|Alisa Cunnington & Wendy Trusler - Ex Libris|
On the beaches of the Niagara peninsula, Alisa Cunnington scours for interesting jetsam and claims she can't make a trip to the woods without finding a bone on the forest floor. Wendy Trusler prefers the word 'gleaning' over 'scavenging', but from the slash-piles of Northern Ontario, to the alleyways of Toronto, to the rugged coastline of Antarctica, she is an inveterate gatherer of objects. The work of these two artists is inextricably linked to the process of collecting. Their installation, tilted Ex Libris , is intended as a library of lost things, though it is a clear intimation of the nineteenth century museum. Its presentation here in NAC's main space culminates a three-year effort to explore memory and the processes that build history.
Alisa's work; an extension of investigations into her personal physiology and the mechanics of memory, speculates on what the mind's reminiscences might look like. Enigmatic and poetic, these works waver broadly between romanticism and the macabre. The worn paths of memory hold all thoughts, those both bright and dark. Enigmatic and poetic, these works waver broadly between romanticism and the macabre. The worn paths of memory hold all thoughts, those both bright and dark.
The objects Alisa collects often dictate the work, although some are sought out particularly. Through careful fetishisation Alisa is able to amplify the supernatural qualities that lost things can possess. Playing on the impact of the museum and gallery setting, mundane and banal objects such as hardware, allys, costume jewellery, and insect husks are presented for reconsideration. The items are discriminated and arranged into a language that is at times deeply personal and occasionally impenetrable, yet more often legible through the every-day and common nature of many of the things. Presented as artefacts, they are still and solemn, locked in both time and place.
A suite of three large pieces -- The Opulentus Carrel, Anatomicae Carrel, and Scientia Carrel -- are comprised of objects neatly categorized in print drawers and interestingly suspended by lengths of jute rope. With an open book placed deliberately on the tabletop surface, there is an obvious allusion to a carrel but the precariousness of their position and the tension of the rope calls to mind the fragility of memory and the strain of building constructs to frame the organic. These elaborate oblique catalogues slung above the concrete may also direct us to the fallen metaphysical and alchemical structures of antiquity.
Wendy's work is aimed at creating a personal archaeology that issues a challenge to experience memory. An animist, she consigns transcendent attributes to the objects she collects. Those materials that comprise her work - decrepit objects, found materials, industrial discards, heirlooms, even - already resonate with story, but are reclaimed, recycled and layered to evolve her examination of memory.
Wendy's work also specifically addresses the physical workings of memory and collection. Dancing In A Northern Kitchen explores methods of coding memory in an accordion bookwork of recipes obscured by wax. While the underpinnings quietly suggest the rhythms of the everyday, without foregoing the essential nobility within.
Alisa and Wendy consulted each other frequently in preparation for this installation but this is not a collaborative effort and rather more like a simultaneous exploration. It is remarkable then, the similarities in their aesthetic choices. Dominated by natural materials, wood, fabric, bone, wax, and stone, the installation blends seamlessly with the organic characteristics of NAC's decaying industrial space.
Clear fascinations with anatomy, taxonomy, and personal archaeology bring these two artists together. Their shared aesthetic and their combined use of organic materials connect the installation to Victoriana and the natural history museum. Removed from their original function these objects invite appraisal, are exotic, and become something else. Through the artists' selection and presentation of their collections, Ex Libris also becomes an exploration of the public museum, the library, and the art gallery itself, all of which are institutions that the artist has enjoyed a complex, interdependent, and ever-changing relationship with.