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Interview / Otilia Sabina – Collage/memory as acts of assembling and disassembling

July 25th 2023 – September 21st 2023, Massy Arts will host, Here I am, in the in-between / In Process, a new show by artists Kyla Gilbert + Otilia Sabina.

Kyla Gilbert’s practice begins in chance meetings with found objects, which she modifies in juxtaposition with industrial materials. She balances disparate parts, finding connections and holding space for contradictions. Forces act on her sculptures in unexpected ways. Sections that appear bulbous and heavy are incredibly light, materials sag in a state of gentle, if not perfect, support. Each piece is caught in a moment of expansion and maturation and contains all the clumsiness inherent in transformation, like a gangly teenager. Both Kyla’s process and the pieces themselves rely on mutual support, in all its ungainly, joyful awkwardness and vulnerability. In offering attention to her environment and working from what’s around her, she’s able to create physical compositions that celebrate difference and allow it to flourish.

Otilia Sabina’s work explores the use of memory, as a vehicle to the formation of personal identity, values and beliefs. In this series of works, Otilia uses collage and digital media to create new visual artifacts which center on the transitory feelings of stories from both her life before and after immigrating to Canada in 1998. Through an iterative process of collage and digital manipulation her practice aims to bridge both the familiar and unfamiliar aspects of her history.

Otilia and Kyla share an interest in fragmentation and assemblage in relation to a personal experience of geography. Both are currently working and living on the unceded, ancestral, and occupied, traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm, Skwxwú7mesh and Səl̓ílwətaʔ Nations of the Coast Salish peoples, also known as Vancouver.

This project is supported by the Community Arts Council of Vancouver + First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

To contact the gallery, send an email to:

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To celebrate Here I am, in the in-between / In Process, Rafael Zen interviews Otilia for Massy Arts, investigating the in-betweens of memory and identity. 

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Otilia Sabina – Collage/memory as acts of assembling and disassembling

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Rafael Zen – What do you think the title of your show, “Here I am, in the in-between / In Process”, informs about the works you are exhibiting at Massy Arts? Do you think it reflects your current practice?

Otilia Sabina – The title reflects my sometimes uncertain relationship to place and self. The answers I
am after in my work, lie somewhere in-between truth and fiction.

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RZ – How would you describe the collage works you are bringing to the show? Could you guide us through the process of making them, and how they might relate to discussions on memory and the making of identity? What do you think is the role of photography in this act of narration?

OS – I would describe the works as fragments of memories captured through the lens of someone who is attempting to capture and assemble back an emotion or a feeling. Memories hold both great historical insight and deep emotion but it can also be susceptible to errors and distortions with time. Much like the iterative process I use in collage, the recollection of memories and stories is also an act of assembling and

Identity is the frame of reference for the past, but it also limits my ability to recall, and interpret memories wholly and reliably. Part of that identity has been shaped in a culturally and geographically different place, with people and places I no longer have access to. This relationship between memory and identity is continually shaped and reshaped in my mind over time. I think this is something I attempt to mirror through the making process.

Collage materials, whether photographs or paper for me, are like letters in an alphabet. They contribute one part to the formation of a larger idea. The material I collage with is important because of it’s content while sometimes it is about what it invokes. A feeling, a sentiment, something familiar or unfamiliar. The process of collaging with photographs is also playful in nature – tracing with scissors the edges of an image, cutting away or into for something we seek or want to leave behind.

I assemble and reassemble over and over again trying to make each image, each shape fit to an elusive idea. To be in a new form of harmony, to provide a new narrative. I think photography and collage are sort of foils for each other in a way. On one hand photographs try to capture the details of our experiences with precise accuracy and truthfulness to the moment, while collage take those images and creates new ways of seeing them.

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RZ – What do you expect to happen between the interaction viewer-exhibition at the show, and what part do your collage pieces take in this affect? In a sense, what I’m asking is: what universe do you think your work, when combined with Kyla’s, creates as an environment?

OS – Kyla picked up on a common thread in our e-mail exchange for this show that I think will be visible to viewers fairly early when seeing our wok together; she was mentioning a common theme in both our works is this desire to work in an explorative way, with a focus on fragmentation and assemblage.

In addition to that, there is also a layer or playfulness present. I think both Kyla and I show that through the incorporation of colour in our work. I hope viewers also find that throughout the work there is also a
constant sense of curiosity, experimentation, and spontaneity.

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RZ – How does being an immigrant affect the way you choose your themes? In your statement, you mention a search for what is found, and what is lost when one migrates. How do you think your aesthetic research presents this displacement to the audience? Does that affect the way you see (or choose) collage?

OS – I speak a little about my interest of this in-between space that exists in the relationship between memory and identity in the second question regarding my process. That space is what I am interested to linger longer in, and ideally to create work in. My experiences to my home country serve as both the foundation of meaningfulness in my life and yet the emotions and narratives associated with it are fading and moving further and further out of my reach.

More than the memories of specific experiences and the people who have shaped who I’ve become, what I seek to recall is more fleeting. The smell, the air, the sounds and the textures of experiences I no longer have access to. Those are what I try to find in the often fragmented pieces of collages I cut.

The compositions are the closest I get to visualizing a feeling that you can’t put into words, or no longer able to re-create. When cutting images out for works, I cut everything that triggers a thought, a sentiment, a reaction, a memory. This process makes me feel full of hope. It’s one of my favourite parts of my practice. I assemble and reassemble over and over again trying to make each image, each shape fit, be in harmony, while not exerting too much control over it.

I look at all my material and ask it: “What do YOU want to be today?” Not really, but kind of.

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RZ – Currently, who are artists that inspire or even influence your practice? What artists would create interesting dialogues with “Here I am, in the in-between / In Process”?

OS – I love the work of Joyce Wieland. She inspired me pretty early on with her playful, and experimental approach to making and pushing the dialogue on craft and fine art. The seamlessness she achieved between play and the themes that underlined her work is incredible. Anne Ryan’s work is also so beautiful. Her aesthetic is so dreamy. In her work there is so much exploration of shape, texture and abstraction. She created these harmonious compositions and maintained a distinct and mindful approach to the materiality of objects and forms.

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