Walking into Jason Botkin’s exhibit, All Kin, I feel as if I’m walking into a different world altogether. Three-dimensional mythical figures populate every wall and even the ceiling, completely transforming the space into their own territory. To add to the already enchanting environment, music booms from the speakers at the entrance of the gallery, playing catchy lounge-like tunes, endowing the space with a relaxed, contemporary vibe. Projected animations, based on the fabulous creatures inside, reflect onto the buildings surrounding the gallery, expanding the atmosphere even more. All Kin is largely composed of these haunting yet beautiful creatures, made of intricately silk-screened wood.
The most extravagant and eye-catching piece is a wall entirely covered by a monster’s face with an open mouth, which leads into a dark and mysterious room. Cautious yet intrigued, many of the exhibit attendees tentatively venture into the mouth of the beast. Inside, the room glows and dark marks adorn the walls, while at the back of the room is a closet-like space where drinks are being served. Botkin is clearly very attuned to detail in his use of space. Looking out of the entranceway from inside the dark room, a completely different monster stares back with illuminated eyes. This one glows in the dark, an even more ominous and menacing creature.
Botkin’s talents, however, are not strictly limited to these overwhelming, larger-than-life compositions. Closer to the DJ booth are 24 smaller pieces, each shaped like a portrait of a different mask-like face. With their eccentric mixture of colours and patterns, these pieces are immediately visually pleasing. But viewed through the provided 3D glasses, each mask morphs into a completely different face as colours, or layers, from the complex 15-colour silk-screening process are taken away. I learn from Botkin that this unique 3D illusion was discovered serendipitously, and that even now he does not always know in advance what the final effect will be.
Botkin’s work may mimic some aspects of street art, yet it often exceeds all but the very best examples of the genre. His values, too, are similar: Botkin holds dear the notion of being free to produce what you want with no bounds. It’s about communication through art and exceeding the limits of the traditional gallery experience. Botkin said that the main purpose of All Kin, like much of his work, was to question identities and masks. Using Facebook as an example, Botkin elaborates his belief that today, so much of what he sees is a mask, or a chosen identity, that people decide to show to the world. His work is intended to look through those masks and portray the spiritual being within. On a metaphysical level, his work explores the reincarnation of the soul.
In addition to creating his own marvelous works of art, Botkin founded EN MASSE, a project that he developed to give local talent in Montreal a chance to work in a gallery space and exhibit their art in a more sophisticated environment. His goal is to expose artists from a more underground perspective to the indoor art experience. With Montreal’s struggling art market, not many are given the chance to be supported financially in making their art. EN MASSE addresses this issue through a collective vision and has helped give attention to many non-traditional artists.
Botkin is also associated with LNDMRK, a company whose primary mandate is to bring international artists to Canada in order to collaborate with them and expose them to the scene in Montreal. Likewise, LNDMRK exposes local artists to the international art world. The company is unique in that it does not simply depend on a gallery space, but instead works within the Montreal community in an extroverted manner to secure jobs for individual artists. Its goal is to successfully build up attention for street artisits in Montreal and establish a market for it.
From experiencing All Kin first hand, I realize that Botkin’s work is difficult to classify. It sits on the increasingly blurry border between art and entertainment. Each piece is so clearly directed to thrill and excite its viewers and to test the limits of space and design. Even the way the exhibit is constructed plays into the idea of an experience, instead of the simple commodification of framed art. To my horror, I am told that eventually this wonderful and magical world will disappear. The monster entranceway will have to be deconstructed and dissolve into meaningless pieces of wood. As Botkin tells me, with no remorse, everything but the smaller portraits will be taken apart and thrown away, never to be given life again. As Botkin sees it, his work is meant to be seen and to be experienced, not to be stored forever. The pieces are so carefully moulded to the space where they are exhibited, that it is impossible to preserve them. They are simply meant to inspire and amuse, then be put to rest. Drawing inspiration for his art from old renaissance paintings, Mexican muralists, metaphysical paintings and even Egyptian hieroglyphics, Botkin’s art is a psychedelic compound of diverse influences. While he isn’t interested in storing his art, or selling it on a broad scale, he supports himself through the sale of smaller, less personally important pieces. Instead his goal is much larger: he wants to leave an unforgettable impression on the viewer that will make his message linger in their minds long after the exhibition is destroyed.