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Issue 130

enter the fog
by Craig Francis Power

Enter the fog, co-curated by Josée Drouin-Brisebois and Mireille Eagan, brings together the work of four internationally celebrated artists – Maya Beaudry, Tiziana La Melia and collaborative duo Tamara Henderson and Julia Feyrer – all of whom foreground process over final product and invest heavily in a codified and extremely personal visual language that invites active viewer participation, as opposed to passive reception of the material and ideas manifested therein. At least, this is what we’re told the exhibition’s about. In truth, the works operate in much the same fashion as most exhibitions do – objects are offered up for us to con- sider, or not, as the case may be.

In an email conversation with Eagan, she talked about the exhibition as follows:

For the visitor in particular, the show was an invitation – to understand that it is perfectly fine to draw like a child, to lie on the floor with a security guard in the room, to embrace the strange and uncomfortable, to make a mess and sit with it for a while. We wanted to promote a subjective experience, so we chose to keep the curatorial voice to a minimum and let the artists’ words act as clues in coded spaces. We asked the visitor to put aside expectations surrounding art – a positioning that may or may not have happened. This was the risk. Overall, it was a risk, but that was why it was important.

One cannot overstate the importance of explanatory wall text for the exhibition, given that the works presented are so very codified that your average viewer – maybe one of the parents here for the “Big Fun For Little People” weekly kids program, which includes finger-painting, drawing, singing and puppet- making (talk about active participation!) – would be hard-pressed to decipher the very good intentions of the artists whose work is on display. Enter the fog, indeed.

Maya Beaudry “creates physical and imagined mind spaces in which we are invited to take refuge or meditate and/or escape our reality and explore our thoughts.”1 Her Prototype for Crisis Room (with Mind Home Mock-Up and Three Vision Boards) presents a corner of the gallery space marked off with shiny aluminum tape, three images on canvas of home interiors that look borrowed from an interior design magazine and a body pillow made in the shape of a stylized woman who seems to be jogging. This work “acts as a form of sanctuary where one can be mindful and exist in the present moment, free from distractions.” Beaudry’s ongoing Jogging the Mindscape project, represented in the exhibition with her Padded Lamp (with body pillow for Jogging the Mindscape) “reminds us that the goal of mindscape jogging, where we literally take our thoughts for a run, is to embrace and value excess energy by channelling it into a form of daily mental exercise.” Believe me, exhausted as I was from the daily grind of work and home life, if there’s one thing I wanted to embrace it was that body pillow, but the security guard in the gallery told me that I wasn’t allowed to touch the work. I’d have to sleep at home.

Tiziana La Melia’s work “weaves together her paintings, sculptures and writings in layered installations that delve into personal narratives.” The works range from La Melia’s writing printed onto large-scale textile works, to spontaneous gesture drawings on sheets torn from the Yellow Pages, to a giant sculptural reproduction of Janis Joplin’s iconic sunglasses. La Melia is a poet as well as a visual artist and her installation The Eyelash and the Monochrome addresses the act of writing itself. Confronted by the metronomic taunt of the blinking cursor in her Word program during a bout of writer’s block (the eyelash) and the unyielding white field of the page before her (the monochrome), La Melia created a sprawling installation where “each work is a piece of a greater puzzle, and together they form a series of symbols that have multiple meanings.” Writer’s block – now that’s some- thing I can relate to. It’s a symptom of an even greater anxiety, one no doubt La Melia has herself experienced: the suspicion that the creative life to which you’ve dedicated your energies is utterly meaningless. As a writer myself, I’m serious when I say there have been nights in bed where I was trying to sleep but all I could see behind my closed eyes was that intimidating blank page. For La Melia, the works in the installation “articulate an unusual and ambiguous language or code that we are invited to decipher and contribute to with our own interpretations.” But the question for the viewer remains: Does the effort required to decipher this work pay off in terms of a greater, more revelatory meaning? Or is the unknowable quality of such personal explorations the whole point? I found myself remember- ing all those clichéd stories of artistic genius I’d learn- ed about in art school – Van Gogh cracking up in a solitary obsession, Baudelaire mad from syphilis, Pollock drinking himself to death, et cetera – a bunch of oracles totally losing their minds due to their deeply personal artistic visions. Is La Melia’s work an ironic critique of this well-worn history? Or does she embrace it? There is no answer – just ambiguity.

“Dreams, altered states and unconscious meanderings” proliferate the collaborative practice of Julia Feyrer and Tamara Henderson. Consisting of sculpture, drawing and painting, their installation, conceived specifically for this exhibition, takes its inspiration from the shape-shifting figure of the Old Hag, a nightmarish entity known outside of Newfoundland as sleep paralysis. Victims vividly hallucinate a witch-like being or other supernatural force present in the room, or sometimes sitting directly on their chests, which renders them immobile and suffocating. Feyrer and Henderson’s Old Hag, displayed in a room separate from the rest of the works in the exhibition and constructed using material scavenged from all over the Avalon Peninsula, is a towering figurative sculpture in a darkened room. It’s a collection of garbage– a busted basketball, kitschy miniature plastic trees, a lightning globe as her lone, bright eye – but the sculpture is the terrifying embodiment of our collective nightmares, junk and detritus reformed into a dark presence that dominates the room.

High up on one of the walls, two eyes constructed from neon lights open and close repeatedly, suggesting the doorway between dream and “reality” is in a constant state of flux. Four clocks, set at different times, covered in a melted, wax-like substance reminiscent of ectoplasm, hang underneath, while blown- glass bottles in the shape of the Old Hag, and filled with potions of some kind, rest on plinths nearby.

With its emphasis on open-endedness, play, the unconscious, personal narrative and process over product, enter the fog presents a challenging exhibition of contemporary work. As the title of the exhibition suggests, viewers will be invited to lose themselves in the non-linear nature of the installation, relying not on a logical or rational interpretation, but rather an immersive experience where intuition and free association reign supreme.

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