UW art gallery exhibit: Here. In Absence (by: Vessna Perunovich)


Art is a form of expression for some — a form of understanding human nature and the qualities that it can potentially harness and, for most, it’s a way to communicate and address social issues.

The UW Art Gallery (UWAG) showcases an excellent exhibit related to this ideology. Here. In Absence, currently exhibited at the UWAG — for the first time in North America —  revolves around the themes of darkness and light, beauty and violation, and one’s resilience towards life’s journey. The exhibit was created by Vessna Perunovich, a Toronto-based interdisciplinary artist whose work aims to advocate for social issues, displacement, and boundaries. 

Ivan Jurakic, the art curator and director at the UWAG, considers Here. In Absence a response to the pandemic, as this is the first exhibit of the year after a long period of living with pandemic protocols. Jurakic hopes the art exhibit evokes feelings that would satisfy his role as a curator.

“There’s a lot of uniqueness to the work, it was emotionally and intellectually challenging as it hits a lot of notes as the work evolved over months before being put out,” Jurakic said. 

Many creative intellects believe art has no boundaries and is not constricted by the shackles of time. Perunovich’s work is an embodiment of this thought as it takes on a holistic approach in respect to showcasing human connection to isolation, division and belonging. In Here. In Absence, which was originally created in 2020 amidst the pandemic, Perunovich can be seen walking around the seemingly abandoned environment at the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant beside Lake Ontario — formerly known as the “Palace of Purification.” She carries the burden of a nautical Jacob’s ladder, aesthetically a metaphor, to climb from one place to another portraying the journey of life.

“It shows life’s journey and the resilience of humans; we’re always fighting the odds,” Perunovich explained.

The location of the place also holds significant importance, as the sound of the industrial locomotive underlines the creation of an atmosphere signifying the artist’s journey through her childhood.

“I grew up close to a railroad, so it symbolizes my journey, my childhood,” Perunovich said.

Another mesmerizing element exhibited in the gallery includes the hanging braille piece depicting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and Freedom, advocating for the progressing injustice and crisis in the world. The pandemic in this scenario is explicitly portrayed by Perunovich through her wearing a mask while carrying the ladder across the palace of purification. 

She highlights these events as a way to create a pause for contemplation or in her words, “to think of a new way to look at things.” Art is a form of communication for her and she strives to bring about awareness of the issues faced by humans.

“As much as people are different they still experience the same things such as the pandemic, in a way we’re all similar,” Perunovich said. 

In all of this, the UN declaration beacons the true meaning of humanity and compassion as it is ideal for living life the right way. 

Something encouraging she hopes to achieve through her art is to bring positivity as her work strikes a poetic balance between darkness and light. 

“There’s always a little light at the end of darkness,” Perunovich said. 

Here. In Absence is displayed at the UW Art Gallery (UWAG) till March 25, 2022. For more information visit the UWAG website.