ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL
AUGUST 2 TO 5, 2017
OPENING RECEPTION: Wednesday August 2nd, 5 - 8 PM
The Red Head Gallery is pleased to present as part of their summer rental exhibitions ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL, an exhibition photographed and curated by Sean Wainsteim.
From boot-removers to dustpans to machines that thread bobbins, ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL is an exhibition of Displaced and Assembled pieces by Lejb Pilanski, a 97 year old Jewish former sweatshop tailor and refugee. Photographed and curated by his grandson, filmmaker Sean Wainsteim, Lejb’s second-hand repurposed objects and assemblages sit alongside official archive documents that chronicle Lejb’s journey from Post-War Eastern Europe to Canada. Echoing Lejb’s disparate creations, the exhibition mixes constructed objects, personal materials, photography, typography, textiles and audio/video. The collection invites dialogue on the value of self-taught resourcefulness as a means of survival. These displaced-objects-made-useful are evocative pieces of the struggle of a once displaced man.
“Anything I made, no one is going to copy me.”
- Lejb Pilanski
With a life steeped in loss and hardship, Lejb trained himself to be ever adaptable. Be it emotional, figurative or physical, Lejb took whatever scraps the world left him and envisioned new ways to transform them into something functional. Lejb fashioned his own versions of mundane and often affordable utilitarian objects. He began to find joy in his creations. Collected together they seem like inverted cousins of Marcel Duchamp’s Readymades.
At 97, Lejb Pilanski, a refugee who came to Canada after World War Two, is still living in the modest Toronto home he bought in the 1960s. A former sweatshop tailor, Lejb built a sewing room and workshop in his basement as a place to invent and innovate, turning discarded and secondhand objects into unique creations.
The son of a Jewish tailor and handy-man, Lejb was born in Poland in 1919. During World War Two he was made to join the Russian Army and fight against the Germans. During that time, he lost his entire family. After the war, Lejb met his future wife Ester on a train. They snuck into France and lived in Paris where they had their daughter Ginette. In 1950 they entered Canada as Displaced Person Refugees, settling in downtown Toronto.
After creating piece-work in a sweatshop, Lejb got a job as a tailor for Simpsons. In his spare time, he was creating. From secret cupboards and hiding places with hidden entrances to clothing for his family, Lejb built custom designs whenever an idea struck. He learned about motors, electrical work and plumbing. Sewing and stitching is at the core of what he makes. His creations, and entire home, are evidence of his continued efforts to tinker and hack everything.
The proud grandson of Lejb Pilanski, Sean Wainsteim is an award winning filmmaker, writer and artist living in Toronto, Canada. A graduate of OCAD, Sean splits his time between commercial, documentary and narrative projects that often use magic-realism to explore the spaces between history and memory. Sean’s work can be found at www.livingmonolith.com.
Sean began assembling ZEI GEZUNT // KEEP WELL shortly after his grandmother Ester, Lejb’s wife, passed away on January 12, 2017. While growing up, the objects featured in the show never seemed out-of-the-ordinary. While he realizes they are entirely unique, they also speak to ingenuity common in many immigrants. Sean tried to approach creation and curation of the show in the same exploratory spirit of discovery that he finds in his grandfather’s objects.