Elizabeth Zvonar, Knock on Wood + Whistle, Installation documentation, Audain Gallery. Photos: Rachel Topham Photography. Image descriptions of the exhibition documentation are available below under 'Support Materials'

Elizabeth Zvonar: Knock on Wood + Whistle

January 13 – March 12, 2022
Audain Gallery

Elizabeth Zvonar’s practice is propelled by the stuff of the world. She is inquisitive about contemporary culture’s seemingly limitless excretion of images and objects, as well as the histories they validate, the systems of power they work to maintain and, when excised from their original contexts, the subversive potential for reconfiguring their meaning. For the past two decades Zvonar has been working predominantly with collage and assemblage. Her process is intuitive: without a predetermined endpoint, she wades through a vast and indiscriminate accumulation of fashion and lifestyle magazine advertisements, art history textbooks and popular science editorials. After extracting selected images, she juxtaposes one against another, scans, sometimes digitally alters, and enlarges them, to build compositions that present her audiences with wry new narrative propositions about our past and present worlds. 

In Knock on Wood + Whistle, Zvonar revisits themes that have been of interest throughout her practice, including the excesses of consumer culture, the search for spiritual fulfillment, and the commodification of the female body, especially as it has been represented in the history of western art. For this exhibition however, she sharpens these concerns by approaching them through a set of questions about inheritance. Through a series of new collage works and cast bronze sculptures, she considers the baggage of patriarchy, white supremacy, and western feminism, explores the magnetism of apotropaic objects — things understood to have the power to avert unwelcome forces or bad luck — and considers the relationship between superstition and survival tactics, commemoration, the folly of beauty, and the fragility of fame.

Several notorious personalities from twentieth century art appear, including two exemplars of the masculinist myth of the artist-as-genius — Surrealist Salvador Dali and Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre — as well as feminist visual and performance art icons Hannah Wilke and Marina Abramovic, both of whom were considered “too beautiful” to be critically relevant, and who developed very different artistic strategies in response. Amidst these references, pictures of roses, eggs, hands, and chains proliferate. Each of these images is a visual sign so heavily freighted with cultural symbolism that, as novelist Umberto Eco has argued about the rose, “by now it hardly has any meaning left.” However, for Zvonar, this semiotic exhaustion offers the image its moment of greatest potential because, as she would argue, visual art (as Eco said of the novel) is “a machine for generating interpretations.” With this strategy of reconfiguration and détournement, Zvonar challenges her viewers to read their own assumptions and investments against themselves.

For the first time (but in a natural extension of her working process), Zvonar approaches her host institution’s own art collection as a cache of “found images” to excavate and engage. Following an open-ended exploration of the catalogue of nearly 5,800 works in the SFU Art Collection, she chanced upon an unattributed silkscreen print produced in 1969 and acquired by the university in 1970. Zvonar hangs the work just inside the entrance to the gallery, where its acid toned, psychedelic text — Life goes on within you and without you — reads as an ambivalent (or nonchalant) epigraph for the exhibition. Life goes on, no matter what. You may as well “find freedom,” as the late Stó:lō writer Lee Maracle was once quoted as saying, “in the context you inherit.”

Elizabeth Zvonar received her BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2001. Zvonar has exhibited at Artspeak (Vancouver), Western Front (Vancouver), Contemporary Art Gallery (Vancouver), Musée d’art de Joliette, Morris and Helen Belkin Gallery (Vancouver), Vancouver Art Gallery, Oakville Galleries and Polygon Gallery (North Vancouver), and internationally in New York, Australia, Japan and Belgium. Her awards include the 2009 City of Vancouver Mayor’s Arts Award for Emerging Visual Artist and the 2015 Shadbolt Foundation’s VIVA award. Zvonar was short listed for the 2016 Aimia Photography Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario. From 2012-15 Zvonar held the post of City of Vancouver Artist in Residence. She is represented by Daniel Faria Gallery in Toronto and lives in Vancouver. 

All books on display are kindly supplied by SFU Library


Saturday, March 5, 2 – 4pm
Audain Gallery
Proof of vaccination and masks are required


In this three-part series artist Elizabeth Zvonar is joined by artist Marina Roy and writer Yani Kong to discuss her exhibition "Knock on Wood + Whistle" at SFU Galleries' Audain Gallery.

Video by Samwick Productions
Jeremy Xu, Camera Operator
Daniel Yang, Camera Operator
Gordon Wong, Production Consultant, Camera Operator
Charlie Cooper, Sound Recorder

Part One: The Baggage of Inheritance

Part Two: The Alchemy of Images

Part Three: Collecting and Channeling

Support Material