Empty City: Outside In by Cara Guri

Photo of finished painting

We’re excited to share with you the work of our 2021 Artist in Residence, Cara Guri. Cara is a visual artist based in Vancouver, BC. Cara’s residency is the second in a three-part collaborative series titled ‘Empty City’. Through her practice, Cara explores the relationship between identity construction and portraiture.

Her works examine the transactional nature of portraiture: the information that is given to the viewer and that which is withheld. Through her paintings she re-examines conventions and symbols found in historic portraiture by translating them into her current reality, disrupting their original meaning.

Cara’s residency challenges the perceived stability of iconic structures and aesthetics in canonical works to explore how meaning is not fixed but instead constantly evolving based on how an object is encountered and what one chooses and wishes to see.

Whether in portraiture, design, or architecture, magic happens when we challenge our creative selves to think outside the box and reimagine the possibilities. It is in these sparks of curiosity, and moments of imagination that we become better thinkers, designers, and people.

Painting detail of people silhouettes and church tower by Cara Guri. Painting detail of man's face and silhouette by Cara Guri. Cara Guri painting her final piece.

"I wanted my residency project in some way to be about this symbiotic relationship between people and the spaces they inhabit. At this historical moment, it also felt pertinent to consider the impact the pandemic has had on our relationship to our built environment, the natural world and the feeling of introspection and transformation that is necessitated in so many ways by this period in time."

Cara Guri

Paintings, sketches in progress and paint colour studies by Cara Guri.

Artist Statement

Upon reflecting on the “Empty City” theme of the hcma residency, I wondered if it was even possible to have an empty city? A city, by definition, is an inhabited space. It is like a shell – a city needs someone to animate it, to actualize its existence. In essence, we are the city. If the city is empty, it is our own bodies that are void.

The painting I created during my residency explores the instability of this time and contemplates the process of looking, relooking, rebuilding, and growing in response to our past patterns. I began by taking paper print outs of paintings depicting people gathering in city spaces from the canon of Western art and deconstructing them to create a series of still lives. The selected works by Tissot and Ghirlandaio depicted an illusory stability that felt at odds with the uncertainty of today. The resultant paper still lives and the subsequent painting I created based on them reimaged the folded, deconstructed, and rearranged paper remnants from these canonical works to speak of shifting and change. I curled figures in upon themselves creating windows and openings for new things to fill the empty spaces. I placed the still life in my window allowing tree branches from my backyard to encroach on the rigidity of the depicted architecture, just as the emptiness of urban spaces during the pandemic has allowed in some instances nature to return to spaces usually overrun by people. Throughout the process of painting, I continued to make destabilizing modifications to the still life in response to the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic and the climate crisis. The completed work, at once literal and surreal, speaks of instability and collapse, but also of introspection, openings, doorways, and a sense of possibility.

For more of Cara's work, and the behind-the-scenes of Cara's residency follow her on Instagram, and check out her website.

Back to news