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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Proceed Cautiously

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday April 16, 03:23 pm
This artistic take on fairy tales is excellent


Runs to May 9

Void Gallery

Fairy tales are such rich materials that they’re constantly being “rewritten,” with writers, artists and more contributing to an ongoing tapestry. Years ago, several female artists at Video Vérité (one of Paved’s parents) collaborated on multiple humorous and horrifying versions of Little Red Riding Hood; currently, Rowan Pantel’s Cynefin at the Affinity Gallery invokes “the woods” in a manner both childlike and chilling. And at the Void Gallery this spring, we have Cate Francis and Maia Stark presenting Cautionary Tales.

First, praise for the Void: one of its founders, Michael Peterson, was mentioned in a recent Canadian Art for his role in forming Void. Ric Pollock, a sculptor whose constructed/found works are both serious and whimsical, once lamented to me the lack of spaces for emerging artists in this city: it’s improving, but still needs work.

Francis’ work is hopefully familiar to you, while Stark’s may not be. Stark’s is more spartan in execution, monochromatic and minimalist. This works — not just formally, but also as the accompanying titles indicate that Stark is telling a story, and these are excellent illustrations to a “cautionary tale.”

An Invitation” alludes to what you might meet in the woods you wandered as a child, perhaps finding treasure, perhaps to be eaten. “The Hound at the Crossroads” suggests danger and trepidation but also possibility. A favourite is “‘Beheading is a cure for transformation’, she said”. I’ll admit to recently watching Into the Woods, with Little Red’s “maturing” in that movie, and her existential points about knowing and not knowing, and what’s nice and what’s necessary.

But it’s not all fearsome: “And Oh! The wolves were swift!” has a certain Edward Gorey quality to it, which is a fine thing. Stark’s words are insightful: “Fairy tale motifs of death, duality, transformation, and gender have had relevance for much of my artwork over the last few years. ‘Cautionary Tales’ is an exploration of some of this research: specifically, a female-focused narrative which taps into some of my own interest in doubles/twins and their gendered connection to death and the supernatural. In these pieces, the enemy and ally are not clearly defined: an invitation in the forest may lead somewhere you don’t want to go, a dark shape with many hands may offer salvation, and witches who ride wolves as horses have their own ambitions.”

Cate Francis’ current aesthetic has a “scientific” element both subtle and a bit sickening (in a very good way, of course, such as works I saw at Unreal City recently). Her “Red Riding Hood” is a fitting elaboration on the aforementioned video artists (like Brenna George, whose Little Red can be enjoyed on Vimeo). The foreboding scissors dominate the left side of Francis’ work, and it’s unclear if we’re seeing Red being consumed by the Wolf, or escaping, or if one is employing scissors to cut and mend the other to fit as a skin or coat. The wolf’s maw is gaping, his teeth large: All the better to eat you with, my dear…

Lion mouse” is similar: broken rope emerges from darkness like the scissors, contrasting the more graphic (again, almost medically illustrative) style of the larger scene of the patched and torn lion. Cate’s words are more succinct than mine: “[Cautionary Tales is about the] multiple levels and changing ways we use and perceive animals as literary devices and symbols. In a cultural climate that is inundated with endless scientific reports forecasting unparalleled environmental devastation and species extinctions as a result of our actions, just how bad can the Big Bad Wolf really seem?”

This is an artistic pairing that prompts dialogue between the artists, with differences that add nuance to their shared ideas (like Tammi Campbell and Kara Uzelman’s recent pairing at the Mendel). The Void’s mandate is the presentation of emerging artists, but Cautionary Tales explores sociopolitical ideas, often with a feminist edge, in a manner other “critical” spaces eschew. I’d echo a conversation with two of the BAM collective in Riversdale, and highlight the quality of emerging artists we’re seeing in Saskatoon — and you have until the 9th of May to show your support in the best way possible, and buy more art. 

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