NetherMind – “Elegy”

This fall, contrails converge on yet another COP where promises are sure to be broken, and targets missed. We’ve learned that there is no longer any way to keep global warming under 1.5 C. Extinctions are increasing, habitats are shrinking. The exhibition by the artists’ collective NetherMind at Saint Anne’s Anglican church “…mourns the destruction of the environment by anthropogenic climate change.” It is aptly titled Elegy.

The show is like a scavenger hunt. When you first arrive, you might ask: where’s the art? It will take bit of work to find it all. Pick up a laminated map and go exploring.

The work is site specific; the context and existing features of the church are integral to the installations. The artists have taken a subtle approach. In most cases, the art is hidden in plain sight. For example, the printed guide shows that work by Ed Pien is located in the central pews. As I walked down the middle aisle, I looked high and low and could not find anything – until I turned around. That’s when I saw that there was an entire floral congregation filling the seats.

Ed Pien, Our Beloved, 2016, framed digital prints

Arranged in clusters, the same way people would occupy these benches, were over a hundred framed photos of flowers. Some wilting, some in full bloom and some artificial.  Were they here to mourn for lost wilderness, or yet another extinction perhaps?

John Dickson, Font, 2022, epoxy shell, water, ink, painted plywood, pump

The map indicates that John Dickson had a piece in the area of the baptismal font. Again, the artwork blends into the surroundings. Inside the font itself, instead of an empty vessel or a bowl of still water, there’s a dark swirling vortex. An endless flow disappeared into a black hole, pulling the surface into some unknowable singularity.

Catherine Heard, Sentinel, 2022 plywood, found wood, glass eyes, gold leaf

Mounted on the low wall that separates the main space from the choir section are a pair of Sentinels by Catherine Heard. Their placement on pedestals and their gilt surfaces makes them, at first glance, blend into the décor. They’re sculptures of small children with gold covered twigs sprouting out of them. Deep within each glittering bush lifelike eyes peered back at me. What does this incongruous iconography mean? What is this unknown mythology? Are the gilded twigs new life growing out of their tiny bodies? Or are they on fire? They don’t offer any simple answers.

Lyla Rye, Buried Communication Cable, 2022, HD Video with audio, 10m 05s

Light, accompanied by the sound of chirping birds, emanates from a little niche adjacent to the altar. The source is a video by Lyla Rye filmed from inside a mausoleum crypt. Bodies are presumably buried behind the stone walls on either side. There is a little barred window straight ahead. I noticed that the light was flickering a bit too fast. Outside figures rush by at a frenetic rate. We’re on a different timeline in here – a long-haul time machine. Suddenly the view is invaded by an overlaid sideways video of green grass in the cemetery grounds. I’ll leave it to you to learn the story about the inserted video: it’s both humorous and profound.

The exhibition’s theme is a heavy one; one of loss and grief. The work addresses the issues head on, with solemnity, but around the edges there’s a quiet sense of humour. These artists are like that friend at a funeral who whispers a gentle joke that can bring a smile and a tear at the same time. 

NetherMind is an artist collective that has been active for over thirty years. In their early shows they exhibited in empty industrial and warehouse spaces with installations that were dramatic in a haunted house, spooky movie sense. Their logo, for a time, was an exploding skull. The current exhibition is more subtle and yet delivers a profound experience without becoming maudlin or didactic. 

I’ve only covered a fraction of the show. I hope I’ve given you a sense of what to expect without giving away too many spoilers. Making your own discoveries is integral to the experience. A few parting words of advice: use the map to make sure you discover everything; don’t be shy, go up the stairs, and be sure to bring a toonie!

Text and photo: Mikael Sandblom

*Exhibition information: ELEGY / John Dickson, Catherine Heard, Greg Hefford, Lyla Rye, Reinhard Reitzenstein, Max Streicher + guests: Ed Pien & Kendra Yee, October 29 – November 13, 2022, St. Anne’s Anglican Church, 270 Gladstone Ave, Toronto, Gallery hours: Fri – Sun 1 – 6pm.

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