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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Crafting A Narrative

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday May 14, 06:27 pm
Exhibit finds the unique stories in everyday objects

Runs to Saturday 23
Affinity Gallery

The Narrative Dishat the Affinity Gallery has a seemingly banal framework, but its everyday, domestic reference to plates posits a universal relevance. In conversations with the curator Carole Epp (also an exhibiting artist), we touched on numerous ideas that exist within the space, between the diversity of artists. Elizabeth Burrit, Aura Carney, Jenn Demke-Lange, Mariko Paterson and Cathy Terepocki comprise Dish, while Epp positions herself as an instigator, employing personal connections to expand both the public conversation about fine craft, and which artists are included in that scene.

Her words: “What makes a good story? How does one weave a narrative and what is the best way to get that story to stand the test of time? Of course, there is the tradition of passing down stories through oral legacies and by means of pen and paper… Let us add to that list the realm of art; more specifically, ceramics. An indelible and permanent material, clay materials long outlive their makers, stand all sorts of tests of time, and serve as one of the most perfect vehicles for storytelling.”

Cathy Terepocki’s “Kitchen Quilt”, with its colourful patterns, references art-making that encapsulates history, especially in an immigrant experience. Her piece occupies the same space as did War Rugs from Afghanistan: memory encapsulated in a portable object, to be passed from hand to hand, generation to generation. Her own narrative of Pennsylvania Dutch and Mennonite heritage makes “Quilt” beautiful to us, but more deeply meaningful to her kin.

Epp and Burrit both present works that explore an interesting feminist idea: that the personal is political and that motherhood not only redefines a family space but also an artist. “Don’t mess with momma bear” or “What saves her life” are maternal works — not quite as overtly feisty as Epp’s “Ass Kissing Angels” from a past Artists by Artists show at the Mendel, but that defiance is still there, just with alternate focus.

Burritt’s accompanying statement cites a similar shift: “[Moving] away from more austere narratives of place and geography to personal narratives about relationships and emotion… this work is about the relationship between sisters… [showing how] our own daughters’ relationship grow and change, and reflecting on my own kinship with my sister.”

Her “matching” cups are delightful: I love red earthenware, but the delicate dresses depicted on the exteriors of “Sister Cups” mark these as objects to be treasured (and used) for years to come. Plate works like “Secrets”or “This Side Up” are snapshots of interaction that I’m sure Burritt has taken from day-to-day relations between her daughters.

Utilitarian concerns and contradictions of preciousness (not simply put into that dead space of being “art”) are very clear in Aura Carney’s “Egg Cups”. These are so fragile, and the display of them in a closed vitrine doesn’t prevent their appreciation by a visitor but seems necessary. The presentation is reminiscent of a sales display, but that fits their exquisiteness.

Perhaps the most entertaining — and unique — artist here is Mariko Paterson. The patterning of dishes like “Fan Club” (featuring a gaggle of geishas), “Mind the Gap” (with Evel Knievel), “Crouching Knievel, Pouncing Kittens” (the daredevil again, and roaring tigers that are a common icon in Mariko’s works) and “Eye of the Tiger” (two roaring tigers, replete with flaming hoops about to be traversed) are all similar to the fine dishes you can purchase at the Chung Wah Grocery on 20th (may gentrification never displace them).

Her statement (no offence to the other fine artists here) was a highlight of this exhibition. “I guess the plates could be thought of as TV stills for the wall… I always dream of making lovely, lilting plates and platters with expanses of white breathing spaces, charming motifs fluttering about to culminate in an air of innuendos reminiscent of a Calvin Klein perfume add. What inevitably transpires is a right collision of Pawn Stars, Hoarders and Dancing With The Stars... mayhem-induced cacophonic platters [serving] as [a] dance floor in some kind of Saul Steinberg/Studio 54-esque cocktail party moment. I am obsessively opposed to the typical.”

Dishvoices common artistic concerns while providing a space for uniqueness to flourish. (Jenn Demke-Lange’s three-dimensional designs are seductive with or without the red and blue lens.) Epp’s words offer a better conclusion than any I can offer: “Each of the artists help to identify either a specific female narrative; a generational narrative, a design based aesthetic or even narratives of a geographical nature.”

Shall I reiterate that the best sculpture, especially that of a feminist nature, is from fine craft artisans? Go see The Narrative Dish before it closes on May 23.

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