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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Last Picture Show

Bart Gazzola
Published Thursday July 23, 04:51 pm
Our critic comments on some great art, then says goodbye

Photo Credit: Cole Thompson

 AMALIE ATKINS

Runs to Saturday 1

College Art Galleries

 

FIRST, THE GREAT SHOW

Amalie Atkins’ work occupies two galleries at the U of S: we live on the edge of disaster and pretend we are in a musical fills the multilevel College Galleries, and Wundermärchen is in the Kenderdine in the Agriculture Building.

Disaster is a touring show — while Wundermärchen, as fits the title (surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar or inexplicable), is new. As a verb, it’s to be curious to know something. (Considering the liveliness of Atkins’ players, as are the large-format images in the Kenderdine from her film works, this may be the more relevant definition.)

The statement: “Set against the luminous landscapes of southern and central Saskatchewan, Atkins' multi-layered narratives present bittersweet sagas of grief, joy and transformation that linger in the memory like half-remembered fairy tales. Characters in the guise of wolves, bears, crows or other creatures populate her imaginative worlds and engage with human protagonists, enacting scenarios that are both everyday and otherworldly… [Her] cast of characters… includes, among others, two-headed sisters, braid harvesters, and a troupe of roller-skating Valkyries.”

I’ll begin with Wundermärchen, as it’s newer — but frankly, I read the three spaces as one exhibition of Atkins’ depiction of the Prairies (note the capital), with symbols more relevant and contemporary than a wheat sheaf or grain elevator.

Some of the images mimic a Soviet propaganda aesthetic: The cyclist in the headscarf, the women moving up the hill en masse, all dressed nearly identically in “peasant” outfits, and the older woman who has a Mother Russia / Mother Saskatchewan sensibility.

The stills from The Braid Harvesters offer meldings of Soviet / socialist realist propaganda strained through a folktale (an excellent harvest, but a harvest of what?). Stalin would approve, until he noticed the confusing surrealism of the braids and suspected sedition in the uncanny scenes. But the little girl could be a Young Pioneer: “We exceeded Comrade Stalin’s Five Year Plan in Braid Harvesting! Glory to the Motherland!”

The images of the conjoined twins are fantastical, standing behind a well-laden table. But remember Hansel and Gretel or Snow White, where an offered delicacy is dangerous. Meanshile, downstairs at the College Gallery are hand-sewn, felt, blood-red fruits hanging from above, just out of reach.

This engaging subjectivity of interpretation, updating Jeanne Randolph’s assertion that we create the “meaning” of any encountered art, continues in the tiered College space. Disaster offers vignettes, short stories and scenes that in their brevity offer easily digestible anecdotes of place that interlock and interplay into a larger chronicle.

The majority of the 16 mm works in the College space are within carnivalesque tents. There’s a white pavilion with glass sand and white stumps. You’re instructed to please wear the provided boots in the upstairs tents; it’s dangerous territory, so be prepared. The black pavilion — with the electric green, silky stalks around it (grounded in real earth) — is just as foreboding, but like a character in a fairy tale, we know we’ll enter these woods.

How can we not? I’ll be sparse in my description of the filmic works, as you must go see them yourself. They’re amusing, succinct and eerie. There’s a correlation to “prairie tales” like we saw in the works of Maia Stark or Cate Francis at Void this year, with Little Red offered new adventures and agency. Three Minute Miracle or Scenes from a Secret World share this sentiment.

The downstairs space is balanced. A big red stripe leads to the music of Brasstronaut, and you’ll be dancing with the Valkyries in The Summoning. The far end is a darkened, black space where a treadle requires you labour, comrade, to watch Listening to the Past / Listening to the Future. The black-clad women perform on a frozen lake with an eastern European flavour — either the Slavic history of the prairie or because I see Atkins as an heir to Sergei Eisenstein.

It’s dual-projected on facing walls, nostalgic both in imagery and in form (Atkins works almost exclusively in 16 mm, which has a quality that’s evocative of memory, whether family films or historical archives). The images suggest surrealist film (I see Larissa Antipova wielding the “bullhorns” — which are hanging on the wall outside the alcove — calling out, with no one listening or coming to rescue) or again, Eisenstein (arguably one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century; his Potemkin is a landmark of film, propaganda and form, but his Ivan the Terrible is more relevant to my interpretation of Atkins' work).

Wundermärchen and we stand at the edge of disaster and pretend we are in a musical are truly one show; and that one can immerse themselves in three different gallery spaces of Atkins’ “world” serves her aesthetic well. It’s easy to feel transplanted to the prairie wonderland that Atkins has created with her tales. Begin with Wundermärchen and proceed to disaster, from a moment of wonder to full experience, or do the reverse so you can quietly contemplate the frozen scenes from the videos after the carnivalesque atmosphere at the College.

Go. Get lost in the spaces. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming “I’ve Got A Full Set of Teeth” from Three Minute Miracle, as you exit the space…

 

AND THEN, THE GOODBYE

It’s synchronicity that my final Planet S review, before my departure from Saskatoon, is about the play of memory / fantasy, place / displace, remembrance and sadness.

It’s been my privilege to write about art here for more than a decade with Planet S, and perhaps this visual arts community, with its courage and cowardice, its integrity and ignorance, has appreciated having a critic in residence. Or not. Best not to look back — look at what happened to Lot’s wife.

I love you with all my heart, Saskatoon, and I hate you with an intensity that frightens. Oh, did you really think I would begin to lie to you now, when I'm leaving? Not bloody likely. Kinana'skomitina'wa'w, ki'htwa'm, ka-wa'p(a)mit(i)na'n, Saskatoon.

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