ANGELL GALLERY is proud to present IMPOSSIBLE GARDENS, a survey of recent work by 2017 Sobey long-listed artist (Ontario), Erika DeFreitas. The show runs from June 2nd through July 8th, 2017, with an opening reception on Friday, June 2nd, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
Do you find it spooky, how well she nails it? The attention Erika DeFreitas brings to her work is the focus you bring to a vigil. Threads tying together her work in this exhibition are women’s labour, the work of dying, death and grieving, and what we inherit and what we lose. Spanning roughly four years of production, Impossible Gardens demonstrates her uncanny and elegant take on these often heavy subjects.
although it sometimes gives the illusion of paint (2016-2017) is wallpaper made strange: cuts, folds and repairs trouble the pristine surface, introducing recessionality into a medium not usually associated with dimensionality. The original fabric collages, untitled (these textile works) (2015-2017), are placed nearby, the familiarity of cloth tugging at my haptic memory. Sourced second-hand, working with and against the exigencies of scraps, they oscillate between hard-edged geometric abstraction and a grandmother’s sewing offcuts. The originals may still smell of cedar chest and dust, but DeFreitas plants a hint of slow-drying linseed oil, too. I too question the flowers (2016) also troubles this figure-ground relationship, the artist’s limbs sliding over an impossible, all-seasons garden rendered in fabric. DeFreitas’ gestures capture the elegance of dance, but remain inscrutable. Language falters this close to the body; what is transmitted is shared through pre-linguistic shorthand.
The gesturing figures in (if you look closely, she moves) (2016) are vintage Virgin Mary’s; the icons wrapped in hardworking twine and enshrined on spools and candlesticks convey competing ideas of being bound by and bound to: the first implying constriction, the second service. But, there is also comfort: Mary’s first recorded act of devotion to her firstborn son was swaddling him tightly before laying him in the manger. DeFreitas often works in this occult mode, which historically favours the voices of individual women while simultaneously essentializing female expression more broadly. Believing that these Mary’s move perhaps means taking haunting seriously: “The ghost is not simply a dead or a missing person, but a social figure, and investigating it can lead to that dense site where history and subjectivity make social life,” writes Avery F. Gordon. How to keep our dead individuated and present is suggested in In Lieu of Flowers (2013), comprised of newspaper obituaries embalmed in beeswax. The emotional weight lies in DeFreitas’ painstaking attempt to keep memory alive.
“In the hybrid field of ‘paraconceptualism,’ neither conceptualism nor the paranormal are left intact: the prefix “para-” symbolizes the force of contamination through a proximity so great that it threatens the soundness of all boundaries,” writes A.M. Kokoli on the practice of Susan Hiller. This definition describes an edge, the fraying threads of both woven into a new and dangerous field of investigation that DeFreitas occupies. What DeFreitas captures in her uncanny works reflects the complicated lives of women: caught in the tangled web of social relationships, sustained by love, service, and defiant in the face of loss. DeFreitas captures the gritty, uncomfortable heart of this, and—I’ll repeat it—don’t you find it spooky how well she nails it?
- Text by Emily McKibbon