Greater Toronto Art 2024, March 22–July 28.

Megan Rooney, Installation View: HUSH SKY MURMUR HOLE, MOCA Toronto, 2020. Courtesy the artist, DREI (Cologne). Photo by Toni Hafkenscheid.

Megan Rooney


February 6, 2020
— September 13, 2020

Megan Rooney is an enigmatic storyteller whose work expands across painting, performance, sculpture and installation. For the artist’s first major solo exhibition in Canada, Rooney transforms a floor of the museum by enveloping it in a large-scale mural, making use of all original walls. This temporary, site-specific environment is home to characters and scenarios composed from ubiquitous household materials, found objects, stuffed fabrics and paint.

Having spent her teenage years in Markham, Ontario, Rooney’s experiences of suburban North America inform her choice of materials, colour palette and subject matter. Her work explores notions of traditional femininity through the lenses of domestic space, the political haven of the garden, consumption-based societies and the mythological. At the same time, Rooney probes how our bodies are informed by and respond to the environments, systems and inanimate objects that surround us. There is an openness and generosity to Rooney’s practice: she single-handedly paints monumental breadths of wall, knowing full well that her work will soon be erased. This attitude, and the improvisational quality of her murals and sculptures, gives us the sense that we can step into her world and out of our own. Coursing beneath the surfaces of Rooney’s objects are undercurrents of fear, insouciance and a revelry in the tender yet spectacular qualities of everyday detritus. The grace of cheap luxuries transformed, and of all the narratives evoked by things bound by place and affinity.

Megan Rooney is a Canadian artist based in London, UK. An enigmatic storyteller, her work expands across painting, performance, written and spoken word, sculpture and installation. Summoning a recurring cast of characters that expand and contract across ephemeral incarnations, Rooney engages with materiality, the human subject, and their involvement in the present moment, exploring the chaos of politics and the latent violence of our society, whether in the home, in the female identity, or in the body. Rooney completed her MFA in Fine Arts at Goldsmiths College in London in 2011, after finishing her BA at the University of Toronto and growing up between South Africa, Brazil and Canada. Rooney’s work has been widely exhibited across Europe, most recently at Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (2019), 15 Lyon Biennial, Lyon, France (2019), Museum of Modern Art, Warsaw Poland (2019) and The Serpentine Galleries, London (2019). This is the artist’s first institutional solo exhibition in Canada.

The mural is alive. Incarnadine, blush, radicchio, red, pitch black, blue, citron, and churlish green. The colours move. They twist, turn, cajole, guide, lure, seduce: they push you and they pull you around, whether you like it or not. In Megan Rooney’s expansive, inter-disciplinary practice, that’s what art does: it asks you to pay attention, to look again, to enter it whole—to risk it all.

The world of HUSH SKY MURMUR HOLE—for it is that, a cosmos—is contained by a painted, encircling skin of the same name. Rooney has long been interested in colour, and how it is wedded to memory—the ways in which it can both forge and summon an environment. Made in situ, the arcs and smudges, the eddies and smears of the mural are painted intuitively. As the artist’s body responds to the particulars of the space, the work begins to generate itself: a logic that grows like a crystal, unfurls, and takes hold of the atmosphere. Within this landscape, we are confronted by objects strange and familiar. Things wrapped and bound, things rusty and faded, things spattered and smoky: things collected and reassembled, made into new, wayward rulers of their formerly humble material properties.

At one turn, round a bulbous column, painted barrels arrayed in communion surprise with their hued and dented bodies. At another, a trolley of snakes grin lazily, taunting us with their inscrutable slits of eyes; their pastel fabric bodies curl and ply against their metal confines. Painted damask sentinels, bandaged with mesh and wool, threaten to roll towards us like little stitched monsters, spill their birdseed coffins, offer us a cigarette. Hanging from the ceiling, hovering over lumpen figures beneath, three hooded graces sway, their forms hue-sodden and marked with an accretion of traces. Like flowers made too heavy to open and see the sky—but what if they did? Who are they? Do they scold or console? Mourn or revere? Have they come from another time? Did they bring this rotting fruit that cloys the nostrils? And the bag-headed kin beneath, with their coral and singed utility wool skin, do they slump, pray, wait? For what?

Coursing beneath the surfaces of Rooney’s objects, stained and seductive, is an undercurrent of fear twined with insouciance — a revelry in the tender, spectacular qualities of everyday detritus and how it can be connected to other materials and contexts. The grace of cheap luxuries transformed and all the potential narratives evoked by a collection of things bound by place and affinity — a kind of family resemblance that is like the afterglow, burn, sear of a hot image on the retina. What does it mean to look at the world around you and translate what you see into marks, images, forms?

Rooney’s references engage with materiality and the human subject and are deeply invested in the present moment: the festering chaos of politics, with its myriad cruelties so resident in the home, in the female, in the body. And what will this hot, violent existence look like, once it’s all over? What did we do with our bodies? Was it enough? How did we learn to acknowledge them, or not, through our extravagant rituals of adoration, procurement, disregard, and loss? Through our expensive festivals of death and ruin? This is not an exaggeration. This is not a drill. As Rooney’s work intimates with agile acuity, we have joy, we have pleasure, we have colour, we have storytelling, movement, tenderness, intuition, faith. But something is really wrong. The mural is alive, but it won’t always be.

by Emily LaBarge; text commissioned by MOCA for Megan Rooney’s exhibition

Public Programmes

12 pm–4pm

Drop-in and learn how to transform your feelings into abstract paintings. Taking inspiration from Megan Rooney’s exhibition HUSH SKY MURMUR HOLE, Toronto-based artist Laura Dawe will teach you how to express your emotions through texture and shape, invite attendees to consider the metaphoric aspects of their feelings, and learn a variety of mark-making and colour mixing techniques. Leave with two or three small finished works on paper. All materials will be provided.

Laura Dawe is a multidisciplinary artist whose painting and installation work is frequently exhibited by major Toronto commercial galleries. Recently, she completed a collaborative installation in the Drake Sky Yard and an interactive Tarot performance at /edition International Art Book Fair. Dawe teaches a drawing workshop called Joyful Still Lives from her studio and is a drawing professor at Sheridan College. She holds an MFA from OCADU and a BA in History from Dalhousie University.

This workshop occurs on TD Community Sunday. Admission to the museum is free all day!

Included with museum admission.

Presented as part of the exhibition HUSH SKY MURMUR HOLE by Megan Rooney, this three-chapter performance further animates notions of traditional femininity, domesticity, consumption-based societies and the mythological that occur throughout Rooney’s practice. Please join us for the Toronto premiere in the exhibition space on MOCA’s Floor 3.

Choreography: Temitope Ajose-Cutting
Sound: Paolo Thorsen-Nagel
Performers: Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Leah Marojevic, Megan Rooney, Moira Rooney
Direction, Text and Costumes: Megan Rooney

Tour of Megan Rooney’s HUSH SKY MURMUR HOLE with Artistic Director November Paynter

Leadership Circle

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