Humility can be hard to find. In a culture where women’s empowerment filters through individualism, presented in terms of “badass,” “girlboss” and the “she-conomy” – one might struggle to draw the line between “owning it” and self-obsession, between humility and self-effacement.
Then again, life is also full of powerfully and immediately humbling experiences, like grief, aging or standing at the shore of a huge lake: moments of confrontation with endings.
Christine Fellows, Chantel Mierau and Jennifer Still’s collaborative exhibition legs dwells on those experiences. Gallery 1C03 in the University of Winnipeg will house the local artists’ video installation, which is based on Still’s elegiac poem of the same name, until Feb. 16, 2024.
“It’s humbling to feel your limits,” Still says. “I think that was the whole point of the poem, to feel oneself catch oneself in whatever way that is.”
Still wrote legs at her family’s cabin on the shore where Traverse Bay and Lake Winnipeg meet while grieving the loss of her mother.
She says the poem is a reflection of her time spent swimming at the cabin, going for walks and remembering her mom through the clothing she wore and “the ways we moved through the world together.”
The video installation is a “translation of the poem, but through complete embodiment,” she says. The three collaborators filmed the project at Still’s family cabin and in Pine Falls, which is 120 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Still says travelling together brought a sense of adventure to the project and an appreciation for things that didn’t go according to plan, like a clothesline holding leg forms breaking and sending them crashing to the ground.
“We can have this whole unfolding idea of the way things will go and then ... this happened again and again, where we realized that us setting up, us prepping for the scene was the scene,” she says.
Fellows agrees. “This project is all about the unexpected,” she says in an email to The Uniter.
While Still’s poem is the core of the film, she says Fellows and Mierau were instrumental in helping her “relinquish” the poem to a new medium.
Mierau’s work with costuming and textiles is front and centre in the film’s imagery, which includes bright-pink shower caps and pantyhose-clad legs of inhuman length.
For Still, Mireau’s contributions have evoked a sense of the “mystical, magical and whimsical” and a deeper connection with the generations of women who’ve expressed themselves through textiles before her. In preparation for the exhibition, she is making “neon-pink spandex ruffles” to attach to the gallery’s chairs.
Fellows brought her immense understanding of musicality to bear in her work with Still on the recorded reading of legs that narrates the film.
“I listened for opportunities for (Still) to underline or suspend moments, to lean in and embody the text, to find urgency or tenderness or pause or play,” Fellows says. “But really, she found it all on her own, and I was just there to say, ‘Yes! You found it!’”
Still encourages other writers to take inspiration from musicians in embracing collaboration.
“(Fellows and Mierau have) really helped me locate the poem both inside me and outside of me,” she says. “I highly recommend writers to reach out and allow for interpretations of their work and to be a part of that experience.”
The opening reception for legs, hosted by Gallery 1C03 on Nov. 23 at 4 p.m. also marks the film’s Canadian premiere. It was previously screened at the ZEBRA Poetry Film Festival in Berlin, where it won the Ritter Sport Film Award.
Gallery 1C03 is the official art gallery of the University of Winnipeg. It can be found in Centennial Hall across from the Info Booth. Admission is free.
Published in Volume 78, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 16, 2023)