Attraction is a powerful thing in art and in life. In art, people tend to argue against its power, overlooking beauty in favour of theory. It is often the case, with art, that where such power is missing, theory can be found poorly compensating for it; filling the void of feeling to placate the contemporary art world’s consumerism veiled by academia. There are many mouths and words making up for the lack of attraction and emotion in a lot of contemporary art today.
I first came across Mark Delong’s work via Instagram. I paused longer than the usual 0.5 seconds it takes me to process an image in my feed and I just stared at it confusedly. I was looking at something that I had never seen before, a richly layered and colorful arrangement of fabrics, cut out and sewn back together, forming an image that had no point of reference in my brain’s visual dictionary, something that was living in its own world. I found myself very attracted to it at a very core human level.
It’s difficult to describe Delong’s work, but it’s very easy to feel it. It’s because the art comes out of the universe he creates for it. Walking into his Seven Shades of Sugar solo exhibition, running at Cooper Cole from August 4 to September 3, I feel relieved. Finally, I am able to feel something in a gallery that isn’t the irritation at the theory occupying the space, and just focus on experiencing the work. It takes more than a minute to realize that the majority is made using discarded cardboard boxes collected from the streets of Vancouver, where the artist is based. With works like ‘Seven Shades of Sugar’ (2016, cotton thread on cardboard), he manages to use the material in a way that completely disassociates the viewer from any consumer reference, and I honestly don’t know how he manages to do it, which is quite an achievement. We are well-trained consumers that could more readily spot a brand in a pile of trash than the moon in the clear night’s sky. To be fooled into missing these corporate signifiers is a feat.
There is something to be said about harmony and the balance of color and composition, moreover the feeling it can evoke —on its own, without a single word, if the right visual cues are well in their place. ‘Putting my Boots on Again and Again’ (2015) is a display of crosses and clovers composed of various pink, green, and cream-colored fabrics that form a quilt, glyphs that send me a message I can’t decode. They get lost in emblems, composed of needlework, patterning, and made-up symbols that feel like they belong to us —to a history. Their formula is familiar and feels centuries-old yet belong to no one but Delong. To feel them is to feel him: an intricate constellation of careful choices, of hand-picked spaces between words that take you back to a past life, or to alternate worlds. Only they’re not yours, they’re Delong’s.**