On ViewOakville Galleries
Wolf Tones: A Many-Sided House
January 28–May 13, 2023
The many-sided house sits comfortably in a field by Lake Ontario, surrounded by peaceful gardens and birdsong. Its many rooms are full of many objects: large ship models made out of cardboard and wood, cut and gathered pieces of colorful fabric, warfare debris, a big, wooden tray of old purses, a mixed media sculpture of a fish-like entity, used kitchen utensils, library book trucks. These objects are clustered together in a coherent maze through four adjacent rooms. We Istanbulites have an aphorism for our traffic-ridden mess of a wonderland: “They call it chaos, we call it home.” The many-sided house, while far away, feels similar.
The house with the objects was built in 1922 and became one of the locations of Oakville Galleries in 1974. Spreading throughout the first floor, the object clusters are the work of Wolf Tones, a group of artists that has been collaborating for four years. The members sometimes change; this exhibition in Oakville, Canada includes Nancy Shaver, Maximilian Goldfarb, Sterrett Smith, Pradeep Dalal, and David Levi Strauss. Both together and separately, the artists create an intricate and almost cartographic installation of interacting, convening, and communicating continents of artworks.
The Many-Sided House leads its visitors through itself room by room, almost as a self-revealing, full-sized map like in Jorge Luis Borges’s “On Rigor in Science.” The story is included in the 1970 edition of Borges’s Dreamtigers, which is one of the many objects in the exhibition. Upon entering, one of the first works one encounters is a low wooden bookshelf on casters, filled with printed matter: The Mobile Library Unit for A Many-Sided House (2023), or M.L.U., an assorted collection that relate to themes and concepts that influence the artworks of Wolf Tones, assembled by critic and writer David Levi Strauss, who has meticulously and site-specifically picked books from his own library. Divided into sections such as “Place and Displacement” and “Memory and Images,” the M.L.U. invites viewers to explore the books and move the trucks around the gallery—because a many-sided house, says Strauss, “needs a mobile library.” Like the nomadic bards of Anatolian folklore, the M.L.U. wanders within the installation, offering its stories to anyone who wish to read.
Dissonance is a curious thing. Looking at the installation as a whole, it’s possible, perhaps even encouraged, to perceive the underlying, humming discord between approaches to material, narrative, and order. Dalal, Goldfarb, Shaver, Sterrett Smith, and Strauss each have their own distinctive forms of production; their own peculiarities, obsessions, and compassions.
Goldfarb’s freighter, cruise, and shipping container models are situated at the center of the North Gallery, arranged like an x that marks the spot. The ships’ vertical angles point to the cardinal directions, making them at once an instrument of navigation and a placeholder for things hidden. A number of Sterrett Smith’s sculptures convene in their proximity. Her A Float (2021), another ship, floats on waves of painted wood and cardboard with blue feathers coming out of its funnel. Sterrett Smith’s works are of many textures, media, and materials, all of which are delicately organic, messy, and intuitive. Talking about her work with Phong H. Bui on the Brooklyn Rail’s New Social Environment, the artist mentioned a “drive to ooze, to seep”—even when dealing with firm materials, her works look like they are suspended in a fluid state. Nancy Shaver’s fascination with found, chosen, overlooked objects is shared among the Wolf Tones. Her embrace of the discarded takes the form of fabric over flat surfaces and planes: found, collected, and juxtaposed ordinary items, and a skilled, deliberate use of patterns. Collections–Love and work (2017–18) combines evening bags, a handmade snow shovel, baby hats, a panel of drawer knobs, tin can covers, metal rods, plumbing parts, and wooden platforms. Constructed with wooden blocks wrapped with fabric on pedestals of empty, found spools, Shaver’s defining series “Sentinels” gathers and scatters away throughout the Many-Sided House. As a mutual focus, patterns and forms of repetition are also found in the layered work of Pradeep Dalal. Repeatedly photographing the imagery of folds and bends of textiles, altering the physical essence of his base material by rendering it in two dimensions in an intersensory switch. As these individual artistic processes move and touch and conjoin with one another, they start resonating. That’s where the humming tone turns into a howl.
When a stringed instrument's wooden body reverberates at the exact frequency as a certain musical note, it creates a deep, disturbing, howl-like effect: a wolf tone. This phenomenon’s inherent analogy informs a substantial part of its namesake group of artists: an unusual guide to productivity and collaboration through a wolf-inspired lack of harmony. As the wolf tone drags out, the artists follow it towards the sense of urgency, to coexist and coproduce, together and individually. In this Many-Sided House, acknowledging and understanding dissonance creates a certain sense of peace and agreement within itself. Wolf Tones thrive in the discomfort zone. Their articulate, intertwined clusters within the many sides of Oakville Galleries are, more and more, reminiscent of a bridge—as oscillation at the structure’s own resonance frequency generates atomic excitation, keeping its structural integrity against environmental vibrations crucially depends on each element that forms the bridge to be dissonant. Wolf Tones write, “The difference is the howl, the difference in tone, the wolf tone.” The howl is the difference between survival and oblivion, in home and chaos. In poet Robin Blaser’s words, to whom Strauss dedicated M.L.U. for A Many-Sided House, it is:
looking for a continuing contravention of limits and of substance.1
- Robin Blaser, The Holy Forest: Collected Poems of Robin Blaser (University of California Press, 2006)