If asked to imagine a piece of art, the image of a painting is the first medium that springs to one’s mind. The art world often so tightly focuses on traditional mediums of artistic expression, such as painting, sculpture, and drawing, that other mediums of art can easily be forgotten or devalued. The VAV gallery’s current show, Am I Still in the Power of the Demon? (Did My Preserver Never Come?), running from November 22 to December 6, focuses on fibre and textile art, demonstrating to the public the creativity and freedom of expression that can be found in this often under-recognized form of artistic production. Six artists, brought together by a course they took in fibres, print, and dye, have collaborated to present their works in a the show that explores narratives of personal history and memory, as well as the relationship between animals and humans.
Erin Ryan’s Light from a Dark Corner (2011) is a particularly poignant piece in the exhibit, exploring personal narrative through writing. The artwork is a quilt, with each piece of fabric hand-dyed by the artist and covered in journal entries. It’s clearly a very private piece for the artist, chronicling her emotional journey through a family member’s battle with mental illness. “I was really interested in talking about my process, physically and emotionally, as dialogue is really important in demystifying mental illness. It is definitely one of those taboo subjects in society. So I worked on just writing each day, journaling what I was going through, and having conversations with different people in my family and different people in my immediate environment about what depression means to them,” Ryan told The Daily in an interview. “What came from it was, I dealt with a heavy topic and it turned into something really light and positive – so I feel like in terms of process, it was really full circle, it was really complete and gratifying.”
Rebecca Smyth also explores the idea of personal narrative and memories in her multifaceted piece, Small Swarm (2011). Smyth creates what she refers to as “owl pellets” out of felt materials, and combines these pellets with inherited personal jewelry and buttons from her great aunt in a jewelry box. “I’m making these little objects that discuss the way inherited items and stories of history are sort of digested by the person receiving them, and then they get processed, and turned out in another form,” Smyth mused. The artist creates an analogy between the idea of the regurgitated owl pellet, and the redefinition we undertake when we construct personal narratives, or examine our familial histories.
The theme of the relationship between animals and humans, both within the human psyche and the physical environment runs throughout the rest of the show, with each artist using a unique mode of expression to convey their intent. Jodi Sharp’s Fifty Species a Day (2011), has a distinctly environmental perspective. Sharp uses all recycled materials for her intense and visually layered installation, a commentary on the extinction of fifty species a day that occurs because of the loss of habitat from exploitative searches for natural resources. Margot Klingender’s soft sculpture, Mestaclocan (2011), presents the artist’s exploration of the idea of the “shape-shifter”. This notion relates, as Klingender explains, to the “division within ourselves, th[e] dichotomy between human and animal, and how we feel that we need to evolve past our animal selves.” Sara Kay Maston also explores this theme of the struggle between human and animal within our nature through her Untitled (2010-2011) etchings, and her ceramic figures in Dog Party (2011), both cheeky works which clearly convey her message, with a sly wink of fun at the viewer. Veronique Leblanc also explores the theme of the natural world in her soft and beautiful Inner Wasp (2010) and the clever Mushroom Extravaganza (2011), in which she invites the viewer to transgress the boundaries of the gallery and step inside the work to cocoon themselves in a warm space.
The VAV’s Am I Still in the Power of the Demon? (Did My Preserver Never Come?) is a whimsical and provocative show. The range of pieces displayed attest to both the artistic merits of fibre and textile art and the imaginative and thoughtful artists who are engaging with these unique mediums.