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Calgary: Meta Incognita by Mackenzie Frère
1.Frobisher – cotton, threads, 17.5 x 14” Artist: Wendy Klotz
The January opening of Meta Incognita at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium coincided with the world premier of Calgary Opera’s new work Frobisher. The original production was the inspiration for the sixty-five pieces in this ambitious exhibition by the fibre arts group Articulation. Artists were invited to create an exhibition based on the theme and setting of Frobisher, for display in two spaces at the Jubilee. Members of the group hail from British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba and Nova Scotia, and are graduates of the City & Guilds of London course in Design and Embroidery. Literally translated, Meta Incognita means “limits unknown” and was chosen by the artists to reflect not only Martin Frobisher’s search for the Northwest Passage, but also the group’s ongoing exploration of the visual arts. The result is an impressive range of work, from an intimate embroidered portrait of Frobisher to an array colourfully dyed and stitched works capturing the beauty of the aurora borealis.
Wendy Klotz’s portrait of Martin Frobisher is a machine-embroidered drawing in black thread on plain white cotton. As a piece of machine embroidery it is anomalous for its undecorated and restrained execution. Klotz’s straightforward depiction of the explorer contrast sharply with Frobisher’s Elizabethan finery. He looks to the left as though he is uncomfortable standing still. In its simplicity, this portrait in thread stands out in a group of more extravagant offerings like Gloria S. Daly’s Polvs Articvs, a multilayered reinterpretation of an Elizabethan-era map of the north, or Donna Clement’s richly coloured work All that Glitters is Not Gold. Both of these pieces demonstrate the technical skill and ability with materials shared by many of the artists in the exhibition.
2 Polvs Articvs – cotton, organza, pearl cotton thread, 85 x 85”
3 All That Glitters is Not Gold – various textiles, 54 x 80”
Artist Lesley Turner chose to focus on Frobisher’s contact with the Inuit people in several of her pieces for Meta Incognita. Perhaps the most intriguing of these is Summer Progress.
4 Summer Progress – fabric, threads, paint, beads, 14 x 12”
In this piece, Turner contrasts Queen Elizabeth’s annual summer progress when she would visit country houses, receiving gifts from her hosts, with the tragic experience of the Inuit woman captured by Frobisher and taken to England as a curiosity. Summer Progress is a small framed piece of painted, appliquéd fabric with an unusually placed looped string of pearls almost escaping the frame at the top. A simplified woman’s face appears at the bottom the frame pressed flat, crowded by elaborately patterned, Elizabethan-style fabric. It is a claustrophobic composition, echoing the unsettling theme of the work. In her description of this piece, Turner reminds us that the Inuit woman’s “enforced summer progress” resulted in her death from the measles in only a few months.
As a unique collaboration between Calgary Opera and the fibre arts, Meta Incognita deserves notice. However, there are only a few pieces that provide more than a surface exploration of the exhibit’s subject matter. Many of the works displayed read more as meticulously-crafted demonstrations of the artists’ virtuosity with thread than an artistic engagement with the operatic theme of the exhibition. It is puzzling why several of these pieces were included in the show. A more focused selection of work from this prolific group might have corralled the multiplicity of viewpoints into a more cohesive exhibition. The cramped spacing and careless mounting of individual pieces also posed an unnecessary challenge to the presentation of the exhibition, particularly in the lower space where pieces are hung from a thick-gauge chain that distracts from even the most exuberant and beautiful works.
Fortunately for Articulation, heaven is in the details and there are plenty of discrete moments of aesthetic delight on offer here, like Safe Haven by Rebecca Patterson. With its sophisticated pairing of subtle colouring and complex surface texture Patterson’s abstracted log cabin is echoed in the background, pieced in a log cabin quilt block pattern. Without literally referencing Frobisher, the artist has managed to create an evocative image of isolation in the desolate landscape of Meta Incognita.
Meta Incognita will travel east for an exhibition at the Mary E. Blac Gallery in Halifax Nova Scotia at a future date.
5 Safe Haven – hand-dyed silk, poly-cotton, plastic, beads, 16 x 22”
Gloria Daly: http://www.studiogart.com
Donna Clement: http://www.donnaclement.com