Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/12/2014 (931 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The women who take part in MAWA's Foundation Mentorship Program are all starting out in their artistic careers, but each starts from a different place and sets off down a different path. Some have just finished school; others are coming back to practices they set aside years ago. Some have been artists all along and are just now going public.
Like their established artist-mentors, the seven 2013-2014 graduates cover a wide range of media, subjects and styles, so you might not expect Little Deaths, their year-end showcase at Aceartinc., to follow any one particular thread. After a year of regular group discussions and one-on-one studio visits, however, it shouldn't be surprising that many works in the show do seem to be "in dialogue" with one another, and fitting themes of transformation and discovery quietly emerge.
Helga Jakobson adopts a mad-scientist persona in Relics of Frankenstein's Monster, a set of outsized hands and feet grafted from translucent, chemically preserved hosta leaves. At once delicate and disgusting, the work gently hints at the horror, pathos and unsettling philosophical questions at the heart of Mary Shelley's novel.
In Anatomical Atlas, a full-scale laboratory setup that we barely make out through a crack in the door, Letch Kinloch peers into ethical and existential grey areas at the edge of medical understanding. Moody and menacing, the backlit shelves of specimen jars suggest that our bodies remain mysterious, their innermost workings kept secret behind closed doors.
More alchemist than anatomist, Monica Mercedes Martinez exploits the unpredictability of ceramics and chance encounters. In an outdoor performance, she "softened" the hard lines of an iron fence with a jacket of hand-moulded clay, recording the perplexed reactions of passing observers as part of the documentation. A separate group of small ceramic works -- melted porcelain figurines that collapse and puddle, fusing with bricks from the kiln they were fired in -- looks for beauty in the "failure" of ceramic art's high-temperature metamorphoses.
In different ways, the remaining artists all examine how memory and art-making both reshape our lived experiences. Charlene Brown's bright, brushy, graffiti-inflected paintings distil personal and sometimes painful history into human-size, humanoid abstractions. Mining family history, Mandy Malazdrewich clips figures from old snapshots, arranging and documenting the miniature cutouts in makeshift scenes. The slightly surreal black-and-white vistas cleverly recall English schoolgirls Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright's fantastical (and fraudulent) photographs of papercut "fairies" from 1917.
Jen Loewen binds her own hazy, dreamlike images (scans of Polaroid-style instant photos) into clusters of handmade, accordion-folded books. Tangles of binding ribbon literally tie the volumes together, poetically echoing the knotted pathways of nerves and neurons.
In a more direct sense, artist and illustrator Devon Kerslake also tackles the untrustworthy anatomy of memory. In a tender but often wrenching series of comic-style drawings, she attempts to preserve and catalogue her own imperfect memories of caring for Alzheimer's patients in a closed nursing-home ward years ago. Something of their experience is reflected in her own struggle to recapture names, faces and fragments of dialogue.
It's no surprise that each of the seven artists contributes thoughtful and compelling work; what's remarkable is that Little Deaths is also one of the more balanced and cohesive group shows we've seen recently. This year's MAWA mentees might have started in different places, and they might be headed in different directions, but their paths cross often and it's a pleasure every time they do.
Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.