On a Saturday afternoon in late March of 2021, I get on my bike and head to Blinkers, a DIY project space in the downtown Exchange District of Winnipeg. It is early spring and there is an icy chill on my ears from the wind. It’s my first bike ride of the season, and as I move through the city on two wheels familiar things are seen anew. Dormant muscles are activated; I notice the spring smell of the river, the shadows from bare trees on the path. Two friends and I have booked an appointment to see Mariana Muñoz Gomez’s first solo exhibition, A volar entre rocas (To fly between stones). We are taking advantage of recently eased COVID-19 restrictions, making this visit feel extra special.
The Moon is the eighteenth card in the traditional Rider-Waite Tarot deck. When the Moon reveals itself in a reading, it signifies that a time of reflection, intuitive dreaming and evolution lie ahead. The moon whispers softly to us and guides us to the gates of the unknown, insisting on a balance of light and darkness. Moonshow, curated by Tkaronto-based collective Hearth, and exhibited at the plumb in the city’s midtown, lapped at the viewer’s consciousness like the moon pulls the tide: reflection, cyclical repetition and vibration act as guiding forces through the serpentine project space. The exhibitionwas on view from January 9th until February 7th, 2021, a time that could only be described as desperate in terms of Tkaronto’s COVID-19 crisis. This show underscored the importance of embracing darkness in dark times, offering a respite to the ever-climbing numbers in the crowded city with saccharine appeals of “hope” that other contemporary exhibitions did not.
The romantic urban dream of starting a commune, or quaintly living in cottage country, differs greatly from the reality of maintaining a prosperous farm. Such urban perceptions of rural living can seem out of touch, as country life comes with a responsibility to the land and to maintaining community values. This reinforces gendered expectations because, even with modern machinery, the success and economic prosperity of farming, forestry, mining, etc., requires immense physical labour that is stereotypically associated with cis-gender men. Additionally, rural activities such as fishing, hunting or dirt biking require grit, and facilitate a type of camaraderie that is associated with “bro-culture.”
The photographs in Libby Oliver’s series Soft Shells engender the same paradoxical nature that the title implies: they are portraits that conceal the subject, while revealing more about the subject’s individuality than most portrait photography could ever hope to achieve. Exhibited at Gallery Stratford, on the edge of the Shakespeare Festival grounds and a short walk from one of the most celebrated costume departments in Canadian theatre, it’s only fitting to quote Jaques’ well-worn prologue to Act II of As You Like It as an epigraph:
“All the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players;”
Tania Willard’s Affirmations for Wildflowers: An Ethnobotany of Desire, ran from September 14th to November 13th, 2020, within the street-facing windows of the SFU Audain Gallery. The seven statements including “the Land is STRONG” and “I have VALUE” were projected as glowing declarations onto a wall running the length of the windows. Each declaration, or “affirmation” as the exhibition’s title suggests, was accompanied by suspended copper-coloured reflective disks, the surface of which were etched with black wildflower silhouettes. At the bottom of each disk, a trim of pink, orange, yellow, and brown silk ribbons embellished the composition.
While a second provincial lockdown was looming around the corner last winter, my mother and I managed to squeeze in one last visit to the Art Gallery of Guelph. The thrill of getting to see a few exhibitions in person (rather than the tiresome ordeal of clicking through virtual shows online) was much needed. We were restless to get out of the house, the days melting together more insistently than ever. Though I revisited the gallery a few times after, and with different people, this exhibition still sticks prominently in my mind as “the one where we tried to experience an olfactory installation while wearing masks.”
Tie-Dye for Germans is an intimate and intensely radiant exhibition of paintings by Janine Miedzik in the Project Space at Angell Gallery. These new works have emerged by bringing together the ways Miedzik has previously approached materials, including a dialogue between her painterly and sculptural approaches to making work. Her combination of painting and sculpture in a spirited, perhaps even comical way, further materializes in the reciprocity between two different methods of working, and ways of seeing.
I am surrounded by two hundred and twenty-two plaster polyps cast in place along the perimeter of Sibling’s gallery floor. The forms, which make up Robert Anthony O’Halloran’s installation Ursula’s Garden, are nippled, bellied and creased, with a rare few still stretching the condoms in which they were cast. Pushed up against the wall or slumped onto the floor, collapsing, tired and erect, the castings demarcate a lively zone within the gallery. There is humour to O’Halloran’s installation, and it hits like a scrap of itinerant latex flung, forgotten and rediscovered in a faraway corner of my bedroom the morning after a low-consequence fuck. O’Halloran’s garden is not the underwater Disney hell that the show’s title references, but neither does it realize a place of oceanic, post-coital peace. Instead, each one of its castings strikes an irreplicable pose, hardened or perhaps exhausted by its once-living desires.
The poignance of an exhibition is often measured by its ability to distil a historical moment, letting it hang in the air like luminous vapour. Amongst the media art exhibitions of the last year, perhaps none were more poignant than the eight-part artist video series, fractured horizon — a view from the body, which circulated during the weeks of protest that followed the killing of George Floyd. Curated by Toronto-based curator and editor Yaniya Lee as the culmination of her research residency at Vtape, Canada’s largest video art distributor, an impressive range of works by BIPOC women artists from Canada and the United States were sent out to Vtape subscribers’ inboxes like supplements; weekly injections of perspective and affirmation for all those in the arts community already feeling disheartened amidst the first wave of a global pandemic, and one now imbued with the urgent politics of fighting anti-Black racism and revealing white privilege. Like a shot in the arm, every Friday between June 5th and July 24th, 2020, a new piece would go up on Vtape.org, sometimes elegiac in tone, sometimes documentarian, but all of them anchored in their conjuring of the body politic. Pieces by Buseje Bailey, Richelle Bear Hat, Hannah Black, Deanna Bowen, Thirza Cuthand, Cheryl Dunye, Donna James and ariella tai each, in their own way, worked to reaffirm the vital connection between the social and material factors that constitute a “body” in the contemporary moment and, more specifically, to interrogate the strategies of representation that keep existing power structures in place.
Recently I had a memory come back to me—the type of memory that comes to the surface seemingly out of nowhere, one I imagine would be considered so very mundane that any brain, in an attempt to conserve space, would erase immediately. But there it was, collapsing time, a visceral scene from childhood of me squeezing into the small space beneath my bed. I remembered the tightness of the space, so tight my child-sized head could only fit in sideways. I remembered the smell of the dusty cambric from the boxspring, and the feel of the carpet on my cheek. Close and containing, this small space gave me the experience of disappearing entirely from view, complete with the contradictory desires to both remain hidden and be found.