Montreal-based artist Anne Low presents her first solo exhibition at a public Canadian art gallery at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery (CAG), on now until March 24. Curated by Kimberly Phillips, who joined the CAG in 2017, Low’s exhibition Chair for a Woman explores the decorative arts (specifically furniture) within the context of the gallery space.
Comprised of five individual sculptures, the new body of work continues Low’s research into materials and objects prior to the Industrial Revolution. Upholstered seating, lush green wallpaper, writing desks, and room screens resemble the furnishings of a late 18th-century parlour. For Chair for a Woman in particular, Low cites the novels of writer, designer, and first female Pulitzer-prize winner Edith Wharton as touchpoints; Wharton’s novels often spend a great deal of time describing the domestic spaces the women of her novels inhabited. However, in Low’s interpretation of such items, there is a sense of absurdity. Grubby presents what seems to be a decorative room screen embroidered with a sequined sun that grins in an almost menacing manner. Ancestress is a miniature writing desk strewn with what appear to be shiny stones; in actuality, they’re casts of candlestick stubs.
“They’re uncanny, the objects, in some ways,” explains Phillips, “because they seem familiar, but there’s something warped enough to become strange. Or the object or furniture [is] so arcane, but there’s some form of body memory that remembers perhaps how we encountered rooms like that.”
Low’s interest in the decorative and domestic space has long been a part of her practice. Her 2017 exhibition at Vancouver’s Artspeak, Witch with Comb, examined the space of a bedroom with the aid of literature—in this case, by recreating a scene, and therefore the sentiments, from Muriel Spark’s short story “The Ormolu Clock”. In Chair for a Woman, Low opens up her interest into a world that is even more interested in the physical interpretation of a space, a fitting choice given the larger space, now that she has an entire gallery to herself. On the plinth that Low created for her furniture pieces in the CAG, a bench has been constructed for visitors to sit on. It’s a gesture of participation that animates the entire show, allowing an understanding of the static formality of these objects along with the lives they once supported.
Low’s closeness and understanding of her subject of study is evident in every piece in the exhibition. “She understands research through the actual making of objects, taking [them] apart and putting [them] back together in a way that is her own,” says Phillips. Hand-dyed and woven harateen weave (a common 18th-century technique) created for Low by Vermont master weaver Kate Smith, mother-of-pearl plugs, hand-produced wallpaper—each element is created not in isolation, but rather with an intricate understanding of the coupling of materials in these decorative works. Low’s ambitious take is not solely in the pursuit of historical accuracy, but to understand the construction of space once occupied by real women that is so often the subject of fiction.
“They’re uncanny, the objects, in some ways … Or the object or furniture [is] so arcane, but there’s some form of body memory that remembers perhaps how we encountered rooms like that.”
“There’s so much we don’t know about historical objects; records are incomplete, so I see her filling in that gap,” explains Phillips. “Not a narrative, exactly, but the imagined subjectivities that inhabit spaces with these objects.” In re-imagining these spaces, reconstructing these items, Low creates a space for a woman’s imagination to view the domestic space in a way previously unseen.
Anne Low’s Chair for a Woman is on now at the Contemporary Art Gallery until March 24, 2019.
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