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Features / March 12, 2009

Shary Boyle: Bat Drama sans Dracula

Shary Boyle Feldermäus (Bat 1) 2008

Bats have a bad reputation. But even if that stigma is mostly informed by folklore and literary invention of the Bram Stoker variety, most of us still flinch at the idea of coming face to face with one of these aerial night-creatures. Of course, bats are in fact harmless by nature, delicate, sensitive and communal animals that form a unique part of the natural world’s order. So when stories of recent declines in North American bat populations started to make headlines last year, Shary Boyle took notice.

That’s part of the story that informs Boyle’s exhibition “The Cave,” currently on view at Jessica Bradley Art + Projects in Toronto. Featuring a suite of new porcelain bat sculptures set alongside pastel drawings completed over the past couple of years, the exhibition also makes further proof of Boyle’s masterful technical and conceptual abilities not to mention her elegantly emotive imagination.

Boyle’s is a magical world, infused with dreamy metaphors of a distinctly gothic air: When wall-mounted, bat profiles seem to bloom into ornately rendered floral forms in the imagined crystal light of drawn chandeliers. A pair of long-legged spiders—one a male dandy, the other a plain-Jane female—with Delft-inspired floral markings stand balanced in a courting game that may, as spider ritual sometimes does, end in the female devouring the male. A bat-female figure hangs inverted from a porcelain branch, her creamy paleness offset by glowing eyes, glossy red lips, rosy nipples and a gash in her neck. A plate is stacked with the prone, perhaps diseased or taxidermied, animal forms of bats resting on fine porcelain lace and flowers. And a bat suspended in mid-flight, its fragile, porcelain-lace wings fully outstretched, casts a fleeting silhouette against a gallery wall.

Boyle’s “The Cave” is a fantasy of delicately wrought forms and cautionary tones that bring otherworldly beauty to a living story of disease and extinction. Bat lover or not, it’s an exhibition not to be missed. (1450 Dundas St W, Toronto ON)

Bryne McLaughlin

Bryne McLaughlin is Deputy Editor at Canadian Art.