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Fibred Optics: Cut from the Same Cloth

The relevance of soft-craft techniques in hard-nosed contemporary art gets a strong push this summer from “Fibred Optics,” a group show at the Richmond Art Gallery.

Organized by the newly Toronto-based curator Andrea Fatona and shown previously at the Ottawa Art Gallery during Fatona’s recent term as curator of contemporary art there, “Fibred Optics” focuses on four artists who use textiles in their works: Halifax’s Frances Dorsey, Montreal’s Jérôme Havre, Toronto’s Ed Pien and Ottawa’s Michèle Provost.

Dorsey’s large works, stitched from various pieces of dyed and printed linen, silk and rayon, draw on her childhood experience of living in 1950s Saigon, where her father was attached to the US Embassy. Juxtaposing her father’s World War Two journal entries with calming rice-paddy hues, the softness and malleability of Dorsey’s media is intended to counterpoint realist history-painting traditions that glorify war. (More details on Dorsey’s strategies and Saigon memories are available on the website of the MSVU Art Gallery, where Dorsey premiered this series in 2007.)

Themes of isolation, history, movement, migration and representation are refracted in Havre’s work too, to more of a maximalist effect. Longlisted for the 2011 Sobey Art Award, Havre has become increasingly recognized for patchwork-figure sculptures that he marries with gridded wall paintings and posters themed on racism and beauty. As Havre noted in an interview earlier this year, “even in art, there is segregation, and the posters denounce that.”

Ed Pien’s well-known wall and installation works typically fall into the drawing and cut-paper category, but his walk-through installation Corridor in Richmond is comprised of two curtains of knotted, coloured rope. Installed alongside recent instances of Pien’s striking and evocative large-scale drawings, Corridor would seem to spring his delicate ink-and-Flashe lines into three dimensions.

Finally, Michèle Provost’s ABSTrACTS/RéSuMÉS forms a cautionary tale for anyone wishing to label the works in “Fibred Optics” too quickly. For it, Provost has stamped thousands of small tags with jargon from art magazines and curatorial essays, and she has also embroidered some of these terms onto black grounds as well. One wall piece in particular points to criticism’s passion for a certain prefix, listing the following terms in large white all-caps text: poststructuralist, postmodern, postmodernist, postpunk, postapocalyptic, post-minimalist, post-industrial, postlinguistic, post-Gerhard Richter, post-painting, post-critique-of-representation, post-election, post-communist, post-installation. Yikes!

The show is not post-fun, fortunately, with free drop-in knitting and stitching circles continuing Friday afternoons until the end of August.

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