.
The Unicorn and the Date Palm: recent textiles
April 3 - 27, 2008
GLOBE AND MAIL
GALLERY GOING: VISUAL ARTS: REVIEW
An impenetrable language that speaks volumes
GARY MICHAEL DAULT
April 12, 2008
at DAVID KAYE GALLERY
$475-$2,000. Until April 27, 1092 Queen St. W. (off Dovercourt), Toronto; 416-532-9075
The art of Sylvia Ptak is born from an elaborate and indeed almost obsessive desire to produce page after page of writing you cannot read, and to generate clouds of meaning you cannot readily fathom.
I first encountered the Toronto-based artist’s predilection for making faux-texts in an exhibition called Commentary at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in the summer of 2004. For this ambitious exhibition, Ptak enacted “interventions” into a number of the library’s rare books and manuscripts by slipping between their venerable but fragile pages her own “pages” of abstracted, text-like shapes carefully woven into sheets of gauze. Thus reverently placed, her recently fabricated pages were almost indistinguishable from the ancient pages of the real tomes.
Ptak’s fascination for old books and old texts and old scripts continues in this new exhibition, The Unicorn and the Date Palm: Recent Textiles, now at Toronto’s David Kaye Gallery. The work arose from her having become inspired, she says, by those late Renaissance books, usually called Herbals, which offered elaborate (and inevitably gorgeous) descriptions of plants as well as lists of their medicinal properties. “In Europe, in the 16th century,” Ptak notes in her brief artist’s statement, “drinking date palm wine from a unicorn’s horn was considered the best prevention against diseases.”
For the new exhibition, Ptak has made 24 of her own pages from hypothetical Herbals. All of these new gauzy pages, each devoted to the Unicorn and the Date Palm, now bear delicate line drawings from the original books - reproduced by using heat-transfers (like a kid giving himself a tattoo). Each page carries, as well, a portion of antique-looking text, made by Ptak’s manipulation of the threads making up her textile sheets.
Ptak says she is interested in “the multiple meanings that texts generate” and it is true that her writings in thread read like everything and like nothing - like lines of some beautiful but incomprehensible language. To gaze upon Ptak’s threaded texts is sort of like looking at script you find formally, calligraphically beautiful but cannot understand - like a frieze of writings by Rumi in an Iranian restaurant, say, or beautifully blocky Korean characters appearing on a billboard or poster.
How is Ptak’s threaded “writing” accomplished? She says it’s the opposite of embroidery. As she explained to me during a recent phone conversation, she snags a bit of her textile with a pin, and then begins to pull the loosened thread sideways (”using the same warp thread”), leaving a gap in the fabric and using the resulting loops and lapses in the loosened thread (to which she often applies colour) to emulate the look of handwritten script. After these faux-lines are in place, she then carefully adds (transfers) the illustrations to the pages.
The result of all this is a collection of pages from what might well be ancient books from a lost civilization or from another planet. So much faith do we have in the printed (or handwritten) word, we feel that this threaded calligraphy of Ptak’s, so authoritative in its nobility, must mean something. But of course it cannot mean any more than we choose to bring to it. Each of her beautiful pages is thus an exquisite enigma - and will remain so.
The Unicorn and the Date Palm
In my art practice, I have been exploring the multiple meanings that texts generate. My recent work is inspired by manuscripts of early Herbals, books with descriptions of plants and their medicinal properties. In Europe, in the 16th century, drinking date palm wine from a unicorn’s horn was considered the best prevention against diseases. My research has led me to investigate early Herbals and the origins of how plants came to be identified, named, classified and categorized. What was once considered scientific truth no longer holds true today. What interests me is how the medicinal properties of plants and their applications are continually changing over time.
Sylvia Ptak, 2008
GALLERY, The Unicorn and the Date Palm Series
GALLERY, The Intervention Series