Artists are usually known to showcase their work in its final form, but Levin Ifko, a multi-disciplinary artist based in Calgary, is more interested in showcasing their artistic process. 

From Feb.18 to March 26, Ifko held their residency Writing With My Hands, which transparently explores change and the different ways it can manifest. Residencies allow artists to expand on their work in a supportive community environment. 

Levin Ifko’s residency, “Writing With My Hands” was held in The New Gallery’s main space from Feb. 18 to March 26. Photo Credit: Abby Parker

Their residency was held in The New Gallery (TNG), an artist-run center in Chinatown with a mandate to highlight socially and politically focused creative work. 

The small space is filled with light and an even richer history. Tucked in the wall of the gallery’s main space is a bright blue door, which opens down to a basement full of archives.

Alexa Bunnell, communications and outreach coordinator at TNG, toured me through the gallery’s basement. Even before reaching the bottom step of the narrow staircase, I found little remnants of the space’s past — postcards, spare paint, textiles and a dusty record player.  

Many of these objects were left in this basement for years without purpose, but when Ifko started their residency at TNG, they transformed some of these objects into art as a way to show care for the history of the space. 

“I’m a very objects-drawn person and a big collector of sorts. I love to make art that is inspired by these collections, moments and timestamps,” says Ifko. 

Ifko is especially drawn to transit tickets and was building a large collection of them before March 2020. The pandemic abruptly changed Ifko’s creative practice, which was centred around transit tickets and the imagery of transit tickets, at the time. 

“I have always loved this feeling of being completely still on a train, yet moving so fast throughout space. I think it’s such an interesting way of revisiting different places and spaces I’ve been in my life,” says Ifko. “It’s just such an interesting in-between space because you’re not where you are, and you’re not where you’re going.” 

Ifko keeps their transit ticket collection in a small, clear box and carries it with them. PHOTO: ABBY PARKER

Ifko used their hands to describe this in-between state to me — placing their palms together, then pulling them apart while keeping energy between. 

“I really think about that liminal space in terms of queerness, and what it means to be queer, trans and non-binary. This space is not only in-between but outside of the [normative] construction of what it means to be,” says Ifko. 

Through their residency at TNG, Ifko explores change, fluidity and uncertainty by altering everyday objects like signs and labels. By making these alterations, they re-frame change to be a source of joy, rather than a force of disruption. 

Ifko first found joy in signage from their grandparents, who operated a sign-making business out of their garage for about 50 years. They believe sentimental connections help shape their art practice. Note and letter writing is especially important in their work going forward. 

“I really love transforming the objects, but I also think the biggest thing for me is about the exchange and the relationships that you build with someone through writing to them,” says Ifko. 

‘I don’t think about you as much as I thought I would, and I thought this would mean I’d be used to it. March 13, 2022 is a few days away and I guess I can’t write through everything’: Ifko used wooden planks they found in the gallery’s basement for this piece, which is the anniversary of the last day they collected transit tickets. PHOTO: ABBY PARKER

Ifko has exchanged letters with their friend and fellow artist, Morgan Martino, for three to four years. Together, they are working on a letter-based publication, with collectibles, scannable playlists and handwritten notes and letters. Free copies of the publication will be available to the public at TNG following Ifko’s residency. 

“I think what happens so often in this space is the exhibition of finished work, and it’s really nice to see the creation and exploration of work instead,” says Bunnell.

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