“And then she woke up.” I suppose there are worse endings. (Gaiman, The Doll’s House)
Sacred Spaces, currently on display at the VISA Gallery at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, is about ‘understanding emotional vulnerability and self reflection, while unpacking the human need for comfort.’ The two artists in the show are Kaitlyn Roberts and Chardon Trimble-Kirk. There are works by each artist, and a wall features more collaborative pieces, installed in a manner that formally emphasizes the duality in play in collaboration. But the manner in which the show is installed also allows for dialogue, specifically between the larger paintings by Trimble-Kirk and Roberts, ‘facing’ each other across the space.
Trimble-Kirk’s use of paint in her evocation of the figures in her pieces is both heavy and light: forms emerge, sometimes more delicate, other times more ‘meaty’, in her bodily shapes. Cover Me or Free Me or Hold Me, for example, are all images rendered in oil that exploit the best aspects of that medium, and the titles offer a position for the viewer to stand, to consider what she’s presenting here.
Roberts is often more ‘abstracted’, but employs a recurring ‘framework’ – or imagery – that she uses to link her mixed media series that dominates one wall (variously titled Sleep Tight, with ‘numbers’ to differentiate in terms of name). Some are almost minimal, breaking down her ‘bed’ motif to linear elements, while others incorporate blankets and pillows, that are then overrun with text.
This is a formal element that also unites the artists: broader, more forceful, emotive ‘strokes’ or actions, and then delicate marks or lettering that belies the former approach. The similarity in size of these works (whether among the individual artists’ works, or between their images) also allows these to be read as part of a narrative, running left to right, or right to left. The ‘order’ is implied, or suggested, by titles, sometimes, but is fluid: more a suggestion than a direction.
Again, these two walls with ‘corresponding’ works speak across the gallery to each other, but I’d suggest when you visit that you zig zag back and forth, not ‘reading’ them as separate but as alternating images – or voices. They argue with each other, in some formal ways, but in the end augment each other: these are stronger ‘collaborations’, to me, than the actual literal collaborations (Pleated Conscience, a triple ‘layer’ of smaller works) on the end wall. The large mixed media works that line the left and right walls mingle more naturally, and strongly.
The statement for the show is as
follows: Mental illnesses often destroy from the inside out. It is
a sickness that is hidden through the action of covering oneself from
the world, in fear of discovery. Doctors will prescribe medication in
an attempt to cure mental illness; medication that comes with
dizziness, fatigue, loss of appetite, bruising, sexual dysfunction,
and countless other side effects. All of which to shut out the voices
from inside one’s mind. Voices that proclaim that you are not good
enough, you do not deserve to be happy, you do not deserve to eat. I
would much rather stay in bed. If I stay in bed, the medication isn’t
necessary. The demons and monsters can be let out and no one will
When living with mental illness, it is living a double life. One must hide behind a mask, only finding true relief in the intimate space of the bedroom, among the comfort of bedding. Only within these spaces is one truly allowed to express the realities of mental illnesses, whilst finding safety in the sacred spaces of the bed.
Each work represents the safety and intimacy found within these spaces, whilst offering a juxtaposition between the covering and uncovering realities of the illnesses. The uncovering comes from personal texts written across these spaces, as well as the exposure of the body, and curiously the covering of the eyes in each figurative work. The text which is a direct thought, and nude figures which are an indirect representation of vulnerability, invite viewers into the sacred spaces of one’s true thoughts. The vague figures and various text will resonate with viewers, bringing awareness to mental illness, its prevalence, and its resonance within many. The works aim to de-stigmatize some of the most serious and misunderstood mental illnesses, all within the sacred spaces of our beds.
I encountered the statement above before I engaged with the work, and re read it after visiting the gallery several times. It’s good to keep in mind, but even without those words, the idea of the ‘bed’ as a space that’s contested, both in how it’s experienced, and how it is ‘seen’ externally, comes across clearly, often aided in this by the titles of the works. A number of ideas ran through my head, too, when I moved back and forth between the artworks: that beds are both spaces of respite and confinement, spaces that we seek and also try – perhaps failing – to escape, spaces of intimacy but also isolation.
They are also sites of projection: in that respect, they’re repositories for so many conflicting ideas that the appropriate, and aesthetically engaging vagueness of what Kaitlyn Roberts and Chardon Trimble-Kirk are sharing here invites us in, if you will, to bring our own emotions and ideas.
I may have left the gallery humming ‘Asleep’, by The Smiths: but that may just be my very subjective response, and I encourage you to visit the show yourself and consider the visual stories and personal anecdotes shared in Sacred Spaces.
Sacred Space, at the VISA Gallery at the MIWSFPA is on display until the end of February. All images are copyright of the artists, and taken by the writer.
Bart Gazzola (also known as #artcriticfromhell) is an arts writer/critic who has published with Magenta Magazine, Canadian Art, New Art Gazette, Galleries West, PrairieSeen, Long Exposure and BlackFlash (where he was Editorial Chair for 3 years). He is Assistant Editor at thesound.rocks and a frequent contributor to various cultural spaces in Niagara.