Janieta Eyre at Christopher Cutts Gallery

An auto-biography of the unNatural, an exhibition, both public and online, at the Christopher Cutts Gallery, featuring artist Janieta Eyre’s three decades of work. Janieta Eyre herself describes the exhibition as: “Inspired by the writings of Elena Ferrante and the sculpture of Patricia Piccinini, both of whom examine themes of disappearance and the monstrous, An auto-biography of the unNatural is an examination of the female as strange and stranger.”

North Gallery Installation

Eyre’s bold and elaborate style is undoubtedly one of a kind. Her wild imagination is shown through the settings, costumes, makeup, and props of her self-portraits. A lot of the patterns on her costumes match exactly with the ones on the wallpapers which creates a unique sense of dimensionality and continuity. Vibrant colours and geometric shapes can be chaotic for the viewer, but Eyre does an excellent job of putting them together in a meaningful way. The result becomes her own storytelling visual device that explores themes of identity, motherhood, and women.

Untitled #3 from my terrible loneliness, 2018, C-print, Edition of 5, 27.5 x 39.5 inches

From the installation views, I notice that there is no labels or descriptions of these images which make them challenging for the viewers to interpret. Luckily, there are titles in the exhibition catalogue, and some of the images include texts in them. In Untitled #2 from my terrible loneliness, there is a line of text at the bottom that says: “There has always been more than one of me. Don’t be misled by your eyes. Get your calculator. Add up the days, the hours and the minutes I’ve been alive. I’ve left the skins of my selves everywhere. It’s not my fault you haven’t noticed.” There is also one in between the figures: “So you too can see my guru.” The idea that Eyre has a double of herself is a recurring theme in her works.

Untitled #2 from my terrible loneliness, 2018, C-print, Edition of 5, 40 x 26.6 inches

Eyre is shown twice in a lot of the images in different postures or wearing different costumes. It makes me think about how sometimes people wish that they are not alone, and they would imagine having a friend. Eyre’s works could be a variation of self or illustrating that there is someone like her in the world. In fact, in her artist statement, Eyre states that she had a Siamese twin sister who died during the separation surgery. Though her sister no longer exists in real life, Eyre is perhaps trying to portray the presence of her sister on these images by showing herself as a twin. Her images, a form of autobiography, are not about the physical world but a way to complete her narrative beyond true experiences. Eyre says: “while discarding my everyday life, I document an invisible one … and so begin to construct an autobiography that depends less on reality than possibility.”

Untitled #13 from my terrible loneliness, 2018, C-print, Edition of 5, 28.6 x 40 inches

Eyre also says: “as an adult I no longer know if I have genuine memories or if all I really possess is what I’ve elaborated from my parents’ arbitrary documentation of my infancy.” I very much relate to her idea of fleeting and unreliable memory. In a series of images titled In the Scream of Things, Eyre depicts herself as a child in places filled with butterflies, flying dishes, cats, couches, picture books and other common household objects.

In the Scream of Things #1, 2007, C-print, Edition of 5, 8.25 x 7 inches (21 x 17.7 cm)

Parts of them are probably real objects from her childhood, while others are added later. The vivid circles in her eyes and on these images convey a sense of unnaturalness and show the viewer that she does not have all the exact memories. Again, these images are not a documentation of what really happened at that time but Eyre’s odd and almost unreal memories of the past.

South Gallery Installation

Zhiyi Fang

Images are courtesy of Janieta Eyre.

*Exhibition information: An auto-biography of the unNatural, October 16 – November 13, 2021, the Christopher Cutts Gallery, 21 Morrow Ave, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue – Sat, 10 – 6pm. You can also learn more about the artist here.

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