March 30 to June 10, Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon
By Margaret Bessai
Rare, hand-drawn dolls created by a young Sylvia Plath are featured in Paper Doll. Curated by Anne Koval from the Owens Art Gallery in New Brunswick, the exhibition explores links between the realm of play and the construction of gender in the work of Cindy Sherman, Cybèle Young, Barb Hunt, Anna Torma, Jeannie Thib, Ed Pien, and Lynne Yamamoto. Play is a fundamental mode of learning and creative exploration — and examining the content of play can reveal much about a culture. Researching Plath at the Lilly Archive, Koval saw in the poet’s early diaries (from1945 to 1947) a pantheon of femininity, writing and drawings, creative play which shaped the poet, informing her mature works. Later, her 1965 collection, Ariel, gave voice to a generation, earning a Pulitizer Prize. The works in Paper Doll use similar strategies of play and humble materials to examine the female and the feminine — witty paper miniatures by Cybèle Young, lush embroidery by Ana Torma, fluttering paper-chains by Lynne Yamamoto. Cindy Sherman’s early Super-8 film Doll Clothes (1975) transforms the artist into a paper doll. Jeannie Thib and Barb Hunt visually reference feminine, patterned fabric, but work in cut steel, contrasting perceived fragility with material strength. Ed Pien’s Revel (2011), is an ethereal, nearly invisible labyrinth. A curtain cut from clear mylar creates a spiral path leading into a central area in which a web of nylon threads suspends a cluster of tiny model houses, anchored to rough-hewn stones on the floor. The shadow on the wall behind reveals the substance of the installation, dancing shadows and a ghost of a girl playing with the dream houses.