Convoluted Beauty: In the Company of Emily Carr

June 27 to September 14, 2014

The work of Emily Carr (1871-1945) is nationally respected for its pioneering of modernity in Western Canada. In her early career, Carr travelled to the United Kingdom to study art, determined to expand her creative vision. Instead, her time there (1899 to 1904), proved to be among the more challenging ordeals of her life, culminating in an 18-month hospitalization with the diagnosis of “hysteria.” Surprisingly, it became a formative point in her career, one where she resolutely declared her sense of her own Canadian as well as artistic identity.

This project, curated by Lisa Baldissera, Chief Curator, Mendel Art Gallery, is the first significant presentation of Emily Carr’s work in Saskatchewan in almost 20 years. It considers Carr’s London years to explore notions of the artistic imaginary and artistic identity. It touches on a variety of critical frameworks: the theme of exile, readings of affect and interspecies theory; an examination of hysteria and the clinic which moves beyond the psychoanalytic frameworks of the 1990s, and the concept of “unproductivity” in creative work.

Convoluted Beauty examines Carr’s legacy through work by major international artists, including: Thomas Zipp (Germany), Louise Lawler (USA), Mark Wallinger (UK), and commissioned projects by Canadian artists Nathan and Cedric Bomford, Karen Tam, Marianne Nicolson and Joanne Bristol. The exhibition also includes work from across Carr’s career, generously loaned from the collections of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Thomas Zipp’s long-standing interest in psychology, psychoanalysis and natural sciences has led him to the consideration of the generative qualities of trauma and mental illness, as well as the idea of the artist as self-healer. Themes of exile are also at play: Karen Tam explores Carr’s friendship with Chinese artist Lee Nam, and Marianne Nicolson reflects on issues of ecology and neo-colonialism. German artist Charlotte Salomon is represented through a selection of 20 reproductions from the Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam. Joanne Bristol creates a newspaper and “composition” for birds. A sound installation by Louise Lawler, featured in the Civic Conservatory acknowledges Carr’s special relationship to animals and offers a critique of the structures of the art world. A response to the architecture of the clinic has been invited by Cedric and Nathan Bomford, while Mark Wallinger’s 2001 Venice Biennale piece, Threshold to the Kingdom, provides a psychic portal to the idea of “crossing over” into unknown territory, as Carr did when she left Canada to pursue studies in the UK. A full-colour publication with essays by Erika Dyck, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in History of Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, and Vinciane Despret, Professor of Philosophy, University of Liège, Belgium, will be released this summer.

The Mendel is grateful to Tourism Saskatoon, B’nai Brith Lodge 739 and Congregation Agudas Israel, Saskatoon, for sponsoring this exhibition.

Video: Watch a time lapse video of artist Karen Tam’s installation process for 鸕鶿飛 (Flying Cormorant Studio [For Lee Nam]).