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Steven Leyden Cochrane
Emily Hermant at aceartinc., Winnipeg
May 19, 2015

Its current run at Aceartinc. marks at least the fifth public presentation of Emily Hermant’s Spatial Drawings. The work has shown up previously in Windsor, Wilmington, a Chicago suburb, and Montreal, and its widespread appeal is hardly surprising. The lyrical, whimsical bent-hardwood sculptures, planks of red oak twisted into weightless-looking ribbons that stitch their way through the gallery space, are engineered to impress. Hermant reinforces their whizz-bang materiality with careful framing, insightfully re-categorizing lumber among other natural fibres, asking us to consider sculpture as drawing and drawing as dance. She overlays a further thin but durable veneer of social critique, inviting us to consider again how labour is valued and devalued along lines of gender and class.

Emily Hermant, Spatial Drawings

However striking and genuinely likeable the sculptures might be, they’re formally a bit generic. Search Google for images of “bent wood sculpture,” and you’ll find many artists and craftspeople using identical techniques to produce less refined but otherwise comparable abstract forms. Hermant distinguishes her practice by reflecting on material, medium, labour, and their implications, though in practice some of these ideas hold up better than others.

In a recorded artist talk, Hermant cites the influence of dancer/choreographers Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer, and it’s satisfying to imagine the work on an expanded continuum of gestural practices inclusive of dance, drawing, fibre art, fine woodworking, installation, and other, less privileged forms of paid and unpaid labour. Bent without steam, the oak seems palpably resistant to its new configurations, a reminder of the control required to execute and sustain an “effortless” gesture. The contingent curlicues are held in place by large clamps and propped up by lengths of unfinished two-by-four, which become abstract surrogates for unnamed studio hands.

Hermant follows this train of thought a step further with an on-the-nose invocation of Mierle Laderman Ukeles. Near the front of the gallery, one of the smaller timber dipsy-doodles appears to hang-doggedly push a broom across the floor. In fact, the broom supports the sculpture (a meaningful distinction consistent with Maintenance Art’s feminism), but the gesture falls flat. It reads as a cutesy, cartoon illustration of structural inequalities surrounding labour, forces that Ukeles physically embodied and allowed to work upon her physical body in the 1970s. It’s goofy, and it casts the rest of Hermant’s explorations in a less serious, less flattering light.

The show on the whole is engaging and inviting, nicely composed, and warmly lit. Visiting the exhibition my broom-crankiness peaked and then subsided as the other sculptures worked their charm. Still, I couldn’t shake the suspicion that, despite conscientious framing and the unmistakable effort, the “weightless” wooden structures might, in the end, be largely fluff.

Emily Hermant: Spatial Drawings continues until June 11

Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist and writer based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.



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