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Jon Sasaki: Aura

February 17, 2023 - October 22, 2023

Third Floor

Lawren Harris, for many years, was a devout Theosophist, following teachings set out in the 19th century that described all things, every particle of matter, as infused with a “spark of the divine.”  For many Theosophists, this spark is visible in the form of an “aura,” a field of vibrating energy that emanates from both living beings and inanimate objects. A trained viewer can perceive a coloured glow surrounding humans, plants, animals, rivers, mountains and so on, and indeed, many of Harris’s works seem to depict this radiance of energy. By the same token, these art objects, now held in the AWE collection, also emit an aura that can be observed by a gifted clairvoyant. Artist Jon Sasaki is not such a person, so for this series, he sought help, exploring several ways to document an aura. In addition to testing special lenses and a smartphone app, Sasaki collaborated with four clairvoyants to help make the hidden dimensions of six Lawren Harris artworks visible. In the accompanying video, Windsor-based clairvoyant Jen Garden interprets the objects’ auras. She describes how they have been augmented by interactions with collectors, conservators, curators and art handlers, as well as the countless gallery visitors who have contributed their own energies over the years. 

The search for hidden traces parallels Sasaki’s photographic series Homage, made at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in 2020. Studio objects once handled by members of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson were carefully daubed with sterile cotton swabs, removing a sampling of dormant bacteria, yeast and fungus that had been deposited by the artists’ own hands or accumulated in the years since. After being transferred into nutrient-filled petri dishes, those microbes blossomed into complex ecosystems, many resembling the landscape motifs favoured by Canada’s canonical painters. 

As in the Aura series, Sasaki’s gesture is rooted in deep admiration for the Group of Seven and their work and a desire to depict it as teeming with life and vibrating with energy. 

The artist wishes to gratefully acknowledge Jennifer Matotek, Julie Rae Tucker, Nicole McCabe, Spencer Montcalm, and Stephen Nilsson for their support of Aura, and clairvoyants Jen Garden, Lizi Bloom, Gina Dempsey, and Brenda Lott lending for their vision.

Homage was made possible thanks to Sarah Milroy, Jennifer Withrow, Alison Douglas, and the McMichael Gallery team; Exhibition Supporters Richard and Donna Ivey, and Brad Crombie and Alison Turner; Publication Supporters Kaye Beeston, Jessica Bradley, Popsy Johnstone, Shanitha Kachan, and Jeanne Parkin; The Toronto Arts Council; and Koyama Provides.

Homage is presented in collaboration with the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario. 

Meet the Artist: Jon Sasaki

Jon Sasaki is a Toronto-based multidisciplinary artist with a lifelong interest in the Canadian landscape genre, its history and its role in contemporary art practice. While formally training as a landscape painter (BFA Mount Allison University, 1996) he began his investigation into the mythologization of the Group of Seven, and the trope of the Romantic individual confronting nature. Today he continues this inquiry in video, photography, sculpture, performance and installation, exploring ways the landscape genre dovetails with broader questions around our national identity. Sasaki’s work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at the Richmond Art Gallery; The Rooms (St. John’s Nfld); the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, (Lethbridge, AB); and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Sasaki has participated in recent group exhibitions at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, (Seoul, South Korea); The Bentway, (Toronto); The Canadian Embassy in Japan (Tokyo); and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (Toronto, ON). He is represented by Clint Roenisch Gallery.


Jon Sasaki, Microbes Swabbed  From an Easel Thought to Have Been Used by Frank Johnston, 2020, archival print , 91.44 x 91.44 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Clint Roenisch Gallery

Jon Sasaki, Microbes Swabbed from a Palette Used by F.H. Varley, 2020, archival print , 91.44 x 91.44 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Clint Roenisch Gallery

Jon Sasaki, Microbes Swabbed From a Palette Used by Arthur Lismer, 2020, archival print , 91.44 x 91.44 cm. Image courtesy of the artist and Clint Roenisch Gallery

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