Sunday, September 11, 2011

This woman's work...

“…craft and art have become rather comfortable bedfellows.”

The apparent absence of external signage for Project Space worked out alright last night because my husband and I took in many of the sights and sounds of Supercrawl before attending the opening that brought us to Hamilton. A child transfixed by a harp, a chorus belting out a song with lyrics consisting of but one word (meow), street planters adorned with cozy wraps containing messages like ‘fail better’, and general market merriment are just a few that come to mind.

This woman’s work… is on show at Project Space until October 1. Curated by Sally Frater, it features textile-based work by seven female artists from southern Ontario. Amongst the emerging artists is Shelley Niro, who acts as a keystone. Maybe the spectrum of emerging to established artists would feel more palatable in a larger exhibition, with the inclusion of other artists of her ilk to create balance. As is, the closest thing is a reference to Joyce Wieland, in Erika De Freitas’ Oh Canada, In Conversation, an embroidery which is a nod to Wieland’s print of lip marks while singing the national anthem. The date of Niro’s works, the oldest being 1993, makes her something of a double anomaly in relation to the rest of the show, which features mostly new work. It was back in 1993, incidentally, that Estella Lauter wrote of the legitimization of craft in art as being “still partial” (1). Today, though, the Project Space show is promoted by Toronto Craft Alert, and craft and art have become rather comfortable bedfellows.

De Freitas is a logical choice to highlight on the invitation for the exhibition, given that she has addressed gender directly in past work (such as the intriguing colouring book, Self-Portrait as a Coloured Woman). Curiously, though, the invitation image, A Teleplasmic Study With Doilies (A Selection), is from a photographic series of crocheted doilies draping a woman’s face and spilling out of her mouth that is actually about grief and the absence of breath, according to her website. On the other extreme, some of the works are almost too easy of a fit for the theme, such as Hitoko Okada’s intricately constructed beehive dress. Emphasis on construction of the work is apparent in most works, like the needles hanging from red threads that in turn descend from the pubic area of Insoon Ha’s all-white nightgown; the half-covered hanger amidst traditional Hungarian (I believe) stitching by Ingrid Mayrhofer; areas of concentrated pins puncturing the whitish-pink surfaces of Simone Aziga’s sculptural dress-like forms that hang overhead; and Colina Maxwell’s machine-stitched cityscape made from a sweater, accompanied by a video of its production. The latter is another example of work that, on the surface, makes sense in the mix, but ultimately seems to be less about the convergence of feminism and craft and more about other issues (in this case, recycling and, by virtue of its floral motif shifting vertically in the collage process, the downsides of urban sprawl).

References:
(1) Estella Lauter, “Re-enfranchising Art: Feminist Interventions in The Theory of Art,” pp. 21-34, quotation p. 28, in Hilde Hein and Carolyn Korsmeyer, eds., Aesthetics In Feminist Perspective. (Hypatia, Inc.).

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