THE NAMES OF THINGS
Terry Billings, Zachari Logan and Stacia Verigin
Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon
Sept. 28, 2012 – Jan. 6, 2013
By Lissa Robinson
The names of things, which brings together three Saskatoon artists working in drawing and sculpture, is a bit like a natural science museum gone quietly awry. Curator Troy Gronsdahl has created a playful exhibition permeated with subtle eeriness. Its clever design with lighting, framing devices and coloured walls works well with the artists’ imaginative constructions, humourous contradictions and curious mutations.
Zachari Logan’s drawing, Eunuch Tapestry, inhabits the darkest corner. Dimly lit and set against deep green walls, his two pastels on black paper are hung in black frames with a viewing distance imposed by gallery rails. It requires time for the eyes to adjust, but once they do, an exotic tapestry of delicate and meticulously rendered flora and fauna begins to emerge. The larger drawing reveals a kneeling figure bent to the ground. To its right, the smaller pastel shows a lurking moose with one eye peering out from the foliage. Both figures are camouflaged, but in this scenario it appears the titular eunuch is bowing to the royal court of nature. Curiously set between the figures is a hummingbird, a symbol for love and the appreciation of beauty. Logan’s visual narrative seems a delightfully ambiguous yet eloquent response to the Western cultural construct of 'man versus nature'.
In contrast, Billing’s sculptural reliefs are delicate and vulnerable to touch, with draping feathers and wispy-edged paper. Playing with repetition and patterns, Revealed Wasp Drawings and Reassembled Moult integrate natural detritus with materials such as burlap and acrylic paint. These careful arrangements of plumage and wasp paper retain an essence of their derivative forms – and even their material purposes – but transcend into poetic maps or meanderings of natural wonders. The crane feathers in Reassembled Moult are a monument to the bird’s flapping wings and tail cape. Revealed Wasp Drawings, on the other hand, subdue a swarming, potentially dangerous mass into swirling topographical drawings that trace the nesting patterns of the formidable insect.
Rounding out the exhibition are the curious objects that Verigin houses within Plexiglas containers. Seemingly manufactured by nature, these sculptures slip easily between the natural and the artificial. The beauty of this work is how skilfully Verigin uses manufactured detritus to evoke organic objects that might be found in places like Drumheller’s Royal Tyrell Museum, with their fascinating displays of fossils, crystals and petrified wood. Her moulding with plastic, glue and sawdust is clever and mesmerizing. Polydactyl, a fish skeleton made from plastic fingers, is particularly whimsical with its playful revelation of the artist’s hand within the artifice. Other works from her Taxon Series, such as Paratypes and Lumpers & Splitters, pay homage to the scientific grouping of organisms – be they artificial or natural.
This is an impressive exhibition that evokes the bonds, fears and awe we share when facing the forces and beauty of nature. The connections between works are articulate and unique. Nature is most certainly an inspiration here, but so is the world of artifice. Clever and inspiring, indeed.