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Terence Dick
Chimera at Craft Ontario | Moon Room at Narwhal Contemporary
November 04, 2014

Thematic exhibitions are a tricky proposition. Looking retrospectively at a single artist is so much simpler, with just one pair of hands to consider when figuring out what unites all the work and then having the arrow of chronology help you assess the artist’s trajectory. In fact, anything historical, even a group show, has at least time as an ordering principle. But when all there is to justify this gathering is some idea or argument drawn from the zeitgeist or identified in the faintly overlapping Venn diagrams that link studio to studio, the responsibility falls on the curator to hold the show together and not simply display each work for contemplation, but to arrange them so they rub up against their neighbours and generate a productive friction that makes them more than the sum of their parts.

Julie Moon, Sight Flight, 2014, porcelain, glaze, mylar

With Chimera, now on display at the Craft Ontario gallery space on Queen West, Morgan Mavis has brought together two artists and her artist-run home museum to explore the overlap between nature and culture, setting David R. Harper’s ceramic, embroidered, and stuffed animal spirits alongside Julie Moon’s surreal ceramic sculptures and a floor-to-ceiling arrangement of taxidermied fauna from the collection of the Contemporary Zoological Conservatory (aka Mavis’ museum). The room is crammed cheek to jowl and, while there are material links in craft from work to work, Harper’s restrained and rigid symbolism dominates, leaving Moon’s mutant models that blend body and soul a quieter presence. Mavis’ menagerie is stuck at the back and loses some of its dramatic effect due to the limited architecture, which is a shame because the combination of artists and curatorial ideas is full of promise.

Jennifer Murphy, Hands, 2003, collage on paper (courtesy: Clint Roenish Gallery)

Moon Room, Kristin Weckworth's current confabulation at Narwhal Contemporary, isn't simply a collection of tributes to la lune; it riffs on the ur-text of nocturnal free association – Margaret Wise Brown's children's classic Goodnight Moon – and uses it as the jumping off point for an equally freewheeling collection of objects, from Margaux Williamson’s murky paintings to Heather Goodchild’s mythic hook rugs to a sculptural assembly by Nikki Woolsey that materializes one of the central figures in the story (“a spoon, a brush, and a bowl full of mush”) into a surreal piece of furniture.

There are, in fact, two rooms in Moon Room, and while the first gives us an earthly perspective, the second places us on the lunar surface and surrounds us with drawings, paintings, collages, and a stained glass window high over one entrance that play off the interpretive delusions we engage in when desperately trying to discern what we see when we look up to that disc or sliver in the night sly. Some take the theme metaphorically, such as Jennifer Murphy and Maggie Groat, building on the blank surface to reflect all that earthly activity and matter we imbue with moonishness. Dipping into more celestial territory, Eli Langer’s luminescent radial line drawings, Maryanne Casasanta’s night sky, and Patrick Krzyzanowski’s star bursts (which are actually spirograph drawings made by rats) take us into deep space. You have to find your own way back.

Craft Ontario:
Chimera continues until November 22.

Narwhal Contemporary:
Moon Room continues until November 15.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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