A recent graduate from Concordia University with an MFA in intermedia arts, Montréal-based artist Ayam Yaldo was on the hunt for a studio space. Adamant that her work should not permeate her home, she settled on this small yet charming studio space, which she shares with four other fine arts graduates. Upon entering her space, we are met with four silhouettes of feet and twenty-one creatures — half insect, half embryo — made of clay, carefully laid flat to dry on the table before being fired for the first time in the kiln. Right now, they are at their most vulnerable. A small brush in hand, Yaldo meticulously dusts the sculptures, which she affectionately refers to as her “girls.” But there is more coming. On the floor, covered by sheets of newspaper, are another girl and two feet; the clay is still humid and malleable. She eagerly shows me her workstation: a dirty, textile-covered wood plank that serves as a flat surface for working the clay. Nearby are a small bowl filled with water to smooth the clay, a rolling pin, and various sizes of metal-wire brushes, sculpting utensils, and dainty brushes, reminiscent of an archaeologist’s toolkit.
More than a mere methodological borrowing, archaeology is central to Yaldo’s practice. In her more recent works, Notes from Home (2019) and Impossible Sites (2021), she creates multilayered arrangements of artefacts, 3D-printed objects, videos, and performance, playing up the aesthetic of an archaeological excavation. In Notes from Home, viewers are greeted with shovels, buckets, measuring tapes, pots, bowls, and ceramic sculptures of water vessels referencing ancient Sumerian culture, all laid out on the floor. On the backdrop is a projection telling a tale of destruction, presenting, in turn, fixed images of Mesopotamian votive statues with wide-open eyes and a video of monumental ziggurat ruins superimposed with war footage and sounds of sirens blasting and explosions resounding. Yaldo performs among the objects and in front of the video, mimicking the postures of the statues and later ascending the stairs of the ziggurat; her body binds all the elements together. Impossible Sites proceeds from the same accumulation of multimedia signifiers. Again, ceramic sculptures, mounds of sand, 3D-printed figurines, essential oils, and a single channel video: the assemblage of objects expands the video into the physical space. As its title indicates, the aim of Impossible Sites is to reconstruct a Middle Eastern heritage that has been lost, destroyed, or displaced through years of war and US occupation.