The Gardiner Museum has a new major, and very special, exhibition titled Housewarming: Karine Giboulo and it is playful, enchanting and profound all at the same time. The latest contemporary art exhibition takes the form of a large-scale, immersive reimagining of the artist’s home, populated by more than 500 miniature polymer clay figures. As a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibition is a sculpted documentary of individual and collective experiences grounded in current events. The colourful dioramas furnishing each room prompt reflection about the challenges we face as a society, including connectedness and isolation, aging and care, labour and consumerism, the climate crisis, food insecurity, and housing instability.
Karine Giboulo is a self-taught, Montreal-based artist who, over the past twenty years, has gained recognition for her miniature works. Always direct and incisive, Giboulo’s world articulate unexpected juxtapositions—playful and sad, realistic and absurd, poetic and political—prompting a range of emotions from delight to profound empathy.
We chatted with Karine about this incredible new body of work…
How did you decide on the overall theme to be structured like a home?
Karine: I don’t know exactly when the idea of the home popped into my head, but it was actually the first idea I had when I conceiving this show. Once it came to me, I started imagining how I would fill the space, and it became like a diary of the past two past years. When the first pandemic lockdown happened, I was in shock and wasn’t working at all. After a few weeks of being in isolation in my home, I began to work again and at that moment realized that the home was the perfect vehicle to reflect on the state of the world.
We often find labels next to works of art in museums but visitors are
Karine: I really want the visitor to have an immersive experience and to feel like they’re entering a home, rather than visiting a museum. There’s a guide that you can pick up or access on your phone, but the house itself doesn’t have any labels.
Also, we can get very close to your work without any barriers?
Karine: I make art to communicate with people. The visitor is really important to me and I try to give them the best experience possible. I know accidents can happen, but I’m okay with taking that risk. Nothing can’t be fixed, right? Glue is my best friend.
The grocery store bag is such a strong visual. What can you tell us about this?
Karine: The grocery bag is one of the first works I made for this exhibition. Early on in the pandemic, we were reminded that while access to food is one of our most essential needs, it’s also a fragile one. Food banks were overwhelmed. So I had the idea to transform a reusable grocery bag into a diorama of a food bank. I see this scene as a visual archive of the beginning of the pandemic.Can you tell us how long it took for you to create each sculpture and what was the process?
Karine: It takes me around 4 hours to create a figurine. First I sculpt it in polymer clay, then I cook it in my kitchen oven, and finally I paint it. Sometimes, I will sculpt a bunch of figures over a few days and then spend the next few days painting them all.
There is one mirror with a very personal handwritten letter displayed next to it talking about your health. How are you doing now?
Karine: A few months before the pandemic, I was diagnosed with a disease called Ankylosing spondylitis. I call it my dinosaur disease—my ankylosaurus—and sometimes it makes me feel like a dinosaur. It’s an autoimmune disease affecting my bones, particularly my spine. So I was already feeling confined in my body and then, when the pandemic hit, I felt even more restricted. At first I was shy about addressing it in my art, but then I thought about all the people dealing with invisible illnesses alone. So I decide to talk about it in the most personal space in the exhibition and in my home—my bedroom.
I’m doing better now. Thank you for asking! I started treatment to slow down the progression of the disease and am feeling much better, in body and spirit!
The child’s bedroom holds dreams and aspirations even through the toughest times. On a chair sits a sculpture of a child bursting out of a rocket with joy. What inspired this piece?
Karine: This room in the house is a reimaging of my own child’s bedroom. It’s been quite a roller coaster for the kids over the past couple years, but there are always those precious moment of childhood, of dreams. The child in the cardboard rocket is also present at the end of the exhibition, in the telescope in the yard, going to the moon. It was important for me to end on a positive note—keep dreaming!
What are you hoping visitors will learn and understand from this exhibition?
Karine: I hope to open up conversations with visitors about the times we’re living in and the events we’re all experiencing. I want to generate a range of emotions and questions. And of course, I hope they enjoy the visual experience.
Housewarming: Karine Giboulo is now open until May 7, 2023 at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. Entry to this special exhibition is included with general admission to the Museum.
Additional programming worth exploring at the Gardiner Museum…
Tuesday November 15
Move, Make & Write (My Home)
Award-winning multidisciplinary artist, writer, and educator Esther Maloney invites you to let your body engage somatically with the work in the exhibition through movement, breath, and play.
Tuesday November 22
Curator Tour with Karine Tsoumis
Explore the exhibition with curator Karine Tsoumis. The tour will open a dialogue around the themes in the exhibition, from consumerism to the climate crisis.
Tuesday November 29 and Wednesday November 30
Figure Making with Karine Giboulo
Discover the versatility of working with polymer clay and express your own creativity in response to the themes in the special exhibition.
Wednesday November 30, 1:30 – 2:30 pm
Artist Tour with Karine Giboulo
Discover the exhibition alongside artist Karine Giboulo, who will offer insight into the its stories and themes.
For more information on tickets, programming, details and to reserve your spot, visit www.gardinermuseum.on.ca