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Features / February 22, 2013

Vessna Perunovich Moves Beyond the Walls

Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph January 24 to March 31, 2013

The materiality of Vessna Perunovich’s work is at the forefront in her exhibition “Line Rituals & Radical Knitting,” curated by Dawn Owen at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre.

For the show, Perunovich adapts traditionally gender-specific activities such as knitting and sewing that would appear to perpetuate female stereotypes; she also challenges them through her ironic presentations of permeable barriers and fluid borders.

In the seven-photo series Online (2012), we see images of a slumped-over Perunovich seemingly penetrated by strands of elasticized material (a medium that recalls her frequent use of pantyhose in sculpture). The poses suggest both a moment of self-fracture and a dismantling of conventional boundaries surrounding the body as a contained entity. Perunovich often pushes her body to its limits, and we become aware of a tension that can make it seem as if her threads and fabrics might give way at any moment.

Perunovich grew up in the former Yugoslavia, and she immigrated to Canada in 1988. Her heritage has shaped a cross-cultural practice that addresses themes of displacement and migration in a number of works. Various binaries such as immobility and movement, hope and despair, and communication and separation are highlighted by the building of literal and figurative walls throughout the exhibition.

In Infinite Wall (2006–12), for instance, elasticized string is set against a red wall to create the illusion of bricks. Here, Perunovich invites her audience to engage the false mental barriers that sometimes impede self-awareness and understanding. (These themes are also addressed in other current Perunovich exhibitions at Angell Gallery in Toronto and the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa.)

Combining performance, installation, photography and video, the interdisciplinary nature of “Line Rituals & Radical Knitting” provides a look into Perunovich’s philosophy while also prompting viewers to re-examine their own mental ramparts.