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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Prairie Fibre

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday February 5, 04:15 pm
Craft Council show touches upon ideas of feminism and place

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Gallery

Runs to Feb. 21
Affinity Gallery

One of the most significant (and ongoing) debates of 2014 was the idea of what feminism can / can’t / should / shouldn’t encompass. In light of that, it’s interesting that many of the shows I’ve encountered and reviewed at the Affinity Gallery of the Saskatchewan Craft Council have very strong — yet diverse and delightfully contradictory — feminist tropes.

Past shows from June J. Jacobs and Paula Cooley touch on this issue, and the current exhibition, Our Prairie in Fibre (curated by Monika Kinner-Whalen) also offers it as one point of entry. It’s not the only one, of course, and I’m tempted to point out that the feminist discourse is just one arm of this show about this place, its history and issues, and where we may be now.

In curator Monika Kinner-Whalen’s words: “I wanted to walk into a room where anyone who entered would be enveloped with the deep bond between the artist and their homeland… The bond between woman and her prairie became undeniable as an interlocking theme that connects all the pieces together.”

In this manner it’s similar to concerning certain events at the Mendel, with artists there offering “visual essays” on the Saskatchewan history of prairie modernism and LSD experimentation.

The works are very different: Jacobs has a vessel work (“Gems of the Salt Flats”) that is a bit “louder” than her Shift Shaping work, while Heike Fink’s “Perennial Prairie Partisans” has some humour in its depiction of the ubiquitous prairie dog. Linda McBain Cuyler’s “Coming to Canada” is a highlight, perhaps indicating that we take places with us through memory or experience (in a suitcase, here).

Louise Tessier’s “Our Lady of the Prairies” is perhaps my favourite here, as I’m reminded of the rural churches (that often appeared in works from the old Photographers Gallery collection) marking space and place and what is brought with us from foreign places and remade here on the prairie.

A pleasant surprise in this show was encountering the work of Sandie Irvine, with her dress work (the prettiness of her “Mid August Wildfire” is balanced by the more rustic “Mother of the Bride” by Teresa Gagne). Irvine’s BFA exhibition from years ago played upon ideas of inside/out, and craft and art, in a manner that was unique and engaging in comparison to her contemporaries.

Holly Hildebrand’s “Prairie Prayer Flags” is another example of how the Affinity Gallery, in terms of its parameters of the media that it displays, is still being inclusive and expansive. On the other hand, some of the landscapes are almost an expected “quota” for any show about this region, and the trope of the grain elevator is something I could do without, since it’s been beaten to death by many. A point of argument could be whether it’s being done in a contemporary manner, citing the decline of the smaller family farm, or as a comment on how many here may not have gotten what they expected with the abolition of the Canadian Wheat Board. Leah Gravells’ “The Prairies or Canola Fields” evokes colour field abstraction, whereas Arlee Barr’s “Winter Prairie” is rougher and more textured, less hypnotic.

It’s an uneven show, but that’s exactly what I’d expect in an exhibition that’s more about personal impressions and experiences of the prairie than a larger, “official” narrative. The curator will be speaking on Feb. 5th, and Kinner-Whalen will undoubtedly offer some nuance and depth to her choices and the works on display at that time. The show runs for a few more weeks after that, to allow for consideration of her ideas within the gallery space. 

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