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There's a lot going on in this rich and strange two-person show at aceart, but it all circles around the anything-can-happen possibilities of stop-motion animation. With its herky-jerky pacing and its creation of self-enclosed, slightly obsessive worlds, stop-motion can embody giddy sweetness or eerie enigma. The works of Montreal-based artists Jessica MacCormack and Elisabeth Belliveau catch both of these qualities, and then some.
Margaret's Mountain, a 13-minute animation by the Nova Scotia-born Belliveau, uses cut-out coloured-pencil backgrounds and figures with movable jointed limbs to evoke a dreamy realm of memory and feeling.
In the breathy voice-over narrative, a woman talks of overlapping female characters who are composites of Belliveau's grandmothers -- "who incidentally were mostly all named Margaret," the artist writes. Margaret gives advice, but not necessarily the stereotyped grandmotherly kind: "Only talk to lovers at night because that is when they are too tired to be liars," she counsels.
Forsaking official family history for stories told through the patient, feminine channels of chat and cups of tea, Belliveau combines images of comfortable domesticity -- crowded kitchen counters, potted plants -- with a subversive undertow of mad love and longing for escape. Belliveau surrounds Margaret with wilderness landscapes, animal totems, and images of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, those heraldic figures of love, loss and bad breakups.
In MacCormack's animated piece, tidy domestic imagery gives way to nightmare transformations. Using uncanny manipulations of retro photo images, a layered soundscape, and the odd cadences of stop-motion, MacCormack suggests the interior world of a young girl, "her thoughts piled up" in suspended, internalized pain.
Recurring images of little girls' legs in patent leather Mary Janes and white stockings, along with creepy medical equipment and predatory animals, evoke sexual trauma and the threat of violence. There are comic echoes of Terry Gilliam and Berlin Dada, but there is a dangerous, concentrated quality to MacCormack's animation that belies the work's darkly ironic title, Nothing Ever Happened.
The aceart exhibition expands out from these works with objects that have been used to develop the animations or remained after the animations as meaningful, melancholy relics. Like many artists in this rising generation, Belliveau and MacCormack are multimedia maniacs, working and collaborating in drawing, painting, textile, text, zines, video and audio, and activist practice.
Belliveau exhibits sketches, stitched embroidery hoops and framed tableaux of drawings. She often favours a cheerful DIY look -- "the world is made of work," Margaret reminds us -- which forms a nice counterpoint to her elusive and evocative poetry.
MacCormack offers disturbingly elegant watercolours in which drifts of red poppies look like blooms of blood. She also exhibits three astonishing papier mâché masks of a happy dog, a sad dog and an unknowable cat.
Taken together, the work adds up to a beautifully complementary two-person show, in which a shared interest in stop-motion technique is reinforced by deeper currents of thought and feeling.
Natural disasters, pets and other stories: Jessica MacCormack and Elisabeth Belliveau
aceartinc., 2nd floor, 290 McDermot Ave.
Until Oct. 1
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.