Small Objects That You Can Hold in Your Hands

In conjunction with the exhibition At a Time: Tender and Tense, throughout the four week duration of the exhibition Artists will respond to each other’s work through writing – which will be made available in the gallery in print and online for the duration of the exhibition. Below is the second instalment of this writing series – Sergio Serrano’s statement about his own work as well as response to the exhibition.

Small Objects That You Can Hold in Your Hands

A few years ago, while describing what I do for a living, I gave my usual answer, “I’m a graphic designer and an artist… on the side.” When asked to elaborate on what kind of art, I could tell they were expecting an answer that describes an art medium. I mumbled some words like mixed media, or paper-based, or bookworks, or multiples… looking for some kind of knowing look that wasn’t coming. After a pause, I said, “lately they’ve all been slightly different things… but they’re usually small objects… that you can hold in your hands.” And I cupped my hands in front of me, like I was holding a small bird.

Part of me was trying to be charming and funny since I was on a date, but another part felt like this was a good description at that time for the work I was doing, or at least trying to do, even if it wasn’t 100% technically accurate. And while I love and appreciate art and creative work in all forms, it is the smallish, hand-holdable kind that tends to resonate more with me.

Cards. Or books. Or small photographs. A piece of candy wrapped in shiny foil. Or a tiny sculpture that fits in your pocket and you can carry around with you all day. Some kind of object imbued with some kind of meaning and sensory experience, but not necessarily precious. Since I was a little kid, I used to carry around such objects, moving them back and forth between my parents’ homes.

Over the last couple of years, the only small object I constantly hold in my hands has been my smart phone. The other objects are still around, and perhaps because I haven’t left my home as much as I used to, I don’t carry them with me anymore or hold them as much. Or perhaps they don’t seem as useful compared to the magical, glass and metal, black box that is my phone. It is now almost 90% full of smaller digital objects: images and media clips saved, screenshots, notes, conversations, contacts, and other things that I can’t quite exactly hold in my hands.

For all of its usefulness and magic, I’ve found that many feelings and memories have all been flattened to have the same feel on my hands. Connection, isolation, inspiration, anxiety, productivity, procrastination, joy, sadness, entertainment, boredom, etc. sometimes have the same weight, and the same sleek glass surface to them now. (And in my case the same feeling of a metal ring digging into my finger—an attachment I use to better hold onto this object.)

* * *

The first images I saw of the works in this exhibition were on my phone. And I would not have thought anything about it, unless I started writing this response. It’s such a necessity of promotion and visibility, specially during this last year. I’ve become so accustomed to seeing things on my phone that sometimes I forget they exist outside out it.

The first time I saw the works in person was when I went in to install my own (a flattened version of an object you’re meant to hold in your hands, but it isn’t finished yet so you can’t). While there I met one of the other artists, Brianna Tosswill, as she was finishing her installation. As we looked over the first physical copy of my work in progress, we had a brief exchange about traditional printmaking vs. working digitally. I said that maybe it was out of habit or my job or the illusion of convenience and efficiency that I worked that way, at least during this time, but that it was inspiring to see all the different print work around. In particular, Riaz Mehmood’s work since I had been aware of its evolution as part of his residency and feature on SNAPline, and it was great to finally get to see it in person.

It wasn’t until the next day when I went back for the opening day that I got a chance to spend more time with the works. This time I gravitated towards Brianna’s because it was so immersive and detailed. She had created a space within the gallery that was inviting and comfortable, and presented the work like an exploded view of notes, sketches, swatches, proofs, meticulously carved plates,… giving a sense of her mind, process and labour. On a small shelf sat a set of beautiful books. The friend I came with asked if we could touch them, and I wasn’t sure, partly being in a gallery and partly because I’ve hesitated about touching anything in a public space for over a year and a half now. We were informed that we could look through them; carefully, I picked a book up and held it in my hands like a small bird.

On my way out, I took a few photos with my phone of gallery and works to post on social media and promote the event. But I decided to wait a bit longer, I wanted to remember the feeling of the small book objects in my hands, and I was afraid the sleek black box would steal that magic. By now you’ve probably seen photos of the work, and that’s great, it needs to be visible and out there. But I’d really encourage you to see it in person, and if possible, hold it in your hands.

– Sergio Serrano