This brilliant fall season, the visual arts across Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are dominated—amazingly and unexpectedly—by women and by textiles. An impressive number of exhibitions across a range of venues—public galleries, community and cultural centres, natural-history museums, artist-run centres, and commercial galleries—have been organized and curated around the Textile Society of America Symposium, a big biennial event that is being held this year in Vancouver (September 19 to 23). Embracing the theme “The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global”, the symposium and many of the shows occurring in concert with it will examine the creative cross-pollination between textile traditions of settler cultures and Indigenous cultures in the Americas.
Other exhibitions feature the careers of local women artists, past and present, and introduce us, too, to the creative practices of artists from more distant places and cultures.
Divine Sparks: Barbara Heller
(At the Sidney and Gertrude Zack Gallery to October 8)
A survey of works created in the past decade by this acclaimed, Vancouver-based tapestry artist, the show features three distinct—and distinctly beautiful—series, each examining the connections between religious faith, weaving, and digital culture. “Future Reliquaries” employs Christian symbols and aspects of computer technology; “Integrated Circuits” juxtaposes images of Hindu mudras (yogic hand positions) and electronic parts and circuitry; and “Tzimtzum and the Sephirot” explores mystical aspects of Judaism while reflecting on our limited human understanding of the divine. The Draw: Heller asserts the historic and contemporary significance of tapestry art while asking us to examine the beliefs and technologies that shape our globalized existence.
Xiaojing Yan: In Suspended Silence
(At the Richmond Art Gallery from September 14 to November 10)
Chinese-Canadian artist Xiaojing Yan draws creative inspiration for her mixed-media installations from Taoist philosophy and its associated myths and folklore. As well, she incorporates images and symbols from historic Chinese art, imaginatively reinventing them. An example is Mountain of Pines, an installation of hanging panels of silk organza “pierced with thousands of pine needles” to simulate Chinese ink paintings of mist-covered mountains and to invoke spiritual beliefs around such landscape forms. “Lingzhi Girls” is a series of mushroom-sprouting, life-size busts that conflate self-portraiture with the Eight Immortals of Taoist mythology. The Draw: The first western Canadian show for this Toronto-based artist expresses a poignant state of “in-between-ness”, guest essayist Rick Leong writes, suspended “between languages, cultures and places”.
(At the Surrey Art Gallery from September 22 to December 16)
This show spotlights textile and fibre art from the gallery’s permanent collection and represents some two dozen Canadian artists, including Pat Cairns, Roxanne Charles, Barbara Cole, Barry Goodman, Ruth Scheuing, Nep Sidhu, and Barbara Todd. Means and methods jump from small-scale needlepoint portraits to large-scale quilted images of cruise missiles, and from knitted figurative sculpture to a (literally) deconstructed man’s suit. Oh, and it’s impossible to mention this group show without also recommending the SAG’s concurrent solo exhibitions by Maggie Orth, who is acclaimed as “a leader in the field of wearable technology and interactive textiles”, and Kathy Slade, who references popular culture, literature, and art history in her embroidered imagery and fabric sculpture. The Draw: Most compelling here is the capacity of contemporary textile art to take on challenging themes, issues, and conceptual strategies.
Dana Claxton: Fringing the Cube
(At the Vancouver Art Gallery from October 27 to February 3)
One of our leading media artists, Claxton finds powerful expression in film, photography, text, performance, video, and video installation. One of her signature strategies is to use formal beauty to challenge social assumptions and dismantle cultural stereotypes, something that will be evident in this big solo exhibition. As an artist of Hunkpapa Lakota heritage, based in Vancouver, Claxton asks us to reconsider ideas and images surrounding gender, cultural identity, and the body. She has also used her art to examine ideas of spirituality, resilience, reclamation, and the ways in which history and culture are embedded in the landscape. The Draw: The VAG is billing this exhibition as the first to comprehensively survey Claxton’s “formidable career”. Expect to be blown away.
(At the Polygon Gallery from November 2 to January 13)
Born in Switzerland and based in Amsterdam, Batia Suter is best known for her monumental, site-specific prints of digitally manipulated images. She works, too, with photo animation, photo installation, and collage, often employing found or appropriated images to unsettle our understanding of how we read them, whether habitually or within the context of new surroundings. For her Polygon show, Suter will also create a “site-responsive” wallpaper mural that, curator Helga Pakasaar says, uses tree images to reference the temperate rainforest and its “dependent industries and economies”. The Draw: Critically acclaimed and widely exhibited in Europe, the United States, and Asia, Batia Suter is making her solo Canadian debut at the Polygon.