‘I did not like Winnipeg at all at first," artist Miriam Rudolph admits, sounding a bit sheepish. She had come to Winnipeg in 2003 from a Mennonite community in Paraguay to attend art school at the University of Manitoba, and it was an adjustment.
"Somehow I didn’t love the city," she says. "I didn’t love the weather."
Rudolph came around, and then some. When she and her husband left Winnipeg to pursue graduate degrees, first in Minneapolis and then in Edmonton, they missed the city. "We were gone seven years, and the only place we really wanted to come back to — that felt like a home to me for the first time ever — was Winnipeg," Rudolph says.
Partly, she suggests, this was because of the warmth, generosity and friendliness of Winnipeggers. But it might also have something to do with her art. Rudolph, who specializes in printmaking, started to make "maps" of our town and its neighbourhoods, images that combine realistic details with a subjective emotional experience to build a powerful sense of place and belonging.
At this month’s Art Talk/Art Walk at the Free Press Café, Rudolph will be talking about her art practice and issues of home — what makes us feel at home and what happens when people are exiled from home.
"The mapping kind of started when I moved to Winnipeg from South America," Rudolph says. At first, she made memory landscapes of Paraguay.
"At some point there was this shift, and I really wanted to know the city better. At the time, buses didn’t have any announcements of their stops, so I would sit there, following along with my maps.
"After I got to know the city better and I had certain circuits I would frequent, then the landmarks started to stand out," Rudolph says. "And that’s how the Winnipeg maps started, as I was getting connected with the city."
Rudolph often uses a wonky perspective that combines an aerial overview with on-ground angles. Some of the early images are based on photographs and convey specific architectural details of actual homes. "So many people over the years have come up and said, ‘My house is in your print,’" Rudolph says.
The information is edited, though, tweaked and transformed, with houses brought together into imaginary streets. "It’s the character, the essence of the neighbourhood," Rudolph says, rather than an exact replica.
This early work was autobiographical, according to Rudolph.
"It’s important to have a personal connection, but I also wanted to address larger issues," she goes on.
The body of work she began during her graduate degree at the University of Alberta looked at much darker aspects of home and place.
"There was this one thing I had been carrying for years, and it seemed so complicated I didn’t know how to tackle it," Rudolph says.
She started to look at dispossession and displacement, focussing on land-use issues in Paraguay, especially around the Loma Plata region where she had grown up.
Rudolph began the work with a lot of research — reading, note-taking and writing. She looked into the effects of deforestation, intensive industrial agriculture and large-scale cattle ranching, as well as issues of Indigenous land rights, environmental threats and climate change.
In these carefully constructed works — Rudolph uses intricate printmaking techniques that can involve dozens of plates — dark tones and ghostly semi-transparent forms suggest loss and exile.
There is a sense of resilience, though, in works that look at the practice of seed saving and the preservation of traditional knowledge.
Back in Winnipeg after that stint away, Rudolph continues to address these questions of home — why a sense of home matters, how we create it and how it can be destroyed. As she has suggested in an artist’s statement, her work is about "home and belonging, farewells and new beginnings, holding on and letting go."
This First Fridays’ Art Talk/Art Walk with Miriam Rudolph takes place at the Free Press News Café at 237 McDermot Ave., on Friday, Oct. 4, at 6 p.m., with a guided art tour of the Exchange afterwards. Call 204-421-0682 or email email@example.com to reserve tickets, which include dinner and cost $25 plus tax.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.