Art show forges bond between word and image

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Two streams of creative expression that are unusually strong on this island come together at ArtSpring this month as Collaborations, a show in which the written word and visual arts interact with and influence each other in new ways.

Collaboration takes several forms at the show, which was developed during the strictest COVID-19 distancing period. Partners were expertly matched by show curator/creator Margaret Day, and some did not know each at all before the event. 

In some cases visual artists have produced work that reflects, or is inspired by, their partner’s existing written material. In some cases reflection goes both ways, as each one of the pair reacts to the other’s work. In others there is a complete inter-marriage where entirely new content has been developed through the exercise.

A strong example of the latter category comes from Thea Chapman and Richard Steel, two people who got to know each other through the show. They sat down and talked for a long time before they approached any creative work. What they found was although they had different backgrounds, they experienced many similar challenges as young people. Common themes included the multi-generational trauma of war; entrenched family expectations around gender and tradition; and the heightened value of the male family lineage, among other things.

Despite these deep topics, the work that came out of the discussions as Story Lines does not feel heavy. Steel wrote two fictional short stories that contain many of the arising themes within narratives that allow for healing and growth.

Chapman meanwhile brought together actual mementos from the two partners’ lives as the base for a series of artwork in different mediums, like stories that branch and change slightly with each retelling. The mementoes — including a tiny stuffed rabbit that accompanied Steel to boarding school, and a mythical figurine Chapman acquired as an adult — are placed in boxes à la Joseph Cornell and become the subject of photos, which are then incorporated into folding picture books. They also provide the imagery for prints, encaustic works, 3D paper models and more. Each medium allows for a different interpretation or perspective of how that object is seen.

Chapman’s artworks are a delight to discover, and equally so is Steel’s talent for story writing; until now, the island has mainly seen his nonfiction work for the Salt Spring Arts Council and Salt Spring Forum.

Two young artists raised on Salt Spring similarly used a creative exercise to create work separately but very much in collaboration. Now living on two different coasts, visual artist Tai Whelon and poet Taryn Muldoon decided to start with something that was outside both their regular mediums, and settled on sending each other a sound to start the creative process. They each listened and responded through their individual art, and then sent the results on for a second round. As they describe, “each part of the project is interwoven with the other in deepening layers.”

An example of the result is Muldoon’s beautiful poem Before Miles Cleave Us, a love letter expressed in elegant, spare lines that burst with imagery: “When you go, our ribs will be rubble./ I want to cinder at your feet,” she writes. Whelon’s corresponding imagery of the cinder’s path is equally spare yet evocative, an abstract storm of black marks on white paper that could be the remains of the heart reduced to ashes. His second work reverses the scheme with a delicate webbing in slivery white chalk over black paper, with deeper black shadows.

For more on this story, see the Oct. 21, 2020 issue of the Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, or subscribe online.

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