This Fragile Dwelling Place, graphite and coloured pencil on medical lab coat pattern, 2015, photo credit: Kevin Bertram
March 10th, 2017 to April 13th, 2017
Opening: March 10th, 5-8pm
Artist Talk: Saturday, March 11th, 2pm
Within, without is an interdisciplinary exhibition that explores themes of loss, fragility, strength and resilience. The body becomes a metaphor for social issues – health and medicine, women’s rights, and the conditions facing garment factory workers.
Entranced by the body’s intricacy – its beauty, strength, vulnerability and resilience – Janet Shaw-Russell has immersed herself in the tradition of anatomical drawing. She is a Manitoba and Brandon Arts Council grant recipient, a former MAWA Mentorship mentee and a founder of the women’s art collective, Drawn Together.
Text Response by Bev Pike
Vital, by Darian Goldin Stahl
Within, without, by Janet Shaw-Russell
Artists attempt the transformation of their reality by portraying one thing using another.
In these paired installations, each artist creates her own beautiful charnel house.
When we enter, delicate membranous fragments invite touch. Sensual presences tempt the gaze. Spectral garments lure the psyche. These somatosensory promptings link us to early pagan times when women’s bodies (skin, breasts, bones, lungs, limbs) energise significant places.
Think back. Imagine an ancient temple as, metaphorically, a large beast formed of bits of other beasts. Inside this monstrous enclosure, our ancestors reverently roasted flesh and flower. They displayed the inedible parts: the eyes, bones, teeth, horns, claws, corms and eggshells. Outside, they reverently hung the remains in trees. In building allegory, tree trunks became columns (their roots their bases), branches wove into entablature or roofs. Horns doubled as column volutes, vegetables as staves, and pleats as bunches of spear shafts.
Magnificent architectural components were what our forerunners used to tally each ritualised body that hosted a divinity needing to, by proxy, regenerate itself. Visual motifs accounted for lives lived and sacrifices made.
Both artists intervene within the gallery structure by judiciously using feminine incongruity.
Since the beginning of sentience, bodies have retained aspects of their inhabitant’s soul, personality and immortal existence. These artists’ attentiveness to their responsibility to protect this significance led them to reconstruct (in idiosyncratic ways) medicalised bodies. In so doing, these women have exhumed our collective cultural amnesia about how females became ornaments.
In this Martha Street haven, witness the mammogramme wallpaper, peeled skin books, and glimmers of apparitions of phantoms. Study the ghostly skeletal artefacts that include fragile sewing patterns, magnetic resonance imaging, and cross-sections of brain. See how each living morsel has achieved immortality through each artist’s careful conservation (these replicas) and classification (their display strategies). Observe how the artists exploit ascentional or gravitational orientation. Integrate your own physicality in relation to each piece. Notice the mesmeric nearness of your body to the artworks’ paradoxical forms, surfaces and textures.
Once we understand these artists’ vocabularies, we start to appreciate their architectural interventions in surprising ways. We find ourselves performers within this unconventional sanctuary. We absorb the sacrificial nature of illness, of adaptation, of transcendence and of humour. We become aware of how each artist allows her distress to be contained by the room. Her space is a vessel of energies, an amplifier. She magnifies her need to make this chamber and this time her own. And, in the reciprocity of viewing, this need welcomes ours.
This art by these women is a tribute to the power of taboo.
On exhibit, women’s body traces have meanings and functions independent of their original role. In art, female subjects are both reverenced and forbidden. Our bodies start out incredibly pure, yet when infirm they can be vehicles of appalling danger. Our energy provides pathways of expiation, but (on very naughty days) also of pollution. We may be adored but we also, to the wildly misguided, epitomise abomination. We represent, we substitute, replace, stand-in and become surrogate.
The dangers and blessings of taboo can be so powerful that women are inclined to form protective gestures and ceremony. Exhibiting our forms in double-identity exposures, lymph node wall covering or other fascinating material is a way of making pivotal sacrifices more permanent. That is why we must move quietly in this gallery. We have an obligation to become sensitive to our surviving bodies that progress within this symbolic beast made from printed proxies of other creatures.
These two artists use fascinating mixes of conventional and grotesque artefacts as a deliberate means of relating to us within this particular shelter. This show tells stories, in its unique shadowing of very real women, about the idea that our fate is bound up within the marrow of our bones.
Winnipeg, February 2017
Special thanks to Kenlyn Collins, Librarian for the Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Bev Pike is a Winnipeg artist and polymath. She has exhibited her large-scale neo-baroque landform paintings all over Canada. These works and her burlesque artist-books are in collections such as the Canada Council Art Bank (ON), Tate Modern (UK), National Museum of Women in the Arts (US) and the Library and Archives of Canada (ON). Pike has received senior grants from the Canada Council, Manitoba Arts Council, and Winnipeg Arts Council among others.