Sunday, November 19, 2017

An Alternative Nativity

This past Thursday I took a few hours off work so I could attend the official presentation of First Nations artist Kent Monkman's installation, Nativity Scene, at Museum London.  The piece was purchased for the Museum's permanent collection with funds raised by the Museum's Volunteer Committee Acquisition Fund, and was dedicated to the memory of long-time volunteer, Shelagh Martin-McLaren.  Members of Martin-McLaren's family were present at the event, as was the creator of the piece, Kent Monkman.  I have been fascinated and moved by Monkman's work since I viewed his  installation "The Rise and Fall of Civilization" at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto a couple of years ago, which I wrote about here.

Nativity Scene, above, has been on tour as part of the Canada 150 celebrations, and is part of a larger exhibit of works by Monkman titled "Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience".  The phrase 'Amor Vincit Omnia' (Love conquers All) is carved into the peak of the front piece.

Monkman, a Canadian artist of Cree and Irish ancestry, works in the mediums of painting, drawing, installation and performance to put forth an alternative, and more historically accurate, narrative of the treatment of Canadian First Nations people at the hands of European settlers.  He incorporates just enough campy, sarcastic humour into his work to act as a counterbalance to his disturbing, symbol-filled narratives.

The Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience exhibit is divided into a series of chapters narrated by Monkman's alter ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, a play on the phrase "mischief egotistical".   Nativity depicts Miss Chief's birth.

The three figures in the piece have Monkman's face, the artist's comment on the dioramas he has seen in many galleries and museums where the same model was used for the faces of all the Indigenous figures.

Instead of a manger, the scene is set in a Res House, where the squalid living conditions include unsafe drinking water, and over-priced, unhealthy foods.

The beaver is an important and frequent symbol in Monkman's work, representing the fur trade, and often acting as stand-ins for indigenous people in his paintings.  In the Nativity piece, beavers appear as angels, heralding Miss Chief's birth, and on a crucifix, worn by the male figure.

Monkman's painting Les Castors de Roi (The King's Beavers) is an example of beavers used as symbols, representing the slaughter of indigenous people.

 I have known the woman on the left for many years, and she is a devoted fan of Monkman's work.  She was moved to tears by the opportunity to meet him.

Nativity Scene will be on tour after this weekend, but will return to Museum London in March,  2018 to be part of their permanent collection.

Monday, November 13, 2017

At Home With Monsters

This wall-sized photo of the entrance hall of Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro's home base greets visitors to the current exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters.   Del Toro's residence (which he named Bleak House after the novel by Charles Dickens), located in Los Angeles, is home to his vast collection of art, books, and movie props.

The only thing I knew about director, screenwriter, producer and novelist Guillermo del Toro before viewing this exhibit was that his films featured freaks, outsiders and monsters (some human, some not).  I had seen several films he has written and/or directed, such as Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy and Hellboy IIPacific Rim, Blade II, and Crimson Peak.  The exhibit at the AGO features approximately 500 pieces from his personal collection of props, artifacts, art, and books and is a journey into del Toro's world of the things that move and inspire him.

This photo of del Toro (age 10) wearing a monster mask, as he pretends to attack his sister, was an interesting personal addition to the exhibit.

The exhibit is organized thematically into different galleries, the first being Childhood and Innocence.   Children are often the central figures in his films, and they are usually much smarter and more aware of what is going on around them than the adults.  In my favourite del Toro film, Pan's Labyrinth, a young girl meets several strange and magical creatures, including....

The Pale Man, one of the creepiest creatures to appear in Del Toro's films

The lifesize silicone and fibreglass models in the exhibit are amazingly detailed - above is the Faun's "Fairy bag" from Pan's Labyrinth.   

Other themes include:  Victoriana, Insects, Death and the Afterlife, Magic, Alchemy and The Occult, Outsiders, and Frankenstein and Horror.  Del Toro is extremely well-read, and finds equal appeal in comic books and Victorian literature; both feature largely in the exhibit.

The gallery dedicated to Magic, Alchemy and the Occult features a life-size figure of author H.P. Lovecraft (a favourite of del Toro) and a re-creation of the author's library.  It also included a young man playing a grand piano which created a suitably eerie ambience throughout the exhibit.

Yours truly in the comic book room, where the walls are covered with approximately 1,500 comics, on loan from Toronto comic shop, The Beguiling, where del Toro has been a customer for many years.   It is said that del Toro owns over 50,000 comic books.

Large display cabinets like the one above contain items related to the theme of the specific gallery.

The cabinet above contained items from, or inspired by, the Victorian era, including these fascinating Victorian mourning objects.

I was pleased to see that del Toro and I share an admiration for the work of New York artist Travis Louie   (the three larger black and white portraits). 

Above is a costume from Crimson Peak, a gothic romance set in the Victorian era. The colour red is a dramatic and significant colour in the film.

Del Toro's favourite space to work in Bleak House is his "Rain Room", a space that exists in a perpetual dark and stormy night.  Del Toro set up the projections and fake rain-splattered window himself.   A figure of author Edgar Allan Poe keeps him company in the room.

The Outsiders section of the exhibit includes a video of del Toro speaking about his attraction to outsiders, and the "other".  Del Toro's films feature terrifying visual monsters, but he believes that human beings can be the real monsters.  Tod Browning's 1932 film Freaks, which features real circus sideshow performers, is one of del Toro's favourite films.  It was the first film to explore a different take on the idea of the "outsider" and belonging.  In the film, so-called "normal" people behave monstrously towards people with disabilities.

del Toro owns several life-size figures from Freaks, including this one, based on Minnie Woolsey, also known as Koo Koo the Bird Girl, born with a rare condition called Seckel syndrome.

The exhibit invites viewers to add their own drawings and thoughts in answer to the question "What monsters do you embrace".

A large section of the exhibit is devoted to Frankenstein's monster, which is the most important monster in del Toro's life.  As a teenager, del Toro felt a deep connection to the Monster's outsider status.  The Frankenstein and Horror section includes the five foot long head of the monster made by Mike Hill that greets visitors to Bleak House, paintings, comic book art, and life size silicone figures.

Artist Bernie Wrightson, who was the co-creator of the comic book character Swamp Thing,  spent seven years working on an illustrated version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein; a number of his illustrations, including the one above, are on display.

Detail from a tableau created by Mike Hill featuring the Monster, the Bride, and Professor Pretorius

del Toro selected pieces from the AGO collections to compliment the exhibit, and it was cool to see that he included the above illustrations from local artist Seth, one of my favourite cartoonists. 

There is so much to see - I spent over two hours wandering through the exhibit - and didn't spend as long looking at some things (like del Toro's notebooks from his films) as I would have liked.  There are televisions scattered throughout the exhibit showing clips from del Toro's films, and viewers are welcome to sit at the communal table in the comic book room and peruse a variety of comic books and copies of the book connected to the exhibit.  If you're a fan of del Toro's work, you'll love this exhibit.  If you haven't seen any of his films, but have an appreciation for the strange and the scary, you'll find lots of things to enjoy.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home With Monsters is on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario until January 7, 2018

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Stay-cation, All I Ever Wanted

I decided not to make my annual pilgrimage to New York this year, for several reasons.  The prospect of not spending time with my friends, in the city I love, was very disappointing but I decided to make the best of it, and am taking a Stay-cation this week (vacation from work, but staying home).  It's not New York, and the weather has been crap, but it's been enjoyable nonetheless.

No fancy outfits here.  It's been cold, grey and rainy, so I've been wearing cozy, stay-at-home clothes.  Thrifted jeans and sweatshirt from Talize Thrift,  boots from Housing Works Thrift store in New York.

I haven't done anything exciting so far, but there is something very satisfying about curling up on the couch with your cat and a good book on a rainy afternoon, and if you happen to fall asleep, it's ok.  I've uploaded some new music to my iPod, taken a bunch of empty shopping bags to my local thrift store for them to re-use, started listening to a new podcast, and had lunch at two local restaurants that are only open when I am usually at work.  There was a visit to the gym, and my physiotherapist in there too, and some thrifting in my neighbourhood.  I'll save photos of what I found for the next post.

 He's so happy to have me home with him.  There has been lots of snuggles and playtime
 Lula - we've had some struggles, but I think we are on our way to being friends
I am also working on making friends with my new sewing machine.  I got it in early August, but was sufficiently intimidated that I chose to wait until I had a block of time when I could give it my full attention.  I had an old Singer sewing machine about 20 years ago, which I used to make curtains for my apartment, but haven't touched a machine since.  I had my first sewing lesson last week, during which I made most of a pair of boxer shorts, so I understand how the thing works, and am not terrible at sewing a straight seam.  I have more trouble getting the thing threaded, and figuring out what stitch to use for what purpose.  As with most new skills, practice makes perfect, so I'm looking forward to getting acquainted with Lula, as she has been christened.

As long as I'm going on about crafty stuff, now would be a good time to show you photos of the thrifted Doc Martens I customized during the summer....

Heather spied these 20-hole Doc Marten boots at Talize, and when they didn't fit her, she handed them over to me.  They were very cool, but also very WHITE.

I spent a lot of time deliberating what to do with them, and after a couple of visits to Michael's craft store, I decided to go with a grey and black theme.  After a thorough cleaning, I used a sponge to apply a light layer of grey leather paint all over the boots.

I also picked up some black leather paint and a stencil.  I spent the next week or so adding the gear and cog shapes to the boots, letting each one dry before adding another.  I can tell which ones I did first as they have more smears and drips, but I got less sloppy with practice and the last couple looked pretty good.  Overall, I was pleased with how they turned out, especially since this was the first time I had ever done anything like this.

All you DIY and sewing queens out there (you know who you are, Vix, Pao, Sue and Mel, to name a few) have nothing to fear from me as far as competition, but you have all inspired me to try my hand at making stuff, so thank you.

I still have 4 days of freedom left, so who knows what adventures await?