CRAFTIBITIONISM: Review of The Selves, by Sonja Ahlers (May 12-25)
by toronto craft alert
At Magic Pony, May 13-25, 2010
Artists’ Talk and Zine Making Workshop with Sonja Ahlers and Selena Wong
Tuesday, May 25. 6-9pm
Review by Tara Bursey
What did your bedroom look like when you were 7 years old? What did it look like when you were 12? What sorts of things were on your bookshelves and walls? The altars of our youth reflected our lives and experiences at the time, as well as the era we grew up in. When I was 7, I was a scrappy kid that was dragged to Canadian Tire and hot, dusty industrial parks by my father on Saturday mornings, and I watched my mother chain-smoke from our fourth-floor balcony on Saturday afternoons. I was not quite a tomboy, and not quite a girly-girl. I was chubby. My bedroom was yellow, and I had an eyelet lace bedspred and a big yellow blow-up Crayola crayon propped in one corner of the room. I watched Much Music non-stop, and had posters of Axl Rose, Bono and Madonna on my closet door. My babysitter Tracy had a feathered haircut, a Whitesnake t-shirt, and a tough-looking headbanger boyfriend…I wanted to be just like her.
Judging by Sonia Ahlers’ exhibition The Selves, she is probably about five years older than me. Despite this, I suspect our childhood experiences were pretty similar– fever dreams of melting freezies, nosebleeds, girl hero crushes, dusty pink nail polish and loose change. The Selves, the name of both Ahlers’ exhibition now up at Magic Pony and her new book published by Drawn & Quarterly explores how sensory experiences from childhood are not only processed, retained and remembered, but also find their way into our lives as adults.
Ahler’s exhibition at Magic Pony consists of one large wall installation of found images, objects, drawings and ephemera as well as a few large digital prints of effortless-looking collages. One such print placed at the entry point to Magic Pony’s back room gallery space was a striking and appropriate image to lead off with– a blonde girl child creating a wall with her arms around a spooked-looking hamster, crowned with a head-and-shoulders portrait of a heavenward-looking Stevie Nicks from Fleetwood Mac. Stevie’s likeness creates the shape of a conehead-cum-sorcerer’s hat-cum-thought bubble on the girl’s head, and hints at the idea of media images from childhood fashioned into a private, internal alternate reality.
The wall installation itself is a smorgasbord of images that reads like a gigantic tween altar circa 1984. Drawings of wide-eyed girls appear with cut outs of Holly Hobbie, Spike and Liz from Degrassi High and Princess Di; kittens and birds, ice cream and cosmetic ads coexist with Ann and Nancy Wilson from Heart, the Sweet Valley Twins and the witchy lady from the cover of Black Sabbath’s debut album. Both angelic and malevolent female archetypes are embraced and celebrated. Interspersed among the images and scraps are fragments of Ahlers’ distinctive and beautiful handwriting. Tying the installation together (almost literally) is a veil of cheesecloth hanging over the length of the wall, casting a soft haze over the collection of images not unlike the haze that obscures a fading memory.
Part of what makes Sonja Ahler’s The Selves exhibition so evocative is the fact that it presents us with familiar faces and media images through the use of a cut’n’paste, collage/scrapbook aesthetic one could associate with anything from humble and lo-tech zines to crude religious altars to the altars of our girlhood past. In this uber-digital age, what do the girl altars of today look like? Are they limited to image collections on Tumblr and Facebook, or has the tactile nature of the pre-teen bedroom shrine survived the wrath of Web 2.0, where building an identity is as easy as a few button clicks? The beauty of this physical practice of collecting images and fragments to put on a bedroom wall, locker, or scrapbook is it could be considered an early example of creative self- expression, and even art making. In Ahler’s case, she has managed to translate the “selves” of her youth into not only a representation of a unified adult self, but also a unique and poignant visual vocabulary.
Tara Bursey is a artistic Jack(queline) of all trades. Her art practice encompasses craft, sculpture, installation, drawing and self-publishing. She makes a living working in two record stores.