By Darian Razdar & Marisa Fulper Estrada
Tal Sofia’s I Am So Afraid of Words, a multimedia exhibition including video montage, prints, zines, and photography, exhibited at the OCAD Ignite Gallery in Toronto’s Kensington Market from March 1st to 6th. Tal Sofia is a Isreali graphic designer, photographer, and writer who’s current work encompasses themes of time, touch, and ancestry. This exhibition was the culmination of Tal’s Masters in Art, Media and Design at OCAD.
Utilizing photography, print, and video, the artist explores the interstitially of language and her relationship to her great-grandmother, her namesake, through in-situ investigation of Berlin’s past and present. Tal Sofia code-switches between Hebrew, German, and English in the space of a spiral-bound publication, as well as between multiple artistic modes of communication in the space of the gallery. Importantly, each of the pieces presented gives evidence to the paradoxically ephemeral and lasting traces of touch and time. Tal Sofia sites Erin Manning in her artist statement: “touch is always already a process of reaching towards.” Her works, in conversation, challenge the traditional space and mode of the printed object, pushing the temporality of the senses.
The core of Tal Sofia’s exhibition was a black and white booklet, notecard size, called I Would Never Be as Close To You As I Was Tonight, of which editions lined an entire wall. The publication weaves two narratives: the artist’s great-grandmother’s life with the author’s present-tense musings on her summer of 2018. The artist used a collection of her great-grandmother’s postcards to link her to the feelings of 1920s Berlin still lingering in the city’s theatres, streets, and parks. Touching her great-grandmothers postcards allows Tal Sofia to rekindle and reinvent what this space held to her ancestor and now means to her. Each page alternates narrative and is signalled by changing sans-serif and serif type faces. To read each narrative linearly, the reader would skip every other page in the book, thus missing half the piece itself. The construction of the piece forces a release into layered intertwined realities, to accept of both past and present as they unfold.
More than placing her publication next to other works, in I Am So Afraid of Words, Tal Sofia employed the space of the gallery as a publication in itself — curating the concepts, material, and placement of each work with intention. This publication is one that makes the palimpsest of life abundantly apparent — lives shared among generations and lives lived in one. Her work asks the visitor to acknowledge it we are always in space of overlapping temporalities. The instillation itself embodies life’s ethnographic surrealism by working at many narrative scales. Like a tree growing and absorbing a metal wire fence, the interwoven narratives of her great-grandma’s life and the artist’s own speak to the spiral-bound quality of the material booklet. As the two narratives are so deeply intertwined, they share a conceptual and physical life together.
By exploring the ties between herself and her ancestor, switching between languages and overlaying multiple impressions, Tal Sofia goes further than just blurring space and time, past and present, comprehension and illegibility, linearity and cycles — but also reconstitutes these divisions into a holistic portrayal of how she feels the world.
Emotions are at the centre of this body of work. Fear, obviously — it’s in the title. But also, longing, hope, anxiety, restlessness, and persistence. Feelings are felt through the senses. Tal Sofia draws most poignantly on the sense of touch to do the reconstitution of dichotomies into something more whole. She touches the postcards handed down her family, touches her own prints, touches photographs capturing the past and dragging it into the present. What is more, she urges her audience to touch her spiral-bound publications — to leaf through them, read her written narratives, and thus be transported into the connection between the artist and her postcard muses. The photographs and videos showcasing her hands holding and toying with her own prints (on postcard-size card stock) also encourage her audience to feel her touch and the myriad of feelings she embodied in the journey to making this project a reality. This work challenges the intelligibility of graphic art and typology, so that this body of work enters into negotiation with each and every audience member for access to interpretation. Tal Sofia offers us ways in, but it’s up to us to feel out the intricacies of our senses in order to get there.