The Gardiner Museum is the city’s premier ceramic arts museum and it is regarded as one of the 10 best museums in Toronto. Located at 111 Queen’s Park in Yorkville (and directly across from the Royal Ontario Museum), the museum is open Monday-Friday from 10am-6pm (with the exception of Wednesdays where the museum is open until 9pm) and weekends/holidays 10am-5pm.
The museum holds a special place in my heart, and is one I find myself wandering through time and time again. Want to visit yourself? The museum is free for people under 18, students, and Indigenous Peoples; $11 for seniors; and $15 for adults. The museum also offers free entry every Wednesday from 4pm-9pm. If you end up loving the museum as much as I do, you can become a Gardiner Friend or become a member of the Young Patron Circle, like myself.
The museum’s current special exhibit, Housewarming, runs from October 20th, 2022 to May 7th, 2023 on the museum’s third floor. Read below for more about the exhibit and artist Karine Giboulo, or check out the Gardiner Museum website here. The first and second floor of the Gardiner houses the museum’s permanent collections.
Suggested visit time: Less than one hour
In Housewarming, Montreal-based artist Karine Giboulo invites visitors into an immersive reimagining of her home. Through the use of over 500 miniature polymer clay figures, the rooms of Giboulo’s home are brought to life and tell stories of how the COVID-19 pandemic affected homes/families/individuals.
As described by the museum: Their stories amplify themes pertaining to connectedness and isolation, aging and care, labour and consumerism, the climate crisis, food insecurity, and housing instability. This intimate journey also unveils a personal narrative of self-acceptance and identity and transports us to the world of childhood, a critical period in the development of consciousness about the world.
The exhibit is broken into different rooms of Giboulo’s reimagined home. Before you begin, I highly recommend grabbing one of the exhibit leaflets to help guide your exploration of the rooms.
Before entering inside, visitors are first greeted by an Amazon package at the front door – imagery many of us can relate to with the surge of online shopping during the pandemic. Eyeholes on the box’s side encourage visitors to take a peek inside – not to see the consumer good ordered, but rather see the staff packaging the orders: the essential workers working side-by-side. The piece acts as commentary of those forced into the workforce during a pandemic while many of us had – and still have – the luxury of working from home.
The first room to explore is the kitchen. On the countertop, Giboulo’s work speaks on food insecurity, showcased through a line of masked and socially distanced people queue for a food bank. This contrasts the well-stocked fridge mere feet away that depicts the consumption habits of the “average” household, as well as the environmental impact of our food systems. Anecdotally, one of my favourite pieces in the room is the coffee pot on the kitchen counter with a tired miniature Giboulo inside.
The second space, the pantry, houses shelves of jars where miniature individuals can be seen inside. Most of these figures are elderly as the piece is meant to depict the struggles of seniors during the pandemic – confined, isolated, and abandoned. The room invites visitors to reflect on the tragedies that unfolded in long-term care homes across the country during the pandemic. As further described in the exhibition’s leaflet: “the installation’s placement is in the pantry, a space that we visit infrequently and just briefly, is thus highly symbolic”.
The exhibit’s route then returns back to the kitchen, or as referred to in the exhibition – the “home office”. In the centre of the room is a table that is used not only as a place to dine, but a place to work; a reality I know well living in a small one-bedroom apartment myself. On the laptop on the table, a black hole appears where protagonist Giboulo is being sucked in – another all too familiar feeling. Two other pieces I especially like in the room: 1) Bananas on the kitchen table being disinfected by miniature persons covered in head-to-toe PPE. The piece is a flashback to the time we would purchase our groceries in-store and then come home to disinfect each item before putting them away. 2) A bird cage in the room where not a household pet resides, but a working Giboulo. This piece can speak to how working from home can carry the expectations of being online 24/7; remote workers are seen as free - like birds - but are confined by the restraints of their duties and on-call nature.
The next area, the living room, speaks to vacationing and leisure activities. With the pandemic putting individuals’ vacation plans on-hold, trips away like to the beach are replaced with TV watching as our sole way to experience other places outside our four walls. Our dreams, like the miniature person depicted in the exhibit’s vacuum, are sucked away. This room also speaks to the detrimental environmental impact tourism can have, as seen in the fish tank in the hallway.
The bathroom/laundry room is the next space to explore. Here, a miniature Giboulo can be found in various places in the room, such as almost descending backwards into a bucket of water meant for cleaning (what I can only imagine is a response to the notion of domestic bliss) or floating in the sink. Environmental impacts are also explored in the room, as seen with a forgotten iron causing a forest fire, and an overflowing washing machine depicting a family fleeing their home. Another one of my favourite pieces in the exhibit is the bathroom sink. The level of detail of the products within the cabinet and the smiley face drawn in "dust" are hard not to be impressed with.
After this room, my favourite in the whole exhibition is to be explored: the bedroom. Themes of identity and introspection are delved into in this room, such as Giboulo’s figure’s reflection in the mirror, and the in-bed phone scrolling scene depicted in the wall clock. Along with this, commentary on labour is also explored in this room. In here, a dresser drawer reveals rows of masked factory workers hunched over sewing machines; a direct contrast of Giboulo’s grandmother who can be seen sitting in the closet knitting a sweater by hand. This can speak to how we have changed generationally on our consumption, collection, and valuation of items.
Next is a Giboulo’s kid’s bedroom. Here, both children’s dreams and struggles are explored. On the bed, an idealistic world - as pulled from Giboulo’s child’s dreams and their bedtime conversations – comes to life. On the desk, the youth’s dream to one day visit space is felt in the cardboard Blue Origin replica produced. However whimsical these displays may be, they are rooted in fantasy: a world where life’s challenges are easily solved, and one where capitalism prevails with the rise in space tourism. Hardships are less subtle with the final piece in the room: a tabletop hockey stand where children hockey players are against the cast of life’s struggles – from death to the Coronavirus pandemic. This piece is one of my favourite in the exhibit, and as explained in the show’s leaflet, it symbolizes “the obstacles that can befall children”.
The last area is the backyard. Climate change/pollution and homelessness are the central themes of the exhibition’s final space. The latter is a direct counterpart to the home, as just explored. The piece acknowledges the privilege of refuge homeowners/renters have and alludes to cities’ rise of encampments and decline of resources during the pandemic and beyond. Before leaving the exhibit, to end with hope, take a peek inside the telescope - may the aspirations and actions of our next generation lead to a better tomorrow.