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Winding down with animal art

Gallery proprietor Michele Gallant poses with the latest exhibit.
Gallery proprietor Michele Gallant poses with the latest exhibit. (Bryn Karcha photo)


Wind down a flight in the glass staircase of the Rebecca Cohn to discover “Animal.” Warmly open until December, the Dalhousie Art Gallery is featuring a special collection of artists who uniquely question our human perspective with those of (br)other species.

Especially enticing to marine zoologists will be a tactile treasure cove kaleidoscope of sponges, urchins, seashell accordions, shark eggs, even a vertebrate whale bone. Leave your optics at the lab, since Lyndal Osborne installed two magnifying glasses for your ogling pleasure.

From Barnacles to Volcanoes is a shrine to the source of so much artistic inspiration: life and nature. Field tags on each crusty specimen echo the vast variation ecologists uncover while inviting us not just to analyze Mother Ocean, but be absorbed by her in wonder. And to warn against a dispassionate glance, furtive puddles of crude oil ooze beneath several samples.

A more sober, yet amusing indictment of environmental apathy is Su Rynard’s video, Bear. As if on the screen of an abandoned television lit up in the refuse and foliage of a rural garbage dump, it displays the casual coexistence of playful, warring, and affectionate black bears, with nonchalant, expressionless landfill users. This juxtaposition has bitter humour. The harm of careless humans to ecosystems is mocked beside the harmlessness of spoilt scavengers, who much like us, became dependent on the consumptive system.

A zoologist, psychiatrist, and poet walk into the next exhibit and fight over the video channel. Intoxicating three at once, the bartender is an artist: Kenn Bass’ video(s), Fugue, play through three simultaneous projectors in bat’s-eye-view. He interrogates reality with the story of a shattered, amnesiac psyche, identifying with symbolic animals. Amidst fugitive landscapes-a flashing train, ice rushing in a river, swirling snow, a dirty forest- are typewriter phrases like, “feeling-drawn-towards-a-particular-place-without-knowing-why…finding-notes-or-drawings-one-must-have-done…looking-to-shadows-for-proof-of-existence…not-recognizing-one’s-face-in-the-mirror.”

There’s solace in these visions of animals: the heavy skulled bird, burdened butterfly, and the historically misunderstood wolf. The curious viewer’s concentration can bridge the confusion and fear that might isolate the ill mind from understanding. Perhaps bats blink when falling asleep, but one thing Bass may have forgotten through his upright cameras is that bats hang upside down. Either way, this video-fugue is the finest invention since the zoetrope.

More intimately, Lois Andison, in Look Me In The Eye, winks with animal spirits in a sequence of printed photos. Do I see a tree frog with its *vesica piscus* pupil; horses, solemn, wary, tranquil, dark and lovely; a jaded lizard, donkeys of pathos, pensive and tear encrusted; a wizened crow, clever mouse? Empathetically, each animal eye appears to say, “What’s my name, and do you know my secret thoughts?”

Discover also Dagmar Dahle’s marvelous  sculptures of circled birds and Victorian gowns (medium: hobby ceramic, but when you’re hungry seems like Swiss cheese) . Crow heads stuck on the wall have eyes that seem to follow you.

Tom Dean has three brazen she-dogs (do you find the artist misogynistic by casting their femininity with projections of enmity? Or perhaps their aggressive expressions guard nature’s maternal abundance- Romulus and Remus could share with their lesser-known quadruplet siblings?) And, finally there’s Werner’s sublime Nomenclature of Colours, for those with a penchant for charts, calligraphy, hue and names.  For example, #41: Auricula Purple, matching the mineral Fluor spar and named for the deep, purple primrose with the daisy face.


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