The work of multimedia artist Diana Thorneycroft is usually a mixture of shock, humour, and melancholy, although such adjectives as “tasteless,” “decadent,” and “creepy” are also tossed about. Her newest travelling exhibition, Herd, will undoubtedly generate a wide range of reactions to the artist’s work during its run at the Shenkman Arts Centre from Sept. 23 to Nov. 13.
The centrepiece of Herd is a 40-foot-long upwardly sloping ramp containing 154 plastic horses, each about six inches high, all galloping (some are actually limping) in the same direction. Half of the horses have been altered in macabre ways. Some are fitted with prosthetic limbs or deformed by high heat or impaled with a cluster of small nails —
Thorneycroft’s apparent cruelty knows no bounds. The other half of the “herd” is untouched.
The widely exhibited Winnipeg artist has also created dioramas of these horses being abused by whip-wielding “herdsmen” who are really “mutants” — evil-looking creatures that are part human and part animal. Photographs of these dioramas are also destined for the Orleans show. And then there are “the thalidomide GI Joes.” Familiar soldier action figures, their arms have been amputated and replaced by tiny thalidomide arms. Oh dear. So what is this all about?
It began a few years ago when Thorneycroft visited China and saw many people with severe, disfiguring handicaps. After returning home, she started manipulating toy plastic horses, creating stand-ins for disabled people. An early version of her work was exhibited in the fall of 2014 in various places, including nearby Almonte. Those shows were just the teasers to Herd.
Thorneycroft wants viewers to examine the horses closely and then think of the disabled people we tend to ignore. Like much of her work over the years — pricking the Canadian conscience — Herd is difficult, even horrifying. Viewers will have to decide for themselves whether she has pushed the envelope too far.