As part of our regular exhibition schedule, we invite artists to give a free public gallery tour or talk about their work. You can access these here as audio files, along with a few images documenting each exhibition. Written responses of regularly programmed gallery exhibitions are also available here and are written works by writers, curators, cultural theorists and artists.
Before I was asked to write a response to Tracy Peters’ newest exhibition Subconscious Terrain at Martha Street Studio, I followed her on Instagram @tracy_a_peters. I was attracted to her aesthetically beautiful and compelling observations of landscapes; she uses composition and light to draw the viewer into her sensitive understandings of the natural world. In her exhibition, she impresses the beauty, benefits and complex characteristics of peatlands/bogs using the Canadian Sphagnum moss as her muse. The visitors to the gallery embark on a visual, physical and auditory journey to better understand why we should care about peatlands.
Walking into the gallery, you are faced with the piece called Greenhouse. Peters constructed a dome-shaped structure reminiscent of a miniature greenhouse, but it is a symbolic bog, a place of life and death. To understand this work, you need to know what makes up a peatland. It consists of the build-up of organic matter several meters thick, formed over thousands of years. With the lack of oxygen and the acidity of the stagnant surrounding water, plants such as Canadian Sphagnum are suspended in decomposition, like a ‘pickled state.’ Peters uses photographs of decomposing sphagnum moss, dull in colour, printed on a manipulated rock-impressed vellum surface to frame the outside structure. You are invited to crawl inside and lay down on a lumpy buckwheat-filled cushion meant to mimic the fluctuating layers of a bog with images of live sphagnum moss printed on its fabric surface. The inside lining of the structure is lively, with bright colours of the moss. Peters is metaphorically placing you under the surface of the bog in a restorative state, preventing the decomposition of our bodies and, in a way, protecting us from the outside world of commodity-driven realities.
The following piece is Pressed For Time, a video installation placed above one’s head, that animates the scans of living sphagnum moss. Nearby, the negatives of the moss used to animate the video are displayed. They are laid out on a plexiglass shelf like specimens to be studied in a lab. In the video, Peters presents the scans in layers, like moving through a bog to highlight the undulating layers that make up this remarkable plant community. The animation starts silent but the audio eventually builds, like a distant blaze getting closer until the roaring flames mark our potential doom. The placement of the projection forces you to look up, physically situating you under the bog again. The imagery looks like flames licking amongst the frame; it reminds us how dangerous it is to drain a peatland. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), “peat extraction contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, annually releasing almost 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions.” Manitoba has the second-largest distribution of peatlands in the country, and as of 2011, twelve companies have a lease to drain a portion of this land for extraction. This has devastating effects on the wildlife that relies on this habitat and on our own clean water. Drained peatlands can potentially burn underground undetected for years, and can contribute to fires and drought. As Peters says, “We need to protect these important spaces for the health of our planet.”
Lastly, you come face-to-face with Bog Breathers. You are physically confronted with these six feet tall, airy fabric panels; enlarged photographic prints of living sphagnum moss, hung so you can weave in and out as you move through them. These ethereal prints hang like heavenly creatures dangling to mirror our own bodies. What you experience is a floating community coming together to create an environment that supports life. Bogs are a lifeline to so many creatures such as migratory birds, frogs and moose. They act as a filter and provide a source of clean water. By enlarging these plants, Peters reminds us of their enormous positive ecological impact on the environment and our bodies.
With Subconscious Terrain, Peters introduces us to the intricate elegance of the Canadian Sphagnum moss. She is creating this work to encourage dialogue about the destruction of the peatland and presents us with a potential future: without intervention, our bodies and our world will be negatively impacted. Peters delicately proposes nurturing and caring for this ecological space–actions that are not valued enough within our capitalist world. What we do to these spaces directly impacts our own bodies–we must remember that the environment connects us all to one another.
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 At the time of this exhibition, visitors cannot enter the Greenhouse due to pandemic safety measures.
 IUCN, “Peatlands and climate change”, accessed April 21, 2021, .https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/peatlands-and-climate-change
 James D. Bamburak, “Manitoba Peatlands”, Province of Manitoba website, Manitoba
Geological Survey, published June 13, 2011, Banburak, J. D., (2011). Manitoba Peatlands, Manitoba Geological Survey. http://www.manitoba.ca › region6 › PRES2011-13
 Tracy Peters in conversation with the author, April 18, 2021.
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About the author:
My nêhiyaw name is Flying Overhead in Circles Eagle Woman, my artist name is KC Adams. I am an artist, educator, activist and mentor, specializing in social activist art. My focus is on the dynamic relationship between nature (the living) and technology (progress). I create work that explores technology and how it relates to identity and knowledge.
Installation view of Futures Barren / Futures Abundant. Image credit: Sarah Fuller.
On a cold winter Saturday, I video-called April Dean to talk about her exhibition Futures Barren/Futures Abundant.1 We discussed the houseplant as a symbol, the concept of owning nature, and the connections she sees between plant clippings and multiples in printmaking.
How did you start working with houseplants?
I had a decisive moment in 2017 after working on and showing a previous body of work. I hit a wall and flippantly said, “I don’t want to do this anymore—I want to look at my houseplants and feel human or whatever…”. Although my reaction was flippant at the time, after that I began thinking of the house plant as a symbol of colonial dominance over nature, capitalism, and a desire to reconnect with nature and to nurture something other than human life.
Also, houseplants were popping up all over the internet at the time. There was something that people were trying to articulate through visual language, something about our shared experience.
Most of the works in this exhibition were made in 2019, but they feel very relevant to the moment we live in, where we haven’t left our homes very much and have hung out with our houseplants a bunch. Have your ideas and understanding of this artwork changed within the pandemic?
I have noticed that people’s relationships with their living space, the objects they live with, and their plant family have heightened. To me, that is such a beautiful thing. In its simplest form, this work gave to me the chance to pay attention. When you take care of plants, you really have to understand your surroundings, like the light conditions in your house. I am trying to escape the idea that nature is separate from me and relocate myself as part of it.
I am wondering how you understand the relationship between plants and people. How is this a generative relationship?
It’s a relationship that exists outside of language, where we need to engage our other senses and other kinds of knowledge required to build this relationship.
The exhibition made me think about desire and the exotic. Most of the popular houseplants we are familiar with are from tropical areas, like the Spiderwort Plant whose image you use in your work, which is native to Mexico and the Caribbean. We go extraordinary lengths to keep these plants alive indoors during Canadian winters. How do you understand desire in relationship to houseplants?
Really, the houseplant is an endless fruitful symbol or metaphor for a culture of extraction, othering, and an expression of the colonial mindframe of going and taking. The houseplant is also involved in processes of re-situating and re-framing—creating new histories or totally detaching things from their history.
In the series Shadow Clipping I-IX, you work with photos of plant clippings in water, presumably ready to be given away as gifts. You are also giving free prints as part of the exhibition. Why are these actions interesting to you?
I learned to care for plants by growing them from clippings that I was gifted for doing favours for friends but also those I rescued from the printmaking studio at the University of Alberta, which is full of plants. The clipping became interesting to me in relation to printmaking. The print and plant clipping are both a multiple: forever regenerative, a resource that can be shared, traded, and freely given as an anti-capitalist gesture. We refer to printmaking as being the democratic medium and having anti-capitalist roots…there is generosity built into the medium. I see a triangulation there, or a metaphor, between the clipping and the reproducibility inherent to printmaking.
You say in your artist statement that printmaking has a community mindedness inherent to its practice. Could you expand on this?
Not everyone works in a community shop, but it has been mostly my experience through SNAP2 and other print studios. There is a reliance on shared resources which creates the potential for relationships with people who you might not otherwise connect with. To me, this is fundamental to what it is to engage with printmaking.
How did you approach making these works?
All of the images in the show repeat somehow. I took photographs and re-framed them cycling them through different media and reproducing them at different scales. This pokes at the regenerative aspect of printmaking—how you can start with a small set of images and because the medium is so flexible and generous, you can build a whole show. I see the plant clippings as characters that move throughout the different artworks in the show.
What have plants taught you?
Slowness and observation.
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1. Parts of April Dean’s commentary have been edited for readability in the process of taking this interview from a conversation to printed text.
2. The Society of Northern Alberta Print-artists.
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Francesca Carella Arfinengo is a latinx settler working in Treaty 1 territory. She is an arts administrator, workshop facilitator and artist exploring diaspora and the connections between land and identity.
Installation view of Inversion by Jill Ho-You. Image credit: Sarah Fuller
Scrap tires are stacked in a careless pile amidst other gravelly debris; thin, tangled forms of broken wire fencing bends, twisting into itself, revealing a small opening fit for a hand to reach through; a star-like formation of an industrial building’s steel structural support beams beacons like a weathervane against a clear, cloudless sky. These bleak, industrial landscapes are depicted as delicately lined etchings on rice paper, covered with a gooey layer of agar, on which fuzzy mold and bacteria form. Deep ochres, tawny browns and fluffy whites speckle the simple illustrations with the relentless tenacity of rapid growth that molds do best when given the chance. The moldy transformation is controlled by the raised plastic edges of individual petri dishes, limiting the spread of each bacterial culture, and applying a scientific miniature world framework from which to view them. Within each of these meta-worlds, the illustrated objects and materials of heavy-industry create a collective barren landscape—each filled with an embodied memory of their own ghosts, presenting “a world haunted with the threat of extinction.” 
In Jill Ho-You’s recent body of work, Inversion, the objects and materials of heavy industry, of a kind of industry which is no longer practical, speak to the ways in which humans have propelled our earth toward what has been dubbed the Anthropocene: a cynical viewpoint of the current epoch, which is defined by human-caused destruction of the planet and its climate. The pile of discarded tires laced with waves of yellow-brown flecks of mold reminds me that rubber takes approximately half a century to fully decay, and that a semi-permanent graveyard is created even from the most ‘natural’ of industrial wastes. Graveyards, places which are generally reserved for humans after they’ve passed, carry the haunting memories of lived experiences and stories, and yet are not filled just with death, since with decay often comes new life. Similarly, the desolate, industrial landscape of Ho-You’s etchings reference various vacant factory sites in Detroit, Michigan, and the assembling of their rot-proof materiality highlights the impossibility of the future which the Anthropocene predicts, and the incessant ‘progress’ which our current state of capital requires. And yet, within the ruins of Detroit’s industrial graveyards—with all of their ghosts of a forever re-shaped landscape haunting the now-static rubbled remains—the potential for new growth, and a better future, still persists.
The resulting waste and material detritus left behind by the end of unsustainable manufacturing together create a kind of apocalyptic monument that will endure beyond our mortal presence on this planet. The transformational character of ruins, or ruined monuments, defines the haunted presence of a post-industrial landscape—and, more importantly, literally represents the trauma of pollution and its lasting environmental damage. In considering the disastrous effects of a lasting Anthropocene, theorist Donna Haraway suggests a collaboration with nature in her proposal of an alternative approach, noting that both “diverse human and nonhuman players are necessary in every fiber of the tissues of the urgently needed Chthulucene story.”  By introducing the notion of collaborating with other natural beings, sharing their spaces, and listening to their haunting stories, Haraway reiterates the significance of the present moment, and the importance of listening and looking at what quietly endures—like the mold which silently, yet continuously reproduces in Ho-You’s petri dishes.
With Inversion, Ho-You delicately proposes the concept of embodied memory as a strategy for interpreting, and perhaps solving, these strange, liminal spaces of a past life of self-serving progress, and a future of decay. If death is not the end of life, but the beginning of memory, of which ghosts may be the best representatives, then the mold growing on top of Ho-You’s images define the possibility of living in a radical reimagining of a possible, more sustainable landscape—one which learns from the past trauma of the ghosts of the industrial wreckage of the Anthropocene.
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 Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubant, Arts of living on a damaged planet: Ghost of the Anthropocene, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2017), G2-12.
 Donna Haraway, “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene,” in Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), quoted in “Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene,” e-flux, no. 75 (September 2016), accessed January 26, 2021, https://www.e-flux.com/journal/75/67125/tentacular-thinking-anthropocene-capitalocene-chthulucene/.
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Lauren Lavery is a Toronto-based visual artist, writer, and editor of Peripheral Review, an online and print platform of critical writing on art in Canada.
Installation view of Playground Chitchat. Image credit: Sarah Fuller.
Recently, a friend shared a video of a conversation between two of the toddlers they provide care for. It was snack time and they were exuberant in their appreciation for both the food itself, and the sounds it made while being chewed. So engaged were they with this sound collision that they continued, increasing in frequency and volume until the dialogue transitioned from a back and forth to a chorus as they began to chomp, smack, and voice in chaotic unison, each mouth-full utterance a nonverbal reminder to savour the sensory relationships that pass through my adult and self-protective body continually, more vulnerably. I cannot translate their rapport into English; theirs is a language of feeling and sensation. There is magic in those mumbles.
When I fall into the world of Bram Keast and Neah Kelly’s work, I feel similarly cocooned in a cloud of wonder and exuberant timelessness. Each artist’s use of material and colour is bright and modern. In Keast’s 2D and 3D paperscapes, the shadows cast by the rise off of the page or canvas stroll through carefully pruned orchards of negative space. Kelly’s sculptures recycle flat prints into forms which, at turns, seem plainly recognizable as existing on Earth–turn again and we find ourselves leapfrogging from one otherworldly prism of patchwork to the next. The kaleidoscope of textures created in each artist’s exploration and process recall ancient symbology, Celtic or druid runes, practices dating to before time.
Each artist offers an opportunity for jubilant, explorative interpretation by presenting pieces with such a range in dimension and spatial relationship. There are moments in the exhibition when the artworks activate the space around specific shapes and symbols or the space around an entire sculptural ecosystem. The way these works intersect (or not) with the space around them guides the experiencer to lean in and become intimate with the detail in the way that fits them in that moment.
The process of making imbues Keast’s and Kelly’s works with magic. There are spells cast in the symmetry of Kelly’s stitching. To use her term, the ‘visual lineage’ of her work is rich in contemplating the complexity of evolution possible when shifting perspective on something familiar as she reinterprets her prints again and again. The placement of curves, angles, and empty space in Bram’s doodlework enchant the surfaces and atmospheres they exist within. They become charms for protection and safe introspection.
I want to encounter each piece of work like a toddler, full palms and gripping fingers. A curious tongue perhaps. I want to sit and have conversations with these creations. Ask Neah’s shapes to share their histories and release their secrets that want an audience. Pose query to Bram’s jumping doodles and ask what dances they do when the lights go down. In Playground Chitchat, the provocation is open and welcoming and it glistens in matte paper: to imagine, to dream, to pay attention to cycles of our thinking even while inside the thoughts themselves.
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melannie monoceros is a poet and interdisciplinary artist exploring polysensory production and somatic grief through text/ile. Their work considers the collective qrip (queer+crip) consciousness by connecting to marvelous bodies living with complexity as sick or disabled. A Black, Taino, Arawak creator, they live in Treaty 1/Winnipeg, MB.
Installation view of Solar Noon. Image credit: Sarah Fuller.
you fold press
shapes and solar flares
collecting at the corners
of your eyes
catalyzing crystalline forms
echoing a pattern
your careful hands holding
the order of things
retrieved from the whorl of a shell
written on the land
the conduit between us and them
the hand the tool the point of connection
the palm to the petal
a gathering of light
all eyes tracing the orbital trajectory
of time place space
The work of Leigh Bridges invites us into a space of intricate connections. Her careful assemblage of elemental components into structural forms asks viewers to access in themselves a place of stillness and presence. From this point of access we become aware of the minutiae of the biological world, and at the same time, the orbital patterns of the cosmos of which we are all a part. The artworks in Solar Noon range from what appear as intuitive, spatial blueprints obscured in fog to firmer, intricate structural pieces that seem to work towards defining the indefinite. The evidence of human interaction with nature is ever present throughout her works, asking us to look closely at what mediates our connections to the external world.
Land serves as marker and metaphor, remaining untouchable and distant or conversely present and visceral.
In her series Energy Collectors, Bridges brings a delicate precision and detailed focus to her work, drawing on her skills in design technologies. The works seem to echo naturally occurring structures positing that in all the ways we shape nature, nature also shapes us.
Her short film work, Solar Array, traces the trajectory of the sun across the sky, an infinitely reoccurring pattern that is the basis for all life on earth. Bridges leads us to wonder about our place in correlation to the intricate systems and structures that surround us everyday and perhaps how we can better coexist with the rhythms of the land and the cosmos.
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Jaime Black is a multidisciplinary artist of mixed Anishinaabe and European descent. Black’s art practice engages in themes of memory, identity, place and resistance and is grounded in an understanding of the body and the land as sources of cultural and spiritual knowledge.
Echoing through Suzie Smith’s exhibition Patch, Mend, Piece Together is a window, heavily patched with red and blue vapour barrier tape. Cracks score through the glass and splay in all directions, creating unique and abstract expressions. The abstract complexities, which unravel into forms and shapes, were created out of something broken, but not discarded. Smith saw the window in question on Portage Avenue last year and has used it as a metaphor for process, concept and a handling of materials within her current work.
To define the work as reclamation would be too simple. To reclaim something is to take it to repurpose it and make anew. In her screenprints, Smith often highlights what has been torn up, discarded and made whole again, without hiding the origin of the material. Present in this strategy is the tradition of printmaking as Smith both uses and subverts the idea of multiples. Historically, printmaking has been centered around the output of a single version of an artwork and multiplying it. Repetition is alive and well within Smith’s recipe of making, where no two prints are the same. The result is shapes and patterns merging onto multiple pieces of paper such as in Patch Work. Shapes multiply and spread out, forming an improvisational quilt-like wallpaper. Underscored is the inherent invisibility of the repetitive gestures in printmaking, made visible in Smith’s work. Wallpaper sinks into a space like camouflage stuck directly to the wall, and is typically made by hand and unseen female labour. Here Smith, references quilting and wallpaper and elevates them by creating imagery influenced by the architecture of Martha Street Studio.
Site is an important element to Smith as she has worked, facilitated, taught and practiced in the studio. History and site create an immediate conversation between the work and the space, as Smith has had a unique opportunity to create all her prints directly in the studio and onto the architecture. It is as site specific as art could be wherein an immediate positive feedback loop is born out of the ability to cross reference: from work to space and back, like creating puzzle pieces.
The recipe takes shape through a process of making within and outside of Smith. Contemplative, her frame of reference for ideas and content explores modalities and structures she is inherently a part of. She embeds in the work a loose self-examination of biases, societal structures, current calamities and movements. A curious unpacking, unraveling, and deconstructing and re-building is evident in all the pieces, most prominently in Rubble Work. Rubble Work is a series of prints of a brick pattern torn up into pieces and re-arranged into different forms–an analogy for re-imaging old patterns and ways of thought, and using what surrounds us to speculate what could be made of them in future.
Unlike previous works, here Smith doesn’t hide or cover up what came before. She reuses image positives and inks, and reworks her compositions to allow for spontaneity and play. Flashes of colour, neon pinks, greens and yellows create pleasurable bursts throughout the show. These fun colours hold space for wonder and fantasy, as seen in one of her works depicting a group of printed hands stacked on top of each other holding paint brushes with neon pink and green stripes bursting out of them. The hands are printed sculptures enacting their own collective life and public fantasy of a vibrant future. Again, here Smith is reminding us that we can re-write and remake the future together.
Suzie Smith’s larger-than-life printed “wall paper” and sculptures are tangled up in the history and traditions of printmaking as a framework. Yet, they manage to slip through the knots to give way for spontaneity and play. To rework and undermine old structures, it is up to the viewer to sink into our own questions of how we are situated.
In closing, Smith and I played a word game which I believe illustrates the launching point she graciously gives her viewers: a chance to rework, patch, and mend our own structures in ways that are small and interpersonal or as grand as the planet. This method is loose and can mean whatever you want it to. The words I gave her as prompts are on the left and her responses are on the right:
Play – Openness
Colour – Shimmering
Structure – Push
Process – Thinking
Imagination – Constructive
Shape – Contain
Multiples – Difference
Jean Borbridge is a multimedia artist and writer based out of Treaty 1. With a focus on painting, photography and performance, she works to understand representation of the self and others and the fallibility of such endeavours. She is currently the st.ART Coordinator at Graffiti Art Programming. st.ART is a program which provides free visual art, music, and dance workshops throughout Winnipeg’s Downtown and North End communities.
Outside, the river is white and heaved, the ice telling a story of its formation: flow speed, temperature, humidity, day length, cloud cover,–all of this accumulated in its crust. It speaks of fleeting and deep geologies, of the places it has moved through, of its stillness as part of the motion of winter, of its undercurrent silently moving beneath this temporary shell. We are here, in this rivered city, where we watch for flood waters and listen for cracks.
Inside, we find the river rising up to meet us as large as life. In the gallery, the overwhelming image resurfaces the walls in fractioned fluttering parts. Kelsey Stephenson’s work offers the river agency, letting it rush over and through us. Mimicking the tones and flows of earth and water, she lends material form to our relationship with these waters; we feel the earth-river awaken in our breath as we move through the room letting it swallow us. Stephenson’s art embodies the conatus of riverine movement, that is, its elemental impulse toward being and becoming, persisting as flowing, mesh-working. The ruffling walls of wet terra move in the wake of viewers’ passing bodies and the rhythmic waves of the HVAC system. Stephenson inscribes river- and human-being on sheets of rice paper; the viewer is part of the work, their presence creating its own current. She notes that while the sheets might appear fragile, but they are strong and resilient. The affect foreshadows the hopes we share for our vulnerable planet in this historical moment.
Trace elements constrains, preserves, and reproduces river basin materialities using paper and pigments which symbolically, representationally and physically interact with water and earth elements in the production process. The artist creates digital prints on rice paper, then saturates them to introduce acrylic ink in broad gestures, allowing the ink to move through the paper. Stephenson welcomes the happenstance of these materials, letting them do what they will, providing conditions to support but not control this interaction. The dramatic immediacy of this wet process is layered onto a static, distant, satellite image of the river that has been reduced to precise spidery veins and reticulations. This aerial view, available to the eye only through technological mediation, is subsumed in the mass of Stephenson’s action caught in this shifting pigment and water. This vast landscape engulfing the viewer is a composite of many prints, pushing and pulling our ability to see the river as concurrently fragmented and whole. This is the heart of her art’s power—it captures the physicality of her process and simultaneously troubles the points of perspective flickering between distant and overwhelming, parts and whole, static and in motion, uncontrolled and regimented by the rectilinear frames that are singularly anthropogenic. Thus, the tensions between humans, natural elements, and digitally-mediating technologies energize all phases of the work.
In conversation with Stephenson about Trace elements, she cites her experience of going to graduate school in the States as formative to this body of work; not because of what that place was, but because of what it was not. “There was a different sense of the land and river, they were tamed and benign. Sometimes we have to be far away from something in order to see it.” This physical and cultural distance from home forced her to realize her connection to a particular feature of the Canadian prairie landscape, that up to that point in her life had been a constant character: she found herself wading in the cold rushing waters of the North Saskatchewan river and understood home.
Canadians are familiar with powerful representations of landscape being used to construct and unite our identity. Significantly, the Group of Seven created images that didn’t simply propose to preserve an endangered fleeting nature as European paintings did; rather, they extolled a colonial-settler view of the land offering monuments of nature, indomitable, uninhabited lands that were beyond the reaches of the effects of industrialization’s sullying forces. Recent expressions of monumental landscape work such as the Earth Art and Art Povera projects celebrate an opposite method of mastery over landscape by either altering its form (containing and commodifying these creations as photographs), or by violating it and dramatically displacing it into the white cube.
While Stephenson shares a lineage to these voices, her work and sensibility are in direct contrast to them. Instead, she directs our attention to the prairie’s fragile circulatory system to call up its continuing aliveness as a changing and responsive geological element. Rather than premeditated restructuring or violating acts upon landscape that exert ownership, she empowers delicate sheets of rice paper to revive the feeling of the river by embracing the unintended and uncertainty that feeds her process. The repetition of pages is used to literally let the river flood its banks and wash over the viewer’s space.
Stephenson brings river space in by activating her materials so that they speak the visual language of the river basin. She makes it possible for the participant/gallery-visitor to sense and be part of the elemental powers of earth and water, as transformed by their own natures and by the artist’s work. Of course, we are all already part of our river basins. Here we dwell in them, feeling the vertigo of rushing water and dizzying movement. She asks us to let go of control, and be like these materials, feeling our way through the room, finding the right places to rest and gather.
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Baruch Spinoza, Ethics: Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect, and Selected Letters, trans. Samuel Shirley, ed. Seymour Feldman (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1992) as quoted in Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010)
Briana Palmer’s multi-layered installation might appear whimsical at first glance – a miniature world designed for entertainment and delight. But her references to trains, toys and childhood all have deeper, troubling meanings.
Palmer grew up in Revelstoke, BC, a small city near the western edge of Canada’s colonial frontier. The railway passed through town. Towering trestles featured in everyday life. At night, the sound of rail cars crashing over the tracks soothed children to sleep in their beds. For Palmer it was a comfortable life. Troubling terms like “settler” and “colonial” only emerged for her after she left Revelstoke, gained more life experience, and began to question what she calls the “white bread” assumptions of her upbringing.
In Canada’s dominant mythology, the railway brought the nation together and fostered economic wealth. But Palmer’s train disrupts this narrative. It chugs along from place to place, not a symbol of prosperity, but a vehicle of disruption. Palmer wants us to consider colonizers’ displacements of Indigenous communities that severed their embodied connections with the land; as well as the forced labour of Chinese and Italian immigrants, many of whom died while building the railway, and all of whom were subjected to racist violence on the project.
Model trains, invented in the late 19th century, had become a popular toy for middle-class boys by the 1950s. Palmer asks, “Historically, who gets to play with model trains? Who creates these miniature Utopian worlds, constructing their own idealized versions of society?” Palmer’s diorama does not present a comprehensible social order, but rather a world of floating and disjointed biomorphic forms in which absurdist juxtapositions defy structured, Western narratives of home and place.
Prints and wall drawings further extend Palmer’s critique. Trained as a print-maker, she conceptually connects the printing press and the railway because both disseminate Western ideologies. The Gutenberg Press was used for the first mass-produced Bibles, spreading literacy but also imposing top-down models for social behaviour in a burgeoning capitalist economy. Further probing her own “white bread” upbringing, Palmer uses print-making to repurpose nostalgic illustrations from children’s encyclopaedias. She disrupts their familiar narratives with quotes from racist micro-aggressions that she has personally witnessed in her daily life.
A large, black and white woodcut banner spans the gallery walls. While aesthetically sumptuous, the imagery of barbed wire and ruined landscape speaks of war and devastation. During a recent residency in Slovenia, Palmer was struck by a stone road made by Russian POWs in WWI, thousands of whom lost their lives. “Now,” she says, “it’s just a route for tourists hiking up a mountain to a park.” The barbed wire also resonates with a Canadian war-time context. “Slocan, one of Canada’s biggest internment camps, was just down the road from where I grew up,” Palmer explains. Again, Palmer invokes a sense of home, but, no longer comfortable and complacent, this home is fraught and troubled with the settler-inflicted violence of Canada’s colonial past.
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Sally McKay is an artist and writer based in Hamilton, Ontario.
This text was originally published by Alberta Printmakers in conjunction with Briana Palmer’s exhibition Traversing the line, with no fixed point from April 26 – June 7, 2019 and is reproduced here with permission from the writer.
Alison James has been working with the de/re/con/struction of memory through the mediums of screen printing and stop-motion animation during the five years that I have been following her art practice. Over time, the angle of view in her animations has decreased, so that the view of events depicted is more and more close-up. Alison’s 2014 BFA final exhibition project illustrated a whole backyard (Construction); Breathe from 2015 encompasses the scale of a room; and the two most recent videos in The In-Betweens (Bite and Glare, 2019), are framed tightly around a person’s face. One effect of this overall zoom-in is that the animations are progressively more challenging to make; Alison must use ever-closer observation skills, and must analyse in more sophisticated fashion, in order to understand the subtle nuance of human movement, especially in facial expressions.
A second effect, partially brought on by the first, surprises me. Alison’s evident mastery of observation and representation reminds me of something like omniscience, and the magnitude of minutiae in the project (e.g. Glarerequired over 70 drawn frames just for the eyes) leads me to think about other detailed investigations gathering data about human bodies. The power of data and its potential misuse are apparent almost daily, through the real-life exploration of AI and robotics, through pop culture offerings such as the TV show Westworld, and through the everyday reality of biometrics, Fitbits, home DNA kits, and location tracking.
But then, on the flip side, I am also reminded of what may be positive about the attainment of knowledge of bodies and movement – the uncanny beauty of mimicked movement in puppetry, for example, and the self-reflection and expression that are made possible from it. The awe-inspiring understanding and harnessing of precise movement in dance. The importance of discoveries for health and mobility.
And in this exhibition, of course, Alison has offered her analytical effort for our benefit. It is truly an incredible amount of effort: to first draw a memory, then to deconstruct the drawing into layers, which are then used to make screen prints (a whole subsection of process which I won’t even get into here); and then to cut out those screen prints in order to construct paper figures and objects, often hinged with pins so that they’re little low-relief sculptures, and then to shoot a stop-motion animation with those figures and objects (which would still have to be edited in post-production!), is kind of mind-boggling.
Alison undertakes this intensive, dedicated process in order to give us animations which are visually enticing, engaging, and which work. They are a generous visual offering for the viewer. And the process, besides fascinating, is conceptually significant – deconstructing and reconstructing her memories as externalized records (artwork) parallels what happens in the mind when a person accesses a memory, especially if it is shared with another person. Each time a memory is remembered, it is changed through that act of remembering. This is because the person remembering does so from the vantage point of their “personal present” (A. James, personal interview, August 27, 2019), which colours or alters how the information is remembered, but also how it is stored for any future access/remembering.
Herein lies another striking piece of altruism from Alison: in offering her precious memories, they are damaged. The memories in The In-Betweens are Alison’s private ones – they were never documented before now, and she has rarely or never verbally shared them with others; there was “no contamination through sharing them” (Ibid). But here they now are, excavated, brought to light for all those who visit the exhibition. Through the intensive process they underwent to be reconstructed, and through each visitor’s viewing, they are contaminated. Alison James has donated some of her private past for research.
The animations and screen printed objects in The In-Betweens may trigger questions regarding who is gathering information about bodies and why, they may delight us with the marvel of observed movement, or they may make us ponder the activity of memory and its connection with emotion and identity. I appreciate the rich layering of content in Alison James’ animations, as well as the chance to see the physical layers that contributed to their making.
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Sarah Ciurysek is a visual artist exploring the relationships we have with the ground. Soil figures prominently in works that revolve around photography, while including installation, video, audio, text, and textiles. Sarah lives in Winnipeg, where she is an Assistant Professor at the School of Art.
Obscura by Angela Snieder. Image credit: Ally Gonzalo.
What can I tell you about this place? The sound of the wind. The dust on my hands. The rain and the sound of rustling, nighttime. There’s wind in the grass, and wind through a crack in the door. There are voices in the distance, and engine noises. Thunder…
Sitting here in the near-dark, immersed in Angela Snieder’s Field, I can feel the movement of my mind as it begins the process of trying to build a picture. Somewhere in the back rooms of my thoughts, I splinter each sound and image into fragments, naming and rearranging them. As they pass over me, into me, I compare them to pieces of my known world, slowly cataloguing…
From Latin, the term “camera obscura” translates to “dark chamber,” and inside Snieder’s camera obscura the light passes through a photo-enlarger lens, showing us the black and white interior of a handmade diorama, projected onto the gallery wall. Although the projection is video-like, it is fundamentally unlike video in that it is ephemeral, unrepeatable. For me, it recalls the months I spent living with my elderly grandmother—cooking and cleaning and talking and listening—learning something about memory and other interior architectures.
During this time, I began to think that our memories and stories might live not only within us, but alongside us, symbiotically—breathing and stretching, changing as we do. Their bodies eventually failing as ours do, either in or out of synch with our own bodies…
As my grandmother’s memories began to falter and re-form, I felt the possibility in my own mind: all the names disappeared from things—the sharpness of my memories softening into the liquid of a feeling. Lines drawn looser around objects, gradually slackening and falling away:
The walls of her world are caving in around us, slowly. There’s moisture in the mortar, and the concrete blocks are falling, loosening. There are tree roots reaching into the foundation and shaking with the noise from the trains. Meanwhile, everything left outside disappears into dirt, and any one person begins to resemble another person, over time. The fabric of her memories is worn thin, though there’s always something else there to fill in the hole. The boundaries between things are decaying—ground down into nothing—
Speaking over the phone, I learn that Snieder has built each of these pictures from clay and sticks and roots and light: making dioramas out of cardboard boxes before photographing and printing them, or revealing them through a camera obscura. The austerity of each image contradicted by the whimsy of its own making.
Through the use of centuries-old image-making technologies, Obscura also invokes the past—adding another layer of unknowability and abstraction. The shadowy architectures are both cavernous and permeable, breaking open and crumbling away. Seen together, they carry a certain gravity, but also an openness, an unexpected playfulness. They reveal a slippage between physical and psychological space, and bring to mind the fragile scaffolding of pattern and memory, truth and narrative—structures we have each built up around ourselves—repairing and maintaining them in order to survive.
Ultimately, the work reminds me that any “account of myself is always partial, haunted by that for which I can devise no definitive story…” 
Here there is no certainty. There is only provisional structure.
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 From Judith Butler’s Giving An Account of Oneself (Fordham University Press, 2005) p.40
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sophia bartholomew (they/them) is an interdisciplinary artist who uses text and textiles, photographs and video to explore emotional and ecological reciprocity, physical fragility and decay. Since graduating with their BFA from UBC in 2012, their practice has been guided by open-ended conversation, and collaborative work with other artists.
Sequences of Territories by Ilana Pichon. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km… Vingt-cinq segments de 101 km pour parcourir en voiture la distance entre Québec et Winnipeg. Vingt-cinq segments de 101 km pour parcourir en voiture la distance entre Winnipeg et Québec. Vingt-cinq arrêts pour observer et vivre l’unième kilomètre et la traversée. Le temps pour se rendre d’un point à un autre et pour ne s’attarder ni sur un point, ni sur l’autre; le temps d’étudier la banalité d’un bord de route qui ressemble à un bord de route qui… ressemble à un bord de route québécois, ou ontarien, ou manitobain – assurément canadien. Des espaces anonymes que nul ne s’approprie, mais que l’artiste exhibe, non-lieux qui revendiquent la singularité de leurs détails insignifiants.
Par une segmentation artificielle du trajet, Ilana Pichon réduit les distances et préfabrique une succession définie de repères visuels et sonores qu’elle réorchestre à l’infini. Structurés en motifs graphiques synthétiques, réitérés sans compter et sériés en un processus répétitif intuitif, ces repères se superposent en sérigraphie dans un agencement de couleurs dont les variations englobent la partie pour saturer l’atmosphère du tout. W2608Q exploite ces motifs dans une composition cartographique divisée en zones macroscopiques où le détail se perd. Dans Think, Pichon multiplie impressions et surimpressions pour supplanter la forme au profit d’une déclinaison chromatique dont la linéarité ondoyante préfigure le travail vidéographique.
Dans un semblable souci de grésillement d’une image finale consciemment floutée, les montages vidéo suggèrent à l’œil surstimulé du spectateur la reconstruction mentale de paysages urbains et naturels banals. L’enchâssement des plans capturés au travers l’objectif grand angle crée un effet sphérique qui transfère à l’asphalte la valeur d’horizon par la mise en volume de la lecture linéaire qu’induirait la projection d’un plan unique. Laps distincts d’un écran à l’autre, répétés en boucles désynchronisées pour multiplier les possibilités narratives, les plans superposés en transparence sollicitent la mémorisation visuelle des repères retenus par l’artiste. Le traitement séparé de la trame sonore unique favorise les associations aléatoires entre images et son, et ajoute ainsi un récit suggestif autonome qui vient renforcer l’abstraction interprétative de la perception d’ensemble.
Dans le contexte mondial actuel, la mobilité généralisée des personnes et la circulation facilitée des idées par le biais des réseaux virtuels déjouent les frontières physiques et tendent à dissoudre repères et cloisons, pourtant indispensables à l’éthique de soi et des autres. Les dialogues rephrasés entre Pichon et sa traversée traduisent à leur façon la quête identitaire d’une artiste en mouvement permanent, qui construit ses marqueurs d’appropriation non dans une structure géopolitique imposée, mais dans la fabrication de souvenirs uniques qui la définissent. En jouant sur la rythmique pour diversifier les interprétations d’un même territoire sans jamais s’imposer, Pichon ancre l’idée d’un espace partagé, participant d’entités affectives, culturelles et sociales multiples, que chacun visualise et (re)construit selon son histoire personnelle. La volonté de l’artiste de perpétuer ce processus de traversée, où chaque itération ajoute à son œuvre une nouvelle dimension artistique et renforce la familiarité des lieux, se perçoit aussi comme une invitation à prendre le temps de nous arrêter, de regarder et d’écouter le territoire pour mieux l’apprivoiser. Changer le regard sur le quotidien, multiplier les points de vue, les souvenirs s’interfèrent, se précisent, se superposent ou se succèdent, mais toujours contribuent à aider chacun dans son appropriation d’un espace anodin.
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 Augé, Marc (1992). Non-lieux : introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité. Paris, Seuil.
 Kerekes, Anna (2018). La pratique artistique comme souci de soi et des autres : arts du quotidien, de la mémoire et du montage. Thèse de Doctorat en études et pratiques des arts. Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal.
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Diplômée en histoire de l’art et muséologie à l’École du Louvre (Paris) et en gestion des organismes culturelles aux HEC-Montréal, Céline Le Merlus a travaillé 10 ans à la conservation et aux expositions du Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec. Commissaire, auteure et gestionnaire culturelle, elle est cofondatrice du Centre d’exposition Lethbridge (Saint-Laurent) et dirige depuis 2015 la Galerie d’art Stewart Hall (Pointe-Claire). Elle s’implique également sur plusieurs conseils d’administration d’organismes muséaux ou de diffusion en arts visuels.
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[Translation from French by Alexandre Payer]
101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km + 101 km… Twenty-five 101-kilometre segments to drive the distance between Quebec City and Winnipeg. Twenty-five 101-kilometre segments to drive the distance between Winnipeg and Quebec City. Twenty-five stops to observe and experience the one hundred and first kilometre, and to cross it. There is time to get from one place to another without lingering over one place or the other; time to study an ordinary stretch of road that looks like another stretch of road that… looks like another stretch of road from Quebec, from Ontario, or Manitoba – all unmistakably Canadian. Anonymous spaces which no one takes up, but which the artist reveals as non-places asserting the singularity of their insignificant nature. 
By artificially segmenting the journey, Ilana Pichon compresses distances and prefabricates a series defined by visual and auditory landmarks recomposed ad infinitum. Structured into endless graphic iterations and sequenced following an intuitive and repetitive process, these motifs act as reference points, overlaid in screen prints in an arrangement of colour in which variations encompass a part to saturate the whole. W2608Q uses these patterns in a cartographical composition divided into macroscopic regions where details get lost. In Think, Ilana multiplies printing and overprinting to supress form in favour of chromatic variations and a rippling linearity that foreshadows the artist’s video work.
In a similar focus on the static and the deliberate blurring of the final image, her video montages present the viewer’s overstimulated gaze with a mental reconstruction of ordinary natural and urban landscapes. The footage, shot with a wide-angle lens, wraps around itself to create a spherical effect that turns the road into a horizon, adding a third dimension to our traditionally linear reading of single film shots. Each screen increases the narrative possibilities of the whole by showing a distinct set of sequences in desynchronized loops. The superimposed shots, in transparent overlays, stimulate the visual process of memorizing of the artist’s chosen landmarks. The separate treatment of the single soundtrack encourages free association between sound and image, adding an independent and evocative story that reinforces the interpretative abstraction of the overall piece.
In the current global context, widespread mobility and the free circulation of ideas on social media tend to eat away at physical boundaries and reference points necessary to maintain ethical interactions with others and with ourselves.  In their own way, the rephrased dialogues between Ilana and her crossings convey the quest for identity of an artist in perpetual motion, who constructs visual and cognitive markers outside of an imposed geopolitical structure, as both self-defining and unique memories. By playing with pacing to diversify the interpretations of a single territory without ever imposing her own, Ilana anchors the idea of a shared space made up of multiple affective, cultural and social entities that everyone can (re)construct following their own life story. The artist’s focus on perpetuating a process of crossing—where each iteration adds a new artistic dimension to the work and reinforces the familiarity of these spaces—can also be read as an invitation to take the time to stop, look, and listen to the territory, so as to better embrace it. In changing one’s outlook on the everyday, in multiplying one’s points of view, memories overlap, become sharper, superimpose or follow one another. Nevertheless, they always help to provide one with the tools to recontextualize ordinary spaces.
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 Augé, Marc. Non-places. Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, New York-London, Verso, 1995 (ed. or. Non-Lieux, Introduction àune anthropologie de Ia surmodernité, Paris, Seuil, 1992)
 Kerekes, Anna. La pratique artistique comme souci de soi et des autres : arts du quotidien, de la mémoire et du montage. PhD Thesis in art studies and practices. Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018.
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Céline Le Merlus has a degree in art history and museology (École du Louvre, Paris) as well as in management of cultural organizations (HEC-Montréal) and has worked for over ten years curating exhibitions and managing the collection of the Musée des maîtres et artisans du Québec. Curator, author and cultural manager, she is the cofounder of the Lethbridge Exhibition Centre (Saint-Laurent) and has headed the Stewart Hall Art Gallery (Pointe-Claire) since 2015. She is also actively involved on the boards of trustees of various museums and other organizations committed to the dissemination of visual arts.
A Constellation of Sorts by Andrew Testa. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
“Photography is privileged within modern culture because, unlike other systems of representation, the camera does more than just see the world; it is also touched by it. Photographs are designated as indexical signs, images produced as a consequence of being directly affected by the objects to which they refer. It is as if those objects have reached out and impressed themselves on the surface of the photograph, leaving their own visual imprint, as faithful to the contour of the original object as a death mask is to the newly departed.”
—Geoffrey Batchen, “Vernacular photographies”
At the heart of Andrew Testa’s A Constellation of Sorts, the solitary “An Uncanny Self-Portrait (state 2)” directs us in how to view the rest of the pieces in the show. The portrait combines physical characteristics of the maker with facial features taken from photographs of those he holds dear. It has the look of a well-worn document but it is entirely constructed and reworked, a collection of parts, brought together to form a whole. A new whole, neither real nor entirely imagined, taken from multiple mechanical images, but held together by the manipulation of the hand. It is not impressed by nature, it is constructed.
None of the images in this exhibition are photographs. At first glance one might think these are found fragments of photographic prints, but upon closer inspection we see that they are in fact treasured, delicate sculptures. They are carefully manipulated prints, placed thoughtfully in relation to one another, not touching, inviting the viewer to draw lines, create connections, make stories. Testa uses mezzotint, photopolymer gravure, screen printing, and chine-collé techniques to transform family photographs and found images. With these slow, intentional processes he selects, edits, and manipulates the images into new forms that isolate specific gestures, and create relationships between one another. Together they speak of the ubiquity of vernacular photographs, and yet here they are treated individually, touched, worked, considered, placed carefully in relation to one another. Here they transcend their fragile materiality and reveal personal histories.
At a distance “Remainders/Reminders” resembles a map — sections of land, individual entities with borders separating them. But step closer and see the bodies of land are in fact fragmented images — details of clothing, facial expressions, captured gestures — held very specifically in relation to one another. Lean in even closer and the hand of the maker is revealed, the intentional folding of the images, the gentle wrinkle-like creases in the paper, drawing attention to the subtle details in the fragmented images. Focus on just one of the many image-objects and you are drawn into that world, confronted by the sharpness of the details, expression, texture, quality of light. Now step away again and the individual forms begin to speak to one another, new shapes and connections emerge.
In “To be left/ By one’s side,” a series of ten diptych prints focusing on the subtle gestures of multiple hands, Testa draws attention to both their particularities and similarities. Resting gently, awkwardly strewn across the body, tightly gripping, partially hidden—the work of these hands feels familiar and yet also entirely individual. These fragmented forms leave space for the viewer to imagine a time, a place, particular circumstances, stepping out of the body, once again, to draw connections to these works.
Through his careful work of printing, folding, assembling and arranging these personal and found photographs, Testa invites the viewer to join him in the exercise of drawing the lines, connecting the dots between these fractured pieces of history, personal and imagined, found and treasured, as he creates an intricate self-portrait.
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Mandy Malazdrewich is an artist, a maker, an archivist, a mother and a partner. She is a settler living on and engaging with the original lands of Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.
Not Yet Earth by Madeline Mackay. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
While I live, my body is flesh. When I die, it will be meat. My consciousness will cease to exist, but my corpse will persist. It will be buried in a box in the ground. The chemical bonds that hold the organic materials of my meat together will be broken down, their energy released and repurposed to suit the needs of whatever living thing consumes my remains. Just as I digested the meat of countless plants and animals to fuel my earthly vessel while I was alive, my carcass will pass through and become part of thousands of bugs, bacteria, and plants, until it is unrecognizable as what it once was. It will become part of the environment; traces of me will be spread throughout the soil, the air, the grass. I will no longer be a single entity, but a small piece of everything. I will be the earth, and the earth will be me.
While poetically compelling, the process of rot and decomposition is often viscerally disgusting in practice. A dead body is sad. A decomposing body is repulsive. Why?
Troubling the line between what is self and what is not in the context of the body creates disgust. For example: on your head, your hair is beautiful, luscious, and thick. You toss it from side to side as though you are in a shampoo commercial. Enjoy this moment, puny human, for several weeks later, balled up in the drain, removed from and perversed of its original context, it is revolting. That you used to find it so appealing makes its present state all the more vile. Look at what it has become! Look at what you have become.
I am watching a video. A thin person with long brown hair, wearing a white t-shirt and underwear, arranges irregular strips of a stringy grey material in a muddy puddle. The video is titled Meat Drawing. Without this titular designation, I doubt I would recognize the pale flesh in the artist’s fingers as such.
The creator of and performer in this work, Madeline Mackay, doesn’t think of meat as food – she’s a lifelong vegetarian. I’m not. Is this why I find the video so difficult to watch? I rarely look at meat this long even – especially – when I’m eating it. Raised on fish sticks and chicken nuggets, I prefer my meat pre-butchered, shredded, dyed, and pressed into familiar shapes and textures. The wet crunches of tendons between my teeth and the jiggling wetness of fat on a bone makes me lose my appetite. I didn’t grow up thinking of meat as dead creatures and I don’t like to be reminded.
While it is true the meat we see comes from an animal intended for human consumption – the sinew, fat, and skin in Not Yet Earth‘s video and print works were pulled from a butcher’s trash and cut into strips by the artist – to fully understand the discomfort and impact of the work we must look further than meat’s relationship to food. Juxtaposed with the artist’s living body and a muddy pool, the meat shreds are forced into relationship with both. Recognizable as an indistinct part of an animal body, but not yet unrecognizable enough to be part of the earth, the flesh exists in a transitory state.
The artist was compelled to create this work after contracting a flesh eating disease wherein her immune system attacked her own blood platelets. In reference to her illness, she states, “I have never been more aware that my flesh has an existence that is independent of mine.” Sickness, much like gore and guts, has a way of forcing one to recognize the disconnect between a sense of self and the bodily vessel within which it is carried. The body and the mind become two distinct parts of the self, one over which we might have dominion and another over which we do not. Mackay’s artistic investigation into dead meat manipulates this unique substance in an effort to regain control and understanding of the materials of which she is made. Through observing this work, we gain a new understanding of self – what we are made of, where what we are made of ends, and what happens when what we are made of is no longer us, but not yet something else.
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Kelly Campbell is an artist, musician, and songwriter. Their artistic interests include labour, gender, colour, craft, disposability, horror, fantasy, and cute pictures of animals. Find them on the internet @kellygrub.
Kelly grew up in so-called Nova Scotia, territory of the Mi’kmaq people, and currently resides in Winnipeg, Manitoba, which sits on land lived on, travelled over, and protected by Anishinaabe, Néhiyaw, Dakota, Dené, and Métis people long before Kelly or any of their ancestors knew it existed.
Making Our Mark III: Interface. Artwork pictured by Michelle Pichette, left, and Andrea von Wichert, right. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
Making Our Mark III: Interface is an exhibit featuring three talented and dedicated artists; Miranda Kudajczyk, Michelle Pichette, Andrea von Wichert. The exhibition runs from November 2nd – December 1st, 2018, and is the culmination of work these three artists took on during the Making Our Mark program, a professional development program created as a partnership between Martha Street Studio and the Arts AccessAbility Network Manitoba. Through the program the artists learned different printmaking techniques including linocuts, monoprinting, lithography, etching. The print studios were open for the artists to use as they wished and to continue their practice of printmaking once the classes were finished. Each artist used their newfound knowledge in different ways, experimenting with the medium of printmaking. Some of these results are part of the Making Our Mark III: Interface exhibition. All of the work made during the program is not necessarily on display within the exhibition, as each artist has curated their own work for the show.
Shortly before the exhibition was to be mounted I was lucky enough to do studio visits with each of the exhibiting artists, who generously spent time with me, showed me their work, told me about what they learned through the program, and talked about what they would be exhibiting in the show. The exhibit is very diverse conceptually and displays a mix of print methods.
Miranda Kudajczyk is a young and eager artist. She is currently enrolled in her first year at the School of Fine Art at the University of Manitoba. For someone who is embarking on an arts career, she is focused, and has a strong urge to make. When we met for our studio visit I interrupted her in the middle of making a monoprint and when we sat down to look through her work she brought out over a hundred prints, the majority of which were monoprints. One thing that is evident in Miranda’s monoprints, and that she herself appreciates, is that the technique allows her to experiment and consider what it means for a print to be one of kind. Many of the prints were finished with individual touches, such as smudging of ink after the print was done, but before the ink dried. Others have imprints in the paper and hand painted markings. Miranda was not focused on a concept for this body of work; instead, she wanted to learn as much as she could about monoprinting, and you can see the progression in what she learned from her early prints to the ones she made later in the program. Miranda is building on the idea that ten thousand hours of focused work will make you an expert by refining technique, learning about the medium, and building concepts from knowledge of the work of printmaking.
Michelle Pichette said that she likes the idea of making ‘happy prints’: art that made her feel good, but also made her think a lot about her time in Palestine in 2008. Her work is less about the physical form it takes and more about the emotional labour of what goes into her art. In this exhibition, Michelle has included a series of digital prints that were combined from a project called Operation Finding Joy. She had many examples of different printmaking techniques she worked with throughout the Making Our Mark program, but ultimately, she felt she needed to explore the concepts of happiness and joy through the digital prints more than exploring printmaking in other forms.
Operation Finding Joy focuses around an image Michelle took in Palestine of a series of paintings by children depicting everyday things like flowers, water, and dancing. The digital prints in the series reflect the children’s paintings by capturing the subjects they explore in real life. The subject is political, but is not backing up any specific political message. It is a way of showing everyday life in Palestine, communicating that there is joy to be found even in the worst situations. One of the key points Michelle made was that in the time Palestine has been occupied, almost every single person living there would have been a child during the occupation, and that through all of this, there are still ways to find joy.
Andrea von Wichert has immersed herself in printmaking. Entering her studio, there is evidence of what she has learned through the Making Our Mark program everywhere. The walls are covered in prints. These prints tell a story of someone who lives a life of making art, and who is making art about their life. The images are of her partner, her pets, friends, and herself. Most of the time the work starts with an image, often selfie style, and then is made into a print. Andrea experimented with all forms of printmaking taught during the program, but found some suited her practice better than others. Methods like monoprinting, lithography, and linocuts fit in with her practice, which she describes as fast paced and prolific. Similar to Miranda’s monoprints, the prints are individualized and each one has a special touch, making it different from the others. Although Andrea is not exhibiting all the prints she made during the program, I saw hundreds of prints in the time I spent with her. There was a lot of practice and experimentation with the medium, and then a body of work was created specifically for the exhibit called Send in the Clowns. This project is shown in part at Martha Street Studio. Andrea plans to continue building on the work and hopes to exhibit it in other spaces in the future.
Send in the Clowns focuses on Andrea and her partner in the role of clowns, examining the absurdities, tragedies, challenges, and joyful moments of everyday life. The volume of prints being shown really lets you immerse yourself in Andrea’s thoughts and feelings, but is also an amazing example of how strong of an influence the Making Our Mark program can have on an artist and their practice. Andrea gained a large amount of knowledge that she fostered over a short period of time.
Making Our Mark III: Interface is an example of the ways one medium can influence three very different artists. The presentation of their work shows artists exploring very different ideas. Each found influence in varied places: Miranda strongly focuses on a specific method of printmaking, monoprinting, experiments with it, wanting to perfect her craft; Michelle found inspiration in printmaking, causing her to revisit a trip that had a profound emotional effect on her years ago, and took the time to think through the feelings of the time and space she was in; Andrea immersed herself in printmaking, constantly creating, and explored a body of work through prints. Andrea works in a space surrounded with her prints, and wants an audience to immerse themselves in the work too. It isn’t uncommon that three artists would create very different work out of the same medium, however, Miranda, Michelle, and Andrea have created very special work based on the processes they learned.
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Jennifer Smith is a Métis curator, writer, and arts administrator in Winnipeg, Canada. Jennifer has been working in arts administration for ten years, and has worked for organizations such as the Costume Museum of Canada, the Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library, the Winnipeg Film Group, and currently at Video Pool Media Arts Centre. Jennifer is the President of the board for the Coalition of Canadian Independent Media Art Distributors that runs VUCAVU.com. She has curated exhibits and video programs for the Manitoba Craft Council, Video Pool Media Arts Centre, Open City Cinema, MAWA, and the Manitoba Crafts Museum and Library. Jennifer was the Indigenous Curator in Residence at aceartinc. from March to August 2018.
PARK by Derek Dunlop. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
Ann Cvetkovich asks, within her broader project of uncovering queer, affectively charged, archives, “what happens if the histories you want to know have left no records?” (Carland 76).
For queer subjects, our collective history has been doubly devastated, both by the erasure of queerness from dominant historical narratives and by the sheer losses occasioned by the advent of AIDS in the late 80s, particularly in communities of men who have sex with men.
In PARK, Derek Dunlop, whose theoretically informed practice has been primarily rooted in painting and printmaking techniques, explores a multi-year engagement with various cruising sites across North America where men have gathered to collectively partake in queer behaviours both away from, and still fully in view of, a heteronormative public.
Theorist José Esteban Muñoz, in Cruising Utopia, turns to the photography of Tony Just to explore how to establish connection with, or render visible, queer spectres that haunt physical sites, as well as our queer collective memory. Just meticulously cleaned public restrooms in New York City known, at some point in time, as gay hookup destinations, and photographed them in this newly sterilized state. Fixing them in a condition of hyper-sanitization only drew attention to their historical queerness through negation, by highlighting the forcible erasure of all remnants of their gay counter-histories.
Making visible this invisibility allows access to, what Muñoz terms, a “hidden queer history of public sex outside the dominant public sphere’s visible historical narratives” (Muñoz, 1996, 6). Dunlop similarly employs negation, the historical lack of the past, to commune with disappearing queer spaces.
A barrier to the formation, and transmission, of queer archives rests in the ephemeral nature of queer acts and performances, as survival was often bound up in the ability to be rendered selectively invisible within heteronormative society and institutions. In response, queer historical evidence must also deviate from a straight path, remaining in “traces, glimmers, residues, and specks of things.” (Muñoz, 1996, 10). And, in the open-endedness of these terms–traces, glimmers–possibility resides.
Pulling pieces of metal from the muddy banks of the Assiniboine river–near the Forks–from a previously popular cruising destination, Dunlop materializes the site’s spectral queer history, surfacing through these traces like the objects themselves emerged from their resting place over years of slow excavation. Catalogued and arranged in archeological fashion, these warped and softened objects begin to resemble human remains in their oxidized skins and suggestive forms. And, in a sense, they are.
Witness to the “ghosts of public sex” (so-called by Muñoz), these hand-forged objects have hauntingly endured (albeit in slow decay), while their human counterparts moved on, fell to the AIDS epidemic hollowing out queer communities in the 90s, or likewise remain somewhere, also in decay. These objects speak across time, stand in for memories and performances of queer pleasure that disrupted public space by rendering the public queer. Each metal tool is a carnal remnant, a gravestone, a proxy body, that reminds: we have always existed, no matter how covertly.
Heather Love suggests that “the longing of community across time is a crucial feature of queer historical experience,” affirming that the archival impulse is also located in a desire to speak back to, or dialogue, with a shared past (Love 37). Dunlop attempts a spiritual communication with his queer ancestors through the preparation of a series of mono prints.
Using flora plucked from a popular cruising trail in Stanley Park, in Vancouver, Dunlop performs a spontaneous and irreproducible queer act via the printing press, connecting him to a legacy of queer activism in the form of printed materials. The magic of alchemy, represented by the oozing pink and lavender repurposed from early queer propaganda, rejoins the past by reactivating it for the present.
Other traces showcased in PARK do not so easily offer the promise of repair. This tension is palpable in the photographs taken in Bonnycastle Park, in Winnipeg. In “Graffiti” the word “gay” is barely visible on the restored limestone barricade/planter, its faint imprint the only reminder of what once transpired here, in this place. As public spaces are renovated to serve revisionist, sanitized, historical narratives, even the glimmers of their seedy, raucous, queer counter-histories disappear.
To be queer is to be alienated from, and displaced within, a heteronormative structured public. It is also to be haunted by a painful awareness of an absent historical archive and an inability to repair, reconstruct, or even fully know, what has been lost. Our archives then, too, follow a twisted path, like the tangled root system Dunlop photographs in Bonnycastle Park with his camera: bound up together, not easily trailed, folding in on itself in a series of indistinguishable and interconnected knots.
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Carland, Tammy Rae. “Sharing an Archive of Feelings: A Conversation,” Art Journal, Vol. 72, No. 2 (Summer 2013), pp. 70-77.
Love, Heather. Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of History. Harvard University Press: 2007.
Muñoz, José Esteban. Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. New York University Press, 2009.
Muñoz, José Esteban. “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes on Queer Acts,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 8:2 (1996): 5-12.
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Dunja Kovačević holds an BA Hons in English and an MA in Cultural Studies from the University of Winnipeg. She is an editor, co-founder of feminist print anthology Dear Journal, and an emerging cultural critic. Lately, her work explores the formation (and inheritance) of alternative, affective, archives for displaced queer individuals and communities.
Sea Levels by Laine Groeneweg. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
Laine Groeneweg’s exhibition Sea Levels contains 25 pieces that use the print media of mezzotint, dry-point and soft ground etching. The artist/printmaker’s labour is explicit in their making; reflecting the traditions of craft in the creation.
Although Groeneweg has had a history of working in the digital world and still enters it in many parts of his production, his current interests are very much grounded in the physical world of analog. It is that historical world of the analog that guides the nature and narrative of his art.
His narrative speaks to the antiquity of Cabinet Cards of the late nineteenth century. The classic staging and composition found in this form of photographic portraiture offers a framework for the mood of his mezzotints. Mezzotint offers its own sense of mystery. There is an inherent noir quality in mezzotints that creates both a darkness of mood and the physical darkness created by the chiaroscuro light of life.
Groeneweg wants his prints to reflect the love of craft as well as the love of art in his work, noting that his “work speaks to the strengths found in the process of traditional print media.” He enjoys the dedication to labour and problem solving found in the traditions of printmaking. Working on models as a kid has influenced his passion for the intimate scale that is found in image-making on a copper etching plate. The small scale of these pieces draws the viewer into examining the meticulous detail and the emotional connection within his stories.
Sea Levels takes the viewer into the underwater world of the ocean. It is a world that is a part of our life on earth and yet can be as foreign to us as outer space. For children, it is the world of fantasy and adventure. It is a world of strange and fanciful creatures, and it is a world where we can fly with the rules of gravity reversed.
Groeneweg considers all the elements of production: the colour and tone of black, the way that a plate is wiped, and the inherent nature of the paper used to accept the image. Copperplate paper accepts the lush velvety blacks of mezzotint like none other and thin Gampi tissue accepts the direct marks of dry-point as skin might accept tattoos. Everything contributes to the final piece. Additionally, the physicality of direct and committed mark-making with evidence of original human thought and error all add to the print’s tactile presence. It is the work of a printmaker’s printmaker.
From the inner mind of Laine Groeneweg, this show is: “Inspired by a dream. Sea Levels has come to represent an intriguing underwater playground where multitudes of sea creatures harmoniously co-exist. This whimsical setting is reminiscent of nautical folklore and serves as the reference point for my imagery.”
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Glossary of print terms
Dry-point is a direct form of engraved mark-making that raises a burr in the copper. This burr will also retain some ink during the wiping of the plate.
Mezzotint creates tones rather than lines. First, the plate is roughened by a rocker covering the entire surface with a burr that holds ink. Various tones of light are then worked into the darkened surface with scrapers and burnishers. This creates the appearance of light falling on an image.
Soft ground etching can emulate the physical appearance of soft lines. A sticky resist covers the print plate. Then,a thin paper is placed over the resist. Any pressure from drawing marks that are applied to the paper will lift the ground from the plate and adhere to the underside of the paper. The plate is then submerged into an acid bath that eats into the open image areas of the resist. The areas etched by the acid hold the ink while printing.
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E.J. (Ted) Howorth’s passion has been printmaking throughout most of his artistic career. Apprenticed under Wilfredo Arcay of Atelier Arcay in Paris, he worked in many international print studios and exhibited in numerous international juried print biennales. In 1995 he was appointed to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Natasha Pestich Presents: A Survey of Jan Xylander Exhibition Posters. Image credit: Larry Glawson.
Ask anyone who Jan Xylander is, and he or she will immediately rattle off at least three different exhibitions that were required readings in art school. Many revere the works of Xylander as paramount in the world of art, dedicating entire books, classes and festivals to the study and celebration of his work. Although the complex work is a common stumbling block for even the most seasoned critics, his varied tales of love, hate, fear, betrayal, laughter, defeat and victory are just as fitting today as they were yesterday. He is amazingly timeless. Yet, while we might know what Xylander is, will we ever really know who Xylander is?
Much about the artist is a mystery to even the most scholarly enthusiasts. The hard facts that are actually known about him could fill one neatly handwritten page, but what is speculated and complete legend could fill volumes of books. So, what is fact and what is fiction? According to the little documentation that chronicles his life, Xylander was born in April. Even his actual date of birth is somewhat of a mystery. It is presumed that Xylander made it to London to begin his career, but the exact date is not known for sure. There are enough legal documents and records though, to know that Xylander goes on to possess a generous amount of real estate, hold shares in an acting company that built the Globe Theatre, and become a principal artist in the group The Kings Men. There are many theories and stories floating around that seem to fill in the gaping holes in his timeline, but since this information doesn’t appear on record, we don’t know what is fact or fiction. Everything beyond this is myth and legend, which most certainly adds to the attraction of his works. His brilliant works can only be enhanced by the mystery and anonymity surrounding his life.
Historians say that Xylander pumped anyone he could for information when creating his works. However, others feel that pumping friends or locals could help with broad knowledge, but really could not enable him to convey the atmosphere of a country or to add small, rather insignificant details which could only come from an artist who had actually experienced them. In addition, familiarity with languages, literature, law, politics, history and geography found in Xylander’s works, are all inconceivable for a commoner. No evidence points to Xylander ever attending a University. Yet, whoever created the works must have been highly cultured. It is pure speculation that some say that he is indeed an artist.
Although the subject of the true authorship of Xylander’s works will probably never be laid to rest, it will always contribute to the enjoyment of studying his work. Students of the subject are compelled to study and re-study the works in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the artist. Debates involving fact and fiction keep the name Xylander in constant movement, reminding us that we have not outgrown him, not even after four hundred years. The work of Xylander, whomever Xylander is, is a gift for us to continue unwrapping, and pass down to our children to appreciate as well. One must hope that the mystery will never be solved, so that it may never lose its magic.
In conclusion, curiosity has indeed been aroused for many, many years. Hundreds of theories and shreds of proof have been gathered, but the world will always wonder and waver between doubt and belief in Jan Xylander. So, the question still remains, is Jan Xylander really Jan Xylander?
Compiled from open source online essays about authorship, suspect and anonymity.
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A multidisciplinary artist from Winnipeg, MB, Collin Zipp obtained his BFA from the University of Manitoba’s School of Art in 2005 and his MFA from the University of Lethbridge in 2011. His work explores notions of viewer experience, expectation and authorship. Interested in trickery and deception, Zipp’s work challenges viewers to assess their perceptions of what they think art is or should be.