CRITIPEG: Dry Media IV: A Herbarium Art Exhibit

Runs Nov. 2 to 9 at Forth

For the fourth time, the century-old WIN Herbarium at the University of Manitoba presents a kaleidoscope of organically inspired artworks from a roster of local creative contributors. For the first time, however, the roster is all women.

Co-curators botanist Diana Sawatzky and artist Helga Jakobson invited this group to immerse themselves in a collection of 80,000 specimens of regionally indigenous plants back in September. Dry Media IV is the product of that experience.

Dried specimens of purple prairie clover, coneflower and giant hyssop hang from fragments of found bones. Fastened and ornamented with spots of sterling silver, gold and brass, this trio of brooches from jewelry artist Tricia Wasney embodies a morbid prairie elegance.

In a swarm of delicately fluffy milkweed seeds trapped inside an acrylic case sits a dried milkweed pod atop a sterling silver leaf curled into a ring. This composite piece may be less wearable than its pinned companions, but its message may be more poignant. Wasney illustrates the plant’s resilience in subverting the seeds’ natural proclivity for floating away.

Among the more directly representative works in the show is Connie Chappel’s pixie cup studded log. Though the log is real, its adornments are artificial. The popcorn ceiling texture and subdued seafoam colour wrap the log’s split ends and strategically placed clusters of golf tees in a frothy costume of lichen. Beard moss, built with lengths of embroidery thread, drape in variegated greens.

A triptych of moss-centred works from installation artist Tracy Peters explores the contrast of death and resuscitation. Specimens of sphagnum moss indigenous to Manitoba’s bogs are contained in a pair of glass mason jars – one pale and shrivelled, the other plump and translucent.

A suspended sheet of sculpted vellum printed with a dense blanket of dried moss mimics the three-dimensional topographic contour of a peaty bed. Lit from above, living moss covers the vellum’s underside and glows golden green. A pillow, filled with the dried peat and printed with an image of ground from which it may have been harvested, invites the viewer to lie beneath Peters’ lushly illuminated canopy.

Visual artist and Dry Media mentor Bev Pike’s contribution was composed using the WIN Herbarium’s in-house camera lucida. This micro-focused pencil drawing of a Manitoban wild cucumber plant is a personal study made for close inspection. In a rustic and weathered frame draped with a dried specimen, the work is suspended on natural cork behind the glass with an air of a nature enthusiast’s sketch.

An illustrated catalogue of unknown authorship mysteriously found its way into the WIN Herbarium’s collection. Dated back to the 18th century, multi-disciplinary visual artist Willow Rector was compelled to document it.

She offers a set of four rag paper prints of the disintegrating covers and a sample of the brightly coloured technical illustrations of plants they hold. Pressed between the book’s blank pages, dried Manitoban specimens huddle in the seams seeming to have fallen from their once meticulous arrangements over years of use. With an architectural reverence, Rector’s eye reveals only enough to whet the palate for another page.

Dry Media IV: A Herbarium Art Exhibit also includes works by Charlene Brown, Corinne Kennedy, Roewan Crowe, Carla Zelmer, Heidi Eigenkind and Diana Sawatzky. Co-curator Helga Jakobson’s plant-centric solo exhibition Sympoietic Sounds also runs from Nov. 2 to Dec. 7 at aceartinc.

Published in Volume 73, Number 8 of The Uniter (November 1, 2018)

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