Ed Pien’s Present: Past/Future at the AGO

Perception of time.

Ed Pien Marcelino Povea Vives, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Photo by Claudio Pelaez and Ed Pien.

Ed Pien has taken his time telling the story of his upcoming exhibition Present: Past/Future at the Art Gallery of Ontario—but that seems appropriate. After all, a story about time is best told when it’s steeped in it.

The Toronto-based artist, who emigrated from Taiwan as a child, has been making the trip to San Agustín, Cuba, just outside Havana, since 2014 to converse with a group of its elders on the subject of time. Since retiring from teaching, he has visited at least three times each year. Using their perspectives and insights, Pien weaves together a collection of their musings and reflections, indirectly telling not only a story of each life but also the history of Cuba through their eyes. Present: Past/Future is a “contemplation on what time means to them, how time compels their actions and decisions, and how time makes its impact on their life, body, and mind,” he says.

The installation exhibition opening at the AGO on June 25 is multidisciplinary, combining audio, video, photography, and furniture pieces. In the first vignette, a more traditional gallery space is filled with monitors and photographs of the Cuban elders. In another, piles of vintage furniture create an engaging interactive display. As visitors walk through, they encounter objects and vintage TVs playing clips of the elders’ contemplations on time, allowing viewers to experience their own introspective journey. “Seeing the work coalesce in one space after so many years will offer me welcome moments for reflection,” Pien says. “It means a lot, and I am grateful for the opportunity to present works that give voice to these partici­­­pating elders.”



Though the work on Present: Past/Future already spans nearly a decade, the AGO exhibit does not mark its completion. “This project is ongoing, and it will en­d when either the elders or I pass, or if they lose interest in continuing working with me,” the 64-year-old artist explains. In another context, this may seem grim. But with Pien, it acts more like a promise, a commitment to not only his work but to also giving a platform to deserving voices. “These people and this project have become inextricably connected to my art practice and my life.”