2 min

Throwing cold water on our love affair with the vertical

Luis Jacob rethinks the architectural

MODEL CITY. Luis Jacob asks, what are skyscrapers really touching? Credit: Xtra files

Every once in a while you see a show that changes how you look at the built environment around you.

Something in the artist’s vision or understanding is translated through his or her materials in such a way as to turn our perceptions around, upside-down or simply fine-tune them in new directions.

Luis Jacob’s exhibition of three works currently up at Robert Birch Gallery is one of those shows.

A series of six exquisite sculptures, titled the Bilts, are long maple planks that have been milled to conform to the “footprints” of six high-rise office buildings in downtown Toronto. The Exchange Tower, Simcoe Place, First Canadian Place and others become simple minimalist forms, combinations of rectangles, squares, circles and triangles. To shift them even further away from concepts of function, Jacob has turned them sideways and placed them horizontally on the floor.

A series of softly beautiful black and white photographs, titled Model City, depict these same office towers as though from above. The catch is that the photos are details taken of the model of the city of Toronto found in the lobby of Toronto City Hall. The buildings in these photographs are other-worldly, slightly out of focus and without people, doors or windows.

As with Bilts, the Model City piece is about pure form, horizontal and vertical architectural structure. It is startling to realize that the giant blocks of steel, glass and stone that dominate our skyline can actually be seen as such simple, elegant shapes.

The third piece, titled Album, consists of 50 panels that combine images pulled from magazines, postcards and books. Images of natural and fabricated objects extend Jacob’s play with horizontal and vertical gesture and movement and point out relationships we construct between our natural environment and the culture we fabricate around us.

Male bodybuilders, baseball players, trees, office towers, cactus plants, monuments and porn images of cocks all combine to point us in the direction of power, pleasure, growth and revolt. John Travolta, Margaret Thatcher and protesters charging riot squads thrust their arms into the air with the same gusto as tornadoes funnelling out of the sky. A liberal sprinkling of images of works by artists such as Donald Judd, Jin Me Yoon, Emily Carr and Jeff Wall thicken the pot and make it fun to plot out Jacob’s intended narratives.

What becomes apparent after cruising down the line of hundreds of these images is that as a culture we’re much more enamored with the vertical. We paint it, eat it, decorate it, build it and have sex with it. Jacob is offering us not only a reconsideration of how form functions in the environments we live in and with, but also a quiet reconsideration of the horizontal with his careful placement of the wood sculptures across the floor that, in his words, suggest “a beautiful new monumentality without top or bottom.”


Luis Jacob.

Until Sat, Mar 31.

Robert Birch Gallery.

241 King St E.

(416) 955-9410.