Unit Lab. 'Domestic Sea Collection'.

Surface Tension

Karen Miranda Abel, Atelier Mey, Douglas Coupland, Julie Gladstone, Robert Hengeveld, Colin Hill, Lisa Hirmer, Eva Kolcze, Lisa Myers, Polymetis, Eli Schwanz, and Unit Lab

Curated by DesignTO

January 18 – March 3, 2019
Artport Gallery

Reception: Friday, January 25, 7-10pm

Water abounds. Here too.

Surface Tension examines the forces at work on water. Exploring the theme of water from many perspectives, the exhibition seeks to think about water in its broadest senses. These include habitat, weather, waste, value, access, place, and beauty, expressed in film, video, sculpture, installation, functional objects, and photography. The exhibition asks how the attributes of, and tensions within, water manifest within contemporary culture as both a physical substance and salient topic.

The presence of water itself is significant. For Unit Lab, the calming attributes of water are replicated in a series of objects for the home. Water is present in a pair of underwater glasses, as well as in the stacked pails that support their viewing. Water also plays an important role in Robert Hengeveld’s work, where a continuous loop of water fills a sink and drains it, leaving bits of ocean plastic to be read like tea leaves. Douglas Coupland likewise collects pieces of ocean plastic, coating them in more plastic (acrylic paint), and sealing them in an acrylic gallery case. Layers of plastic, like nesting dolls, encase the debris found on the shores of Haida Gwaii. Focusing on an everyday vessel and carrying container, the single-use plastic water bottle, Julie Gladstone recreates them as colourful hand-made objects, made with water collected in Toronto.  

In Lisa Myer’s Through Surface Tension, the viewer is both under and above water, seeing water and land from a new perspective. It gives pause and opportunity to rethink our relationship with water and its many dualities, specifically our comfort with, or fear of, the substance itself – what lives by and what dies by water. Looking at water through geological time, Eva Kolcze’s film takes us on a tour of the Scarborough Bluffs, a natural topography that resists human occupation and development. The Bluffs were shaped by water, one of the few records remaining of the last Ice Age.

Conversely, water’s absence is equally significant. Karen Miranda Abel’s Desert Pools (Atacama) reflects on water in the driest place on earth, underlining the importance of water physically and psychologically, as well as through deep time and sacred places. Water is also conspicuously absent in Atelier Mey’s photographs that document the consequences of flooding – the “relentlessness of water” – on the architectural fabric of the Atchafalaya River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. These properties of water also define Lisa Hirmer’s project that addresses the movement of water. In Water Gleaners, photographs capture how water (a slippery substance) can be collected in simple ways, drawing attention to how natural properties of water contradict its ownership. Water is both abundant and scarce. Our relationship to water is subject to change.

Polymetis uses a traditional method of measuring the depths of a body of water (bathymetry) to create a scale model of Lake Ontario, breaking the lake into two parts to draw attention to what is organic (the physical body of water) with what is abstract (a political boundary). In a further act of abstraction, Eli Schwanz takes water’s slippery qualities into another realm, where three lines of water are visualized as organic and continuous flows. The currents in Flash Splash are a stand-in for the real thing. For Colin Hill, a found mattress spring is made to resemble a waveform created by deliberate form-making. Here, “spring” has multiple meanings: movement, source, season, escape, and resilience.

This exhibition is curated by DesignTO, and co-presented with Harbourfront Centre. It is generously supported by the British Council and the Government of Ontario.


Karen Miranda Abel is a Canadian interdisciplinary artist based in Toronto. Her durational field studies and site-sensitive elemental installations approach artistic practice as environment and process. Light and spatial relationships are tools and collaborators in a research-intensive “slow art” practice in which she ultimately realizes her works as conceptual gardens cultivated in time and place. Abel’s work has been featured in Canadian Art and exhibited internationally. She has received artist residences in Nova Scotia (Canada), Australia, Chile, Spain and the USA. Awarded the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre World Heritage Artist in Residence, Abel realized her first international solo exhibition, Karen Miranda Abel: Liminal Refugia, at the Blue Mountains City Art Gallery, Australia, in 2018.

The artist gratefully acknowledges the support of the Ontario Arts Council.



Based in Miami, Florida, Atelier Mey is a collective of architects who enjoy confronting the circumstance of architecture. The architecture is conscious and generative—it is actively engaged in setting and curious of the novel. The work of Atelier Mey is committed to design excellence. Projects are realized at varying scales and range from the intimacy of the human body to the assemblage of architecture into urbanism. Rooted in pedagogical frameworks, academic inquiries act as provocations for the practice of Atelier Mey, while the firm engages in both speculative and built work. The work is inherently sustainable, and dedicated to craft. Christopher Meyer, AIA, and Shawna Meyer, AIA, are the firm’s founding principles, first collaborating on material explorations and the design and making of a series of small scaled built artifacts and furniture pieces in 2010.



Douglas Coupland is a graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, as well as the Hokkaido College of Art and Design in Sapporo, Japan, and the Istituto Europeo di Design in Milan, Italy. Coupland’s work has been exhibited in numerous international group shows and has completed several public commissions, including the Terry Fox Memorial in Vancouver and Monument to the War of 1812 in Toronto. Coupland’s first major survey exhibition, everywhere is anywhere is anything is everything, opened at the Vancouver Art Gallery in 2014 and travelled to Toronto in winter 2015, showing at both the Royal Ontario Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. In the fall of 2015, Coupland had a solo show, Bit Rot, at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam. Bit Rot travelled to Museum Villa Stuck, Munich, in the fall of 2016. In spring 2016 Coupland’s work was on view at Whitechapel Gallery as part of the exhibition Electronic Superhighway curated by Omar Kholeif. His work can be found in the collections of the University of British Columbia, Glenbow Museum (Calgary), Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston), the Albright Knox (Buffalo), and the Confederation Centre (Charlottetown). Coupland was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2014. He lives and works in Vancouver.



Julie Gladstone is a Canadian artist working in painting, sculpture, and installation, with a BFA from Concordia University. Recipient of the Artscape Award, CSCE Emerging Artist Award, a Toronto Arts Council grant, residencies at Artscape Gibraltar Point, and SIM residency in Iceland, Gladstone’s work has been featured in solo and group exhibitions across Canada, USA, and Iceland. Her installation Extreme Cloud Gazing at the Grow-Op received media attention from CBC Arts and The Guardian, and support from the Ontario Arts Council. A survey of her work was recently exhibited at the Department of Canadian Heritage.



Robert Hengeveld is an installation and media artist whose work explores the boundaries between reality and fiction. This has often taken shape through the manipulation of familiar environments: a rotating tree, a floating shopping cart, or a street lamp that occasionally breaks out into a flickering Morse Code.

He now lives in Newfoundland where he teaches at Memorial University. His work has been exhibited across Canada and internationally. Past exhibitions include Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center (Buffalo, NY), Art Athina (Athens, GC), The Power Plant (Toronto, ON), Mercer Union (Toronto, ON), Mulherin New York (NYC, NY), and Opinion Makers (London, UK).

Hengeveld is represented by Katharine Mulherin.



In the region between things, we find a place where the thing, as it has existed until now, becomes something else. Breaking down, or open, or through, a (new)thing emerges from this transition and revolution. Colin Hill is drawn to this place of potent meaning: the region between. He uses the materials and surfaces of the everyday, exploring ways to fit things together to create some(new)thing. Like dust bunnies, things gather in the periphery of our path and at the corners of our lives, and lie hidden in our shadows.



Lisa Hirmer is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice spans visual media and social practice. She is primarily concerned with collective relationships—that which exists between things—in communities and publics, as well as in our relationships with the more-than-human world. She has shown her work across Canada and internationally including at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Art Gallery of Mississauga, Cambridge Art Galleries, Third Space, Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, University of Lethbridge Art Gallery, Doris McCarthy Gallery, Peninsula Arts (UK), CAFKA, Queens Museum (USA), and Flux Factory (USA). She is currently based in Guelph, Ontario.



Eva Kolcze is a Toronto-based artist who creates films and installations that investigate landscape, architecture, and the body. Her work has screened at venues and festivals including the National Gallery of Canada, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Anthology Film Archives, the Gardiner Museum, Nuit Blanche, Cinémathèque québécoise, Birch Contemporary, International Rotterdam Film Festival, and the Images Festival. She holds a BFA from OCAD University and an MFA from York University.



Lisa Myers is an independent curator and artist. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. Her recent work involves printmaking, stop-motion animation, and performance. Her participatory performances involve sharing berries and other food items in social gatherings reflecting on the value found in place and displacement: straining and absorbing. She has exhibited her work in solo and group exhibitions in venues including Urban Shaman (Winnipeg), Art Gallery of Peterborough, and the Art Gallery of Ontario. Myers is a member of Beausoleil First Nation. She is based in Port Severn and Toronto, Ontario.



Polymétis was established in 2014 by Nicholas Croft and Michaela MacLeod. Both formally-trained as architects, they work at the intersection of architecture, landscape, and art. They share a mutual interest in land and the environment, with a focus on nautical geography, which is a primary source of inspiration. Each project is approached with an awareness of the influences that create our surrounding environment, and how those forces may be constructed or controlled to reveal a familiar territory or space from an unusual perspective. The studio’s site-specific projects focus on making and experimental production that inspire new fields of exploration.



Eli Schwanz received his BFA from the School of Image Arts at Ryerson University, and his MFA from the OCAD University. His work focuses on animation in potential forms and contexts, as well as its representation and exploration in alternative media, including installation, light, sculpture, and video. Schwanz has been profiled by Vice and CBC, and has been an artist-in-residence at The Drake Hotel and exhibitionist-in-residence at the CBC. Exhibitions include the Chromatic Festival, Gardiner Museum, Animocje Poland, and Onsite Gallery.



Unit Lab is a design studio based in London, UK, founded by Cindy Strobach and Mike Vanis. Together they design products and installations that make science relevant on a personal level, taking it out of the lab and bringing it into our daily routines. Unit Lab creates products, installations, and workshops for schools, museums, and cultural institutions.