In the myth of Ariadne, the thread she gave to Theseus led him out of the Minotaur’s maze. In a fascinating exhibition of three Canadian women artists, the threads they weave through their art lead us deep into their mythical labyrinths. Perhaps because the myth chosen by the curator Isabelle de Mévius as the underlying theme, is that of Arachne and her magical weaving skills.
Claire Labonté, Anna Torma, and Marigold Santos are a diverse group, what ties them together is their profound involvement in spinning their personal mythologies. There is the touch of fabric, particularly in the work of Torma, and at first sight, that of Labonté. It appears in the delicate drawings by Santos, but each artist is using her own unique creative spinning wheel weaving a tapestry of art and the subconscious.
What the organizers of the exhibition wanted to show was how the creative process follows its own path, often turning and reversing, only to leap forward in a kind of organic self-realization.
Torma, who lives in New Brunswick, draws on her Hungarian roots when designing, assembling, and sewing her tapestries. Colourful collages with strong folkloric accents soon prove to be rich narratives, dealing with the many facets of life, from joy to fear, expressed with a marvellous attention to detail and a great sense of composition. Some pieces deal with themes, as in a work showing anatomical drawings in a luxurious environment of lace and brocade, albeit market by blood red accents.
There are children playing in the company of quaint animals, Adam and Eve in an idyllic scene, the stories seem endless as the viewer meanders among the suspended, tactile works. Despite a certain légèreté, and a touch of humour, Torma’s pieces are labour intensive and meticulously thought out, with nary a space left without a connotation. She uses a plethora of fabrics, depending on the nature of each work. Collages are done on linen, which more delicate materials are used for the embroidered pieces. There’s an ethereal beauty in the transparency of some of these works, as we can examine both the front and the back of them, images turning into their mirrored versions.
The work of Quebec artist Labonté snakes around the entire wall of the ground floor gallery and is instantly breathtaking by the dizzying abundance of detail. Floor to ceiling, the frieze carries with it myriad narratives, forays into the past and traditional lore, musings on culture and mis-appropriation, hints of spirituality and profound questioning. It all looks woven on some giant rack but in reality this is one massive painting! Five segments are incorporated into this spectacular presentation, each like automatic writing, symbols and shapes flowing one from the other, one into the other, or form their own routes as they carry on and on.
Obsessive is the word that comes to mind, and the artist does not deny her holistic engagement in what she does. Labonté studied archaeology and her infatuation with the past and its relics finds its way into her compositions. But she is first and foremost an intuitive painter, someone verging on Art Brut, her work is that of an outsider, but one who chose to be on the outside of the mainstream. No references can be provided when describing her colourful style, and when asked, the artist turns to the curator for succour. She creates her storyboard as if in a trance, and to put the force that drives her into words seemed too much of an imposition.
The downstairs gallery belongs to Manila- born Santos, and in particular to the strange mythical being called asuang who splits in half and loses her limbs at night, free to fly on her mysterious missions. At dawn, she must search out her missing limbs, or she will not be able to return to the world of the living.
This somewhat macabre tale finds its echo in Santos’ own life; she saw her emigration to Canada as a form of breaking up, losing some parts of oneself, only to rebuild anew.
Santos presents this unusual vision in a series of delicate drawings, as well as several large format paintings, that when lit from behind, turn into mesmerizing light boxes. Bodies and parts of bodies fold into each other like dark flowers, all is fluid motion, the edges are blurred, the faces turned away or absent.
It is not just the captivating and intriguing story of the limbless female shaman, but the art itself that calls for return visits.
Singular Mythologies Anna Torma, Claire Labonté, and Marigold Santos
1700 La Poste, Montréal
October 7—December 18, 2016