By: Andrew Mrozowski

In 19th century Europe, it became increasingly popular to build houses with large greenhouses in order to house and provide a tropical-climate for warm-temperate plants.These winter gardens were fantastical structures that created an illusion where people could go to escape the realities of winter.  Montreal-based artists, Mere Phantoms, have created an exhibit that brings this fantasy to life using shadows at Hamilton Artists Inc.

Mere Phantoms creates three-dimensional paper structures that when hit with light at different angles, create an immersive shadow experience, transporting the viewer directly into the scene. The duo comprised of artists Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson have been working together since 2012. Originally meeting at Emily Carr University in Vancouver, British Columbia, Ersan and Robson both independently moved to Montreal where they became reacquainted and started working together.

Artwork by Maya Ersan and Jaimie Robson; Photo by Ahmet Boyanci

“There’s a lot of serious work [in the art world] that demands respect and adoration… there’s a way of displaying the work where there are lines you can’t cross over, you can’t touch anything — so we’re always trying to break that and think how art can be approached differently and interacted with differently while still possessing some sort of respect for the amount of time the artist has put into that but in a much more playful way.” said Ersan.

The duo sought opportunity when Hamilton Artists Inc. put out a call for submissions. Applying and getting their proposal approved, the two artists were hard at work to create their new pieces. Going through various iterations, Ersan and Robson finished an exhibit that related to recent research that they had been conducting.

When viewers walk into the dark room of Hamilton Artists Inc., they are greeted by sounds of birds chirping within a forest, an ambience that is being created by a large speaker in the room setting the scene for the main event. Hanging on the wall, LED flashlights can be found for you to pick up and activate when you go up to one of the many structures around the room.

“The paper cut outs themselves are very inviting and small in scale, extremely detailed so they’re kind of like miniatures. There’s almost a toy-like quality to them that is alluring and when you proportionate it with the light, the shadows that pop-up on the walls become really giant and then you shrink as the viewer,” explained Ersan. “It really engages the viewer using their body instead of just through their intellect, so we are using everything that is available to us.”

Winter Garden invokes questions of displacement, obsession, love and how this is all integrated to create a bubble within our homes that allows us to safely look outside to a harsher world. Although this exhibition does not tell a story from start to finish, each model can be described as a vignette, allowing the viewer to formulate the story in their own minds about how our actions have consequences even if we are unsure about how it will affect the rest of the world.

“These structures are not necessarily about the winter garden but are very much about the obsession we have of collecting and creating these interior spaces that function as a bubble. It’s our relationship to home in the way it’s driven by desire, love and jealousy.” said Ersan.

For the two artists, this exhibit is more than a just a collection of intricate paper structures, but more of an idea to kickstart the audience’s brain.

“I hope people walk away with a sense of wonder and inspiration. To me, when I see work that is really engaging and interesting, I walk away with this energy that I want to make my own expression, so I hope that this comes through. There’s just so much seriousness in every day life and even in art, glamour and all that kind of stuff, that we want to have something a little more playful.” said Ersan.

Winter Garden shines a bright light on how we create the comforts of our own home to push away the realities of our lives. Using flashlights to light up the truths within our homes, Mere Phantoms is casting a shadow on our contemporary view of what home sweet home really means.


Winter Garden will be on exhibition until May 11th at Hamilton Artists Inc. located at 155 James Street North.



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