Rebekah Miller is fascinated with zippers, with how they both conceal and reveal, how they
open and close.
She’s also fascinated with coverings – whether they are external facades of buildings or the skins of animals.
Therefore, Skins is a very natural title for her exhibit at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City until February 21.
An emerging artist, Miller is now based in Dawson City and spending her first winter here. She is originally from Alberta, having grown up in Buck Lake and earning her first degree in Calgary. Between 2005 and 2008 she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Print Media from the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. It was during that time she began coming to Dawson in the summers, working in the tourism industry to support her studies.
At her opening reception on January 23, she presented a discussion of her work, describing how she became fascinated by the designs of some of Dawson’s iconic buildings — the Old Post Office, the Palace Grand, Strait’s Auction House — and created prints of the structures.
Print sizes are somewhat limited without a large press, so when she was back in Alberta, Miller took up the art of printing from actual objects — inking doors and portions of buildings, and making the impressions on large bolts of cloth, which were more portable and convenient than paper.
Many of these were completed in her grandparents’ barn and then displayed as short-term installations. A print of a door might become a trapdoor into the snow, or hang in the actual doorframe of a building under construction.
Eventually, she created a complete three-dimensional print of a small building, which she hung in the middle of a stand of trees.
In 2011, she completed her Master of Fine Art degree at the San Francisco Art Institute, where her thesis project was the hanging forest that now occupies one corner of her current exhibit at the ODD Gallery.
What appears to be a stand of trees turns out to be merely the bark, that is, the skins, of trees, zippered together to appear whole, suspended from the ceiling by a pulley system and counter-balanced by four stones in the middle of the construct, so that nothing is actually touching the floor.
The rest of the Skins exhibition is different.
Zippers create a cut-away display of a wasps’ nest; a butterfly is divided and reconnected by another zipper; a print of a wing on translucent cloth hangs suspended from one of the support pillars in the gallery.
In dim light, the cloth is hardly visible and the wing just seems to float.
Seemingly less connected to the theme are three highly detailed drawings on the north wall, depicting a fox, and bird, and a bison. These are full frontal portraits with a lot of texture.
It’s very clear just what they are, even though the creatures would not look quite like that in real life.
Miller says the idea was to make the viewer aware of the skin as an exterior covering. The slight distortion of the drawing, or insertion of zippers in some of the other works, invites the viewer to imagine what it would be like inside that skin.
The other theme at work is the idea that human intrusion on natural objects transforms those objects so that they inhabit both worlds. The trees, insects, and animals cease being naturally functional and become art objects.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.