The Natural, Bizarre, and Heart-Wrenching

Three luscious, solo visual art exhibitions are coming to the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC).

Rosemary Scanlon’s The Rose Parade, Helen O’Connor’s Salutation, and Michèle Karch-Ackerman’s Foundling each open at YAC’s Public Art Gallery on March 6, and run until May 10. Scanlon and O’Connor are Whitehorse-based artists and Karch-Ackerman is visiting from Ontario. All three will be in at the opening reception on March 6 to speak about their work.

“I first experienced the Yukon Arts Centre and Whitehorse when I exhibited my show The Lost Boys a few years ago,” says Karch-Ackerman, “I so enjoy the warm hospitality and beautiful landscape that Whitehorse has to offer — the isolation of the city has emotional connections to the works I exhibit.”

Emotional connections are a central part of Karch-Ackerman’s work. She calls her process “domestic acts of love,” and for 20 years Karch-Ackerman has made clothing for “lost souls, and stitched conceptual wardrobes to manifest healing.”

Foundling tells a story from Karch-Ackerman’s family history.

At age 17, Karch-Ackerman’s grandmother became pregnant and was sent to an institution in Montreal called Misericordia, a home for unwed mothers run by an order of Catholic nuns. In Foundling, 100 baby sleepers created by Karch-Ackerman from a 1950’s pattern, and the curtains that hung in the living rooms of these girl’s homes, are arranged in the gallery. En masse, they become a catalogue of these young mothers’ loss.

“My grandmother shared her story with me; in the exhibition catalogue is an essay entitled ‘Joan’ that details the day she told me of her experience,” Karch-Ackerman says. “Misericordia is currently abandoned, it looks haunted and feels as though it could be used as a backdrop for a Jane Eyre film — spooky.”

Whitehorse artist Rosemary Scanlon’s exhibition The Rose Parade explores personal mythologies and concepts of beauty through darkly whimsical watercolours, installations, and photographic works.

“(I wanted to explore) the beauty of the natural world such as the rose, and also social constructs around the idea of beauty, such as a celebration, maybe a parade,” says Scanlon. “I also wanted to explore notions of idealized beauty, ornamentation and decorative arts.”

Thinking of roses and reflecting on the idea of beauty as both an aesthetic quality, and a value — like truth or goodness — Scanlon, “thought about desire for beauty in times of heightened emotional states, whether that be a spontaneous shrine that shows up at the site of an accident, on a roadside, or on the edge of a river; or the gifting of flowers an expression of love, friendship or sympathy.”

Scanlon also considered the potential negative effects that our pursuit of beauty may cause on the environment.

“(Examples of this include) the global rose trade, mono-cropping and the genetic engineering of flowers,” says Scanlon.

The Rose Parade will show some of Scanlon’s less-known practices, such as large-scale wallpaper. “Macro Garden,” a piece in the exhibition, is a digitally-created wallpaper constructed of hundreds images.

“Images captured by amateur photographers of flora and fauna are accumulated to construct a mass of macro images that represent a digital garden,” Scanlon says, “the wallpaper references the decorative and digital arts, the flattening of the natural world through photographic images; the natural world seen and experienced through a lens and then expressed on a screen.”

In her watercolour paintings, for which she has become well known, Scanlon places familiar objects in darkly magical places, creating an idiosyncratic language of myth.

For example, in “Carstacks” (2012) old vehicles are stacked into towers, reaching into a sky filled with cloud angels. A mythological Trickster-type figure sneaks by, an owl perches on a vehicle tower, decidedly northern spruce trees form the background.

In “Bear Icon” (2013) a constellation of stars magically erupts in grizzly bear flower power. A new icon is born.

Historically, icons are religious artworks and the concept has captured Scanlon’s interest.

“At first I was interested in religious iconography because that is what I grew up around, but then I also started exploring cultural signifiers, symbols,” Scanlon says, “From religious icons I started to borrow visual devices, compositions, and mannerisms and then blend them to create my own iconography, my own mythology.”

There are layers to Scanlon’s imagery, “whether they are from pop culture, northern references or personal signifiers much like you would layer words in poetry,” Scanlon says. “They are less of a literal reference but meant to allude to a certain mood, feeling; sometimes playfully, sometimes with darker undercurrents.”

The opening reception for the three artists’ shows is on Thursday, March 6 at 5:30 p.m. at the Yukon Arts Centre. The YAC is located in Whitehorse at 300 College Dr. The shows run until May 10.

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