Ryan Van Der Hout Collecting Dust

May 5–28,  2022
    Ryan Van Der Hout, Stress Test, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and United Contemporary
Ryan Van Der Hout, Stress Test, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and United Contemporary

Multidisciplinary artist Ryan Van Der Hout reimagines traditional still life vanitas in this photographic and installation-based solo exhibition that considers the human fascination with mortality. His series of black-and-white photographs explores the personal and universal transformations and rebirth that emerged amid the current pandemic, along with their accompanying anxiety and grief.

Van Der Hout’s compositions take on the illusion of artifacts documented within a world of decay. In them, tables are adorned with canonical symbols such as skulls and butterflies, placed among sex toys, Shabbos candles, and other personal items. The artist covers these meticulously arranged tableaux with dust and ash, to don the appearance of years of neglect. Closer inspection reveals that the still lifes’ subjects, while alluding to a post-apocalyptic present, actually belong to a world outside of time.

In We Are What We Pretend To Be (2021), contemporary items are positioned alongside a recently blown out candle, in the style of a Dutch vanitas painting of the Baroque period. Removing these symbols from their historical contexts collapses time upon itself, engendering simultaneous, parallel visions of decay. In the forest clearing depicted in Stress Test (2021), three sculpted busts sit tenuously atop a board balanced upon a large stone, looking outwards in all directions. The delicate arrangement implies human presence, while highlighting its absence.

Collecting Dust merges Van Der Hout’s discrete practices of photography and sculpture, as the artist extends his photographic subjects into the gallery space through dimensional installations directly inspired by the work of American artist—and Van Der Hout’s ancestor—Harold Paris (1925–79). Abstracted tableau arrangements are shrouded and contained by dense black material, constructed through a unique vacuum-sealing process that creates the illusion of soft fabric or silk.

In keeping with the narrative conveyed in Van Der Hout’s photographs, the objects he has chosen to place in the space represent the Anthropocene Epoch, in which human activity reconfigures the natural world. Throughout his work, the artist documents a surrealistic new reality, constructed from dust. While it may appear that his lens looks back at a world gone by, it is indeed an act of looking forward.

Curated by Melanie Trojkovic

Presented by United Contemporary

Ryan Van Der Hout

Toronto-based artist Ryan Van Der Hout’s work has been widely featured in publications including The Huffington Post, Vogue Italia, CBC, and Reader’s Digest. He has exhibited across Canada, the United Kingdom, and New York, and most notably in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Collectors Series; as part of a Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival Featured Exhibition; and in The Magenta Foundation’s Flash Forward festival. Van Der Hout has created public art for the Toronto Archives, The TTC, Nuit Blanche, and Pemberton Developments; was awarded the Emerging Artist Award by the Robert McLaughlin Gallery; and has been supported by the Ontario Arts Council. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Photography from Ryerson University.