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Courtesy Alcheringa Gallery
Rebecca Jewell "Cockatoo and Crowned Pigeon"
Rebecca Jewell "Cockatoo and Crowned Pigeon", printed feathers mounted on Japanese paper in vintage frame, 20 x 15 cm, 2013
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Courtesy Open Space Gallery
Stephen Mueller, "Starting Over"
Stephen Mueller, "Starting Over" Video Still
I was knocked over by a feather recently when I did a quick tour through Victoria’s galleries. Well, several feathers, actually – the work of British artist Rebecca Jewell at Alcheringa, a Fort Street gallery that specializes in indigenous art from the Pacific Northwest, Australia and Papua New Guinea.
Jewell prints images of owls, puffins, cockatoos and other birds directly on feathers, using their natural forms and textures to suggest the tactility of full plumage. It might sound kitschy, but Jewell’s consummate eye and historical references – she has a doctorate in natural history illustration from the Royal College of Art and is artist in residence at the British Museum – lifts her work into a place of wonder.
Raised by zoologist parents, Jewell spent time in Papua New Guinea and studied social anthropology at Cambridge University before becoming an artist. Her work considers the shared human and animal histories of museum artifacts, including the explorers, scientists and travelers that collected them. Her website at rebeccajewell.com is itself a fascinating collection and is well worth a visit.
Meanwhile, plumage of another sort was on display as part of a group show, Strange Encounters, at Open Space. Helen Marzolf, the artist-run centre’s director, graciously toured me through discrete installations by Jean-François Bouchard, Chris Boyne, Anna Gustafson and Stephen Mueller. A wince-inducing video by Mueller, who is based in London, Ont., was the most memorable piece, though perhaps not for the best of reasons. Mueller documented himself as he plucked his beard out one hair at a time, and he also displayed the hairy residue in a specimen jar, where it resembled something scooped out of a swamp.
Over at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, things got curiouser and curiouser in Through the Looking Glass, a summer exhibition organized by Vancouver curator Lee Plested from the gallery’s permanent collection. By constructing parallels to Lewis Carroll’s 1871 sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the show seeks to engage visitors with modernist and contemporary art by everyone from Fernand Léger and Marc Chagall to Jack Shadbolt and Sandra Meigs. I felt pulled between didactic panels, childhood memories of the tale, and the diverse voices of the works themselves, and was unable to settle into the show. That topsy-turvy feeling could be a point of the exercise, although both art and story felt familiar rather than strange or otherworldly. Perhaps the curatorial conceit will play better with further-flung visitors who tumble down Victoria’s rabbit hole before the show closes on Sept. 7.
Many Victoria galleries were turning over shows when I visited, and a display of drawings by Gareth Gaudin, with poetry by Shane Koyczan of Vancouver Olympics fame, wasn’t yet installed at Dales Gallery. Other stops included Madrona, Legacy, Deluge, West End, and a new space, Couch, which looks promising. I’d hoped to see more, but car free and footsore, it was soon time for a final destination – afternoon tea.