2015, Toronto, Canada         

The Cleaving

Timber and ceramics
One-night street barricade followed by performative dinner and exhibition

Commissioned by Nuit Blanche Toronto and Clint Roenisch Gallery, Toronto, for the exhibition The Work of the Wind, curated by Christine Shaw

‘In much of the Morisons’ sculptural interventions or architectural spaces, there exists within each work a sense of envelopment. The deliberate crafting of a particular space, often inside another space, whose function it is to transport the visitor elsewhere in their imagination, to create a pause for reflection, to shelter their body, to focus their mind, to reframe an existing situation or to foster new connections. The Cleaving began as a cleft to be navigated between monumental piles of logs, like middens left by giants, then it became an intimate, immersive, culinary interior, a sensuous cocoon aglow with candlelight and conversation. The division between server and served was dissolved, and guests left the evening, with shells in their pockets, feeling as though they had been to a banquet at Lascaux. The next night was the opening, a cleaving laid bare, and now the guests were akin to archaeologists, languidly sifting through elegant crockery and relics, wine in hand, while music and conjecture flowed.’

Clint Roenisch, gallerist


In the summer of 2015 Heather and Ivan Morison were the lead faculty at the Banff Centre, Canada, guiding a group of artists through a thematic residency on expanding art practices outside of the gallery. One project that the group worked on was a large collaborative dinner where guests were invited from across the campus – from musicians to mathematicians – this was called the Impossible Rainbow dinner. For this dinner Heather and Ivan Morison made a special ceramic dinner service of two hundred and fifty pieces, to seat fifty people, casting various meaningful objects in clay to be used as cups, bowls and plates; the punch cups were casts of a coconut brought back from a recent trip to Cambodia, the borscht bowls were casts of an old abandoned soccer ball found in the bog at the back of the artists house in England, and the sweetcorn plates came from casts of a Rockies river rock found five minutes from where they held the dinner.  Something special happened the evening of that dinner, something the artists were keen to investigate.

The dinner service was crated and sent to Clint Roenisch gallery in Toronto, where they planned to expand it and use it as the starting point for a new work, The Cleaving.

The Cleaving begins down at the port of Toronto, in a yard where the city dump all their diseased or dangerous trees, over 5,000 per year. It’s commonly referred to as the tree graveyard. Over two days, Heather and Ivan Morison, with the help of a fleet of dump trucks, cleared the tree graveyard and repurposed them to form a huge carefully arranged mass of timber towering across the main lake front street in Toronto. A narrow passageway was left diagonally through the blockade, allowing a dangerous pathway through its middle. The work only existed in its finished form for twelve hours, between sundown and sunrise the next day, and in that time over one million people passed through or around the work as part of Toronto’s Nuit Blanche.
The very next morning the work was dismantled. The finest of those huge logs were taken, not back to the graveyard, but to Clint Roenisch Gallery, where over the next few days they are dragged into the gallery, stacked and yet again rearranged to create a brutal zigzagging dining table and seating.

The table was set with Heather and Ivan Morison’s dinner service, now specially expanded to include small digestif vessels cast from a Fanny Bay oyster shell saved from the opening of the artists first show at the same gallery six years previously, which in the interim has lived at the bottom of the gallerist’s fish tank; a set of fifty small bowls cast from the gallerist’s right ear, used for the amuse-bouche; a set of larger bowls cast from a huge west coast oyster, the largest the gallerist had every eaten, and which was now used as his soap dish; and a set of tallow candles cast from beef marrow bones. The dinner service at this point was made up of over four hundred pieces.

That night a dinner was held. The Cleaving. The great and the good of Toronto were invited. A special new cocktail was served, The Electric Sheep, in the ceramic coconut cups, there was a huge fire outside over which elements of each course were cooked - seasonal corn in its husks to start and Cointreau soaked peaches to end. Fermentation and process played a large part in the menu, as did colour - the kvas, bubbling for ten days bringing a glorious deep purple to the borst.

There were sixty dinner guests but no one to cook, serve or clear. Guests were picked out by the artists or jumped up to help. Politicians took over the grill, architects ladled the borscht, the gallerist recited poetry and collectors collected the dirty dishes. It became a generous and anarchic performance in its own right. “A night for the ages” as the architect of the Moscow opera house later wrote.

Next day the artists reflected on their memories of the night before and the ruinous remains left in the gallery. The tables were cleared, the crockery washed, and the table reset to create an installation that reflected on the night before; the remains of the enemy’s table after a Bacchurian feast - black fluid leaking from upturned bowls and beef tallow running in rivers off the tables. That night the exhibition opened, candles lit but guttering, a very different scene from the night before. The installation accompanied by a live improvised dissonant electric guitar piece, the player sat alone amongst the logs.

The Cleaving is a very special performative evening, bringing together specially made elements along with specially invited people to create something totally unique. The diners become the performers and the audience.

At its heart The Cleaving is a dinner service, currently consisting of over four hundred pieces of ceramics, cast from variously meaningful objects. Each time the dinner is held new pieces are made and the service expands. Each time pieces are sold other different pieces are made in their place; dispersing, changing and evolving all the time.
Photographers’ credits       

Dinner_ Yannick Anton / All other images_Ivan Morison

Love Me or Leave Me Alone        


Love Me or Leave Me Alone, The Very Public Art of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison presents a journey through the past decade and a half of the artists’ practice, with an emphasis on their pavilions, escape vehicles, and public artworks.  The book can be ordered from the publishers Art/Books
Press contact        

If you can’t find the information you are looking for you can contact the studio of Heather Peak and Ivan Morison here: studio@peakmorison.org