Chances are you know Troy Gronsdahl in one of his various incarnations. You may have seen him perform under his moniker soso, an internationally touring rap artist who has graced the stages of Saskatoon’s Mosofest, Les Transmusicale de Rennes, France, as well as multiple venues in Europe and Japan. Perhaps you’ve browsed the websites of various art organizations, this gallery included, not knowing he set up the interface, or, as in the case of PAVED Arts, designed their branding. In all likelihood you’ve visited the Mendel Art Gallery where he serves as Associate Curator and whose programming has included The Name of Things, which featured work by local artists Zachari Logan, Terry Billings and Stacia Verigin. Most pertinent to this article, however, is his internationally exhibited art practice, which spans multiple mediums and synthesizes his various other cultural contributions. If multidisciplinarity is the de facto obligation of the contemporary artist, and I think that is becoming more and more the case, then Gronsdahl has certainly lived up to it by seamlessly moving from one practice to another while maintaining an impressive level of quality and criticality in each undertaking.
His recent solo show at the Frances Morrison Library (Saskatoon) More of the Same, and now part of a group exhibition at the Dunlop Art Gallery in Regina, utilizes his self-described “museological fetish,” as a strategy to unpack two romantic proclamations found in the revolutionary manifesto titled Le Refus Global: “Make way for magic! Make way for objective mystery!” Written in 1948 by Quebecois painter Paul-Émile Borduas and signed by fellow members of the Automatistes group, the manifesto was a challenge to the traditional values of Quebec and a call to incorporate international thought into an otherwise provincial discourse. Gronsdahl’s lifting of two seemingly innocuous phrases, however, pays little heed to the manifesto’s original revolutionary fervour, and favours an absurdly earnest approach to fulfilling its more whimsical imperatives. To this end, Gronsdahl created a series of letterpress prints embossing the barely perceptible words “magic” and “mystery” onto manila sheets. He also melted the letters used in the process to produce seductively mercurial shapes that were presented under vitrines.
The show’s presentation gives it an analytic appearance that is undermined by its decidedly lyrical content. Elegantly framed, impeccably presented, the subtle works only ever present traces of the magic and mystery that is so carefully catalogued, and put on display. What is highlighted instead is the apparatus by which these traces are archived. Gronsdahl admits there is an irony to the museum’s archival role, which is to preserve and present important documents for future generations, and consequently undermining the urgency of the original artefact, which in the case of Le Refus Global is a call to resistance. He notes, citing examples from his experience as a curator, that the institution has a remarkable talent for “owning dissent.” Yet the tongue-in-cheek mode of presentation utilized by Gronsdahl in More of the Same also highlights how elusive that ownership may be. While we may own a set of objects, the ideas they were intended to embody may perpetually evade us and be exceedingly difficult to actualize.
But ambivalence about art’s political efficacy is not what is at stake here. There seems to be a cross-disciplinary concern with the creation of context and meaning that unites Gronsdahl’s various practices. In his studio, his works in progress continue to explore the layered meaning of the word through typeface, text, erasure, and its visual representation. His current use of literary metaphors seems to hint at a convergence between his role as a lyricist and as a visual artist. Moving through the various incarnations of the word, from spoken, to written, to spatial (as in the case of the melted “magic” and “mystery”), Gronsdahl alludes to the ways in which meaning is created but simultaneously eludes us. His incursion into mystery, metaphor and ultimately the unknown, is also an incursion into the space between the signifier and signified (or lack thereof), where meaning gets lost, remade and recycled.