The magical and the monstrous are seen as two separate entities—one good and one evil. But these archetypal figures are not always so disparate.
Tammy Salzl, a painter from Montréal/Edmonton and sculpture and installation artist Emily Jan, also from Montréal, have teamed up for Falling through the mirror, an exhibition that not only blurs the line between the monstrous and the magical, but examines identity, the family and the feminine.
“I see them as snapshots from a fairy-tale book whose allegories are the stuff of our real lives,” Salzl explains of her large-scale oil paintings that create an attraction-repulsion dynamic through their juxtaposing imagery. “There’s a lot of unsettling imagery, but I complement that with the beauty of paint and through narration, so they come off as these operatic, tableau kind of Grimms Brothers’ fairy-tale illustrations.”
Jan’s contribution to the exhibition will be in the form of two installations. One is a feral-looking feathered wolf known as Ragnarok and the other is the Selkie, a seal whose body has been cut open, the contents spilling on to the floor. Each piece deeply personal for Jan—she tends not to go into great detail in her explanations of her work—and is tied to mythology. The Selkie is based on the tale of a woman who is actually a seal, but leaves that part of her life behind to marry a human, who steals her seal skin so she cannot return to the sea—until her child finds it in the attic and she breaks free.
“I find it a really fascinating story because in my mind it’s sort of the opposite of The Little Mermaid-type story where a woman abandons her nature to join the man’s world and doesn’t look back,” Jan says. “The Selkie story, for obvious reasons, never really gets picked up in that same sort of normalizing, fairy tale way because it’s not normalizing. It’s very anti-patriarchal in a way.”
In contrast, Ragnarok alludes to something a little more primal.
“The wolf shows up, again, in northern cultures mostly, but as an archetypal figure, so of the terrifying side of the wilderness,” she adds. “I feel like the Selkie is the magical or other part of the wild and the wolf is sheer sort of terror, which I find, especially with the feathers poking out of its back, to not be that terrifying.”
While each artist has various takes on the exhibitions themes and their impact on identity, it remains intriguing for them to hear the interpretations of viewers and how they apply the stories within the pieces to their own lives.
“The most fundamental thing about that work and why I do installation, or big work as opposed to small work, or installation as opposed to painting is that direct encounter in real time, in real space with those creatures, and whatever stories they want to tell the audience when I’m not there is great,” Jan says.
“I try not to be too didactic, but I love to hear how people bring their own suitcases of stories to my imagery and their interpretations of it and I’m totally open to them getting something completely different from what the image was to me,” she says, noting her piece The Compromise has the strongest storyline in her mind and the most conflicting interpretations—but you’re not getting any hints. “No one has gotten that storyline yet, but when I tell them sometimes their face falls because they have such a different interpretation of it.”
Fri, Mar 7 – Tue, Apr 15
Opening reception Fri, Mar 7 (7 pm)