Eastside Culture Crawl’s female sculptors break the mould

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      It’s impossible to feel anything less than cozy in Veronica Aimone’s studio space, tucked away in the upstairs back corner of the Old Foundry Building on Vernon Drive.

      After walking past her studiomates’ jade carvings, unworked piles of stone, and a canoe hanging from the ceiling, you’ll find the seats in Aimone’s studio are set at notably different heights, the tables all seem to be on wheels, and the conversation is reliably punctuated with the sounds of heavy machinery from the work going on downstairs.

      Aimone is sitting with Cat Mudryk and Connie Sabo, two other artists featured in this year’s Eastside Culture Crawl. Aimone’s mood board of sketches and project ideas covers the wall behind them. They’ve been talking for almost an hour about their individual journeys from working in theatre and film, commercial fishing, and architecture—to name just a few of their former gigs—before eventually finding a home in sculpture.

      Mudryk, who works mostly in stone carving, says she took a glass-blowing class a year ago, and that she’s hoping to get more practice with welding.

      Aimone immediately jumps in. “When you get to that stage, I have a brilliant little torch. Brilliant. I use it when I’m using very fine metal rod. See, like some of the joints there,” she says, pointing to an intricate wire piece across the room.

      These interjections are pretty common. All three sculptors are excited to offer each other tips on trying out new techniques and avoiding repetitive strain injuries in the workspace, or to express delight at one another’s experiments with materials.

      You’d never know, other than by asking, that the three of them first met a little over an hour ago.

      Mudryk usually works at 1282 Franklin Street, but her stone carvings fit right in at the Foundry. On close inspection, one finds that her techniques and materials reflect her travels around the world. One English limestone carving was inspired by the Mayan artwork she saw at the Chichén Itzá pyramids in Mexico. An intricate, “New Zealand–inspired” fishhook is now mounted on a piece of driftwood she found on a B.C. beach years later.

      Mudryk is participating in her first crawl as a featured artist this year—but she’s been attending the events for years. And the thought of having strangers visit her at work is more than a little nerve-racking.

      “What I’m really trying to brace myself for is how vulnerable I’m going to feel those four days,” says Mudryk. “I’m completely terrified of people coming into my space, and I’m excited, too. I mean, the entire reason I’m doing this is that’s kind of the point for me, is just to invite people in. Because I so enjoy seeing people’s spaces.”

      Even if she’s nervous, Mudryk’s going to push herself—after all, pushing limits is also one of the things she loves the most about working with stone.

      “I’m interested in the boundaries of materials and finding the juxtaposition and the dichotomy in things,” says Mudryk. “If I’m working in soft soapstone, I don’t want it to be a kind of shapeless lump, I want to try to get those hard edges, because that’s not supposed to be there.”

      Connie Sabo weaves netlike sculptural pieces out of twisted strips of newspapers.

      All three women agree that making mistakes when working with new materials can sometimes create the best products. “Alternative processes are the absolute best, because it’s all about experimentation,” says Sabo. “You don’t know where it’s going to take you, you just have to try it.”

      “It’s about finding the soul of the material,” Aimone adds.

      Aimone has her own story about making a perfect mistake, pointing across the room to a steel dress with a tiny hole on the upper left side. It’s a piece she designed in honour of her grandmother, a pioneer from northern Ontario, and it was the first time she’d ever worked with steel.

      “I was doing a whole series on dresses and about the symbolism they carry for women,” Aimone explains. “So I burned a hole in it, and the instructor said, ‘Oh, we can fix that, we can fix that!’ and I said, ‘Not on your life!’ Because it so explained her situation.”

      Since then, the artist says, people have been drawn to the piece for the very same accidental feature.

      “The next person who was interested in buying it, actually, was an Iranian woman,” says Aimone. “She was so homesick, and she felt so wrenched from having to leave her country. She looked at that piece, and she wanted to buy it because it was a dress and it had a hole in it. And it just absolutely pierced her heart.”

      Sabo’s work, though mostly produced from impermanent, recycled materials—unlike the stone and metal Mudryk and Aimone use—also deals with untold stories.

      The piece she brought to the Foundry from her space at Portside Studios on McLean Drive is a netlike tapestry, several metres long, woven out of twisted strips of newspaper. Sabo started working with newsprint back when she was a student at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, and became interested in the narratives that are left out of recorded history.

      “It’s about remaking what’s written in histories, what’s written on paper,” says Sabo. “It keeps on growing.”

      One of Veronica Aimone’s metal figures.

      Sabo tries not to waste any materials. The leftovers from her newspaper strips, she shapes into intricate pods and casts in bronze, giving permanence to the stories from years past.

      Around Aimone’s studio, leftover moulds and sketches for future projects are stacked nearly to the ceiling. She says she never knows when she might use them again.

      And all three women have ideas that are still percolating. A piece Mudryk will be working on during the Crawl, which she hinted has to do with “sea, sky, and land”, has been a mental work in progress for years.

      “I had the notion for it, I’m sure, 10 years ago,” she says. “And just two months ago did I find a piece of stone that I want to make into that.

      “So I’m, like, so excited to really dig into it,” Mudryk continues. “And you know, when you start working on something, even if it looks like crap, in your mind’s eye you have the vision of what it’s going to be—and you know it’s going to be fine.”

      The Eastside Culture Crawl runs from Thursday to Sunday (November 16 to 19).