Colette Whiten, There there, 1994 (photo: Diana Campanaro)
The word "soft" often conjures up images of the safe and stereotypically feminine - things like kittens, blankets, and new babies, but Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery's summer exhibition soft strays outside of such comfort zones. The exhibition features a surprising selection of works that resist structural fixity and paint a startling portrait of the dangers lurking behind the facades of the domestic sphere.
Upon entering the exhibition, viewers first notice Gary Markle's Conical Fields. Equally playful and menacing, these foam spikes sewn in velvet are built on a child's scale and rest in the centre of the mezzanine gallery like some mutant rug, daring visitors to walk over it. The bright orange colour scheme both attracts and repels - after all, mushrooms and butterflies of this hue are often hard to distinguish from their poisonous doppelgangers in nature. Anna Torma's Red Flowers III, a tapestry adorned with embroidery and inkjet prints, initially seems to offer a safe haven or sorts - one might find such a colorful quilt on your grandmother's bed. A second glance reveals that Torma has hidden three headed beasts, serpents, and big-busted nudes amongst the flowers and cheerful hearts. Her dream-like characters exist in a sort of garden of good and evil - a place full of beautiful roses that will prick the hands of anyone who dares to touch them.
Trevor Mahovsky and Rhonda Weppler's Shopping Cart II sits in front of that garden like the discarded skin of a snake. The artists "cast" a shopping cart in aluminum foil then removed the cart. Over the course of five years, the ghostly form has surrendered to gravity, collapsing and buckling under its own weight. There is both tragedy and humour in this metallic artifact of domesticity that readily exposes its own uselessness and structural weakness. No refuge from this vulnerability is found in Collette Whiten's nearby piece There there, despite the repetition of the title over and over again in hanging beads. The red words look more alarming than calming and signal a distress call instead of offering consolation.
Mount Saint Vincent University Art Gallery: http://msvuart.ca/index.php?menid=01&mtyp=3
Soft continues until August 12.
Lizzy Hill is an internationally published writer and the editor of Visual Arts News, Atlantic Canada's only magazine focusing on the work of visual artists. Lizzy loves her community in Halifax's artistic north end, a wonderful summer camp for grown ups full of underground restaurants and pop-up galleries. She is Akimblog's Halifax correspondent.
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