BY PAUL GESSELL
The first thing you see are the miniature horses. Then you notice the horses are disabled. One has a peg-leg. Another purportedly moves about on blocks of wood. Their mouths are open with their tongues hanging out. The tongues are removable.
Welcome to the world of Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers. That is the name of a unique exhibition of 18 Manitoba artists at General Fine Craft, Art and Design in beautiful, downtown Almonte, a half-hour drive from Ottawa. (While everyone knows Manitoba is home to mosquitos and frigid temperatures, fewer probably know about the province’s turbulent labour history, which includes riots, where apparently a trolley was tipped at least once).
The exhibition is the brainchild of Winnipeg artists Diana Thorneycroft and her partner Michael Boss. Thorneycroft has family in Almonte. On one trip, Thorneycroft visited the Mill Street shop of General Fine Craft, Art and Design and offered to co-curate with Boss an exhibition of the 18 Manitobans — most of whom display a wonderfully wicked sense of humours, their works varying from embroidery to funky pottery to a particularly mischievous 3-D miniature tabletop scene of anti-Harper protesters. Artist Peter Graham personally brought that piece, Harperlandia 1, in his airplane carry-on from Winnipeg.
Thorneycroft is best known these days for her photographs of dioramas containing dolls and other props that depict often horrifying incidents in Canadian history. The dioramas range from the death of artist Tom Thomson while canoeing, to clergymen abusing children.
Her newest body of work involves purchasing plastic toy horses about six inches high and then heating the animals so that the warmed plastic can be manipulated. The horses are disabled in various ways and their faces distorted so that their mouths remain open and their tongues can be removed.
“This allows the new owner to put something they believe to be magical in through the horse’s mouth, to eventually land in its belly,” says Thorneycroft. “The process of this activation then makes the horse the owner’s personal talisman.” (The entire process is inspired by West African voodoo.)
The disabled horses are stand-ins for people with disabilities. They encourage us to view the disabled in a respectful manner. Thorneycroft’s growing stable of horses will eventually find their way into photographable dioramas about people with disabilities.
On the gallery wall are two photographs of miniature motorcycles made of cardboard. Those are Boss’s contribution to Thorneycroft’s horses; surely a gift for the biker with everything.
One of my favourite pieces in the show is actually the cheapest. It’s a goofy doll called Muskrat Head, which has an elongated head made of fur, and the body is an assemblage of a vintage hand towel, ceramic, cotton, and stone — a creation by Dana Kletke, selling for $200.
Nearby is the most expensive artwork — a $5,000 cast glass sculpture by Ione Thorkelsson called GK41338: winged lung. Yes, it’s a lung with wings, and it’s pure magic.
Another favourite is Fox with Fiddle made of hand-modelled glazed ceramic. A rather sly looking fox, about six inches high, holds a fiddle in one “hand” while the other “hand” holds a mask close to its face. Jordan Van Sewell is the artist. Take a bow, Jordan.
Frost-bitten, Mosquito-slapping Trolley-tippers continues at General Fine Craft, Art and Design at 63 Mill St., Almonte, until Oct. 12.