A saying that was popular when I was a child was “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar,” which always puzzled me, as no flies at all would be attracted by vinegar. The idea was, of course, that we are more likely to win people over to our cause or point of view by being friendly and gentle than by yelling or coercion.
This seems to be the underlying stratagem to the recent work by Toronto-based artist Elizabeth D’Agostino, currently on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery in an exhibition called Makeshift.
By her title, the artist is referring to the adaptations that animals and other life forms are constantly pressured to make due to environmental changes in their habitats. With her beautifully executed and installed work, we are not being brow beaten about the vulnerability of the natural environment, rather we are nudged to consider its amazing variety and incredible beauty. In fact, when visitors first enter, the seductive beauty of the installation may be all they see.
Along one wall is a piece made up of 13 panels in a horizontal row that reads like a visual sentence from left to right. Interspersed with panels that are patterned in blue with images of cicadas are other more densely worked sheets, and some that are just plain colours. Even these solid-coloured pages have been custom screen-printed by the artist to achieve their distinctive hues.
Four other works are spread along the other walls of the gallery, and these are also multi-paneled and include strange-looking, colourful sculptures on little wooden shelves, as well as the works in printmaking.
A recurring motif in the artist’s works on view is the circle, which appears dark and sheltering and features a fawn, an adult deer, a bird (twice), a rabbit, and some hybrid insect-like creature. The circle is an archetype for the planet or cosmos, and can also represent or remind us of the sun or the moon. It is mostly in the odd, pod-like sculptures that we apprehend the notion of mutation, GMO—with their suicide genes—the depletion of the world’s species, and incursions made by invasive species, far away from their natural habitats.
D’Agostino has had fun with scale in her works, as some elements are much smaller than in real life, but others greatly enlarged. We cannot decipher all of her iconography, which makes the work pique our interest even further.
The show is worth a look. Its aesthetic appeal will not disappoint, and it may even start some viewers craving to do some work themselves with Japanese papers, upon which D’Agostino relies completely.
Elizabeth D’Agostino lives and works in Toronto, where she is managing director of the Toronto School of Art. She has a BFA from the University of Windsor, Ont., and an MFA from the Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois.
Makeshift will remain on view at the Kelowna Art Gallery until Jan. 10, 2016.