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Skin & Bone: David R. Harper

Date Apr 9, 2010 - Oct 17, 2010
Curated by Sarah Quinton

Exhibition Overview

David R. Harper (Halifax/Chicago) embroiders portraits of people on animal skins, playing on one of the traditional roles of portraiture which was to immortalize and elevate the subject through artistic representation – just as the trophy from a hunting excursion might be a bear skin rug or a rack of antlers. These images of anonymous, Victorian-era men and women imply an emotional distance that allows the artist to poke at the slippery slope where nature and culture meet.



Find out more about Person Place Thing, three exhibitions featuring Lia Cook, David R. Harper and Stephen Schofield.

Related Programs and Events

2-Day Workshop: Photo Image Silk Screen with Jeff Garcia
Saturday June 12 and Sunday June 13, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Learn a variety of techniques for printing photo images onto cloth and paper. Includes a visit to the exhibition Faces & Mazes and hands-on work in the studio. Co-presented with the Contemporary Textile Studio Co-op.
Members $120, Non-members $144, Full-time students $80. Materials $35.
Advance registration is required, class size is limited. To register, call 416-599-5321 x 2221.

Seminar: Rogue Embroidery with David R. Harper
Saturday August 14, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Spend a day with the artist and explore embroidery as a creative and experimental method of expression where patterns, drawings, and images can be transferred and embroidered onto various unusual surfaces. Includes an illustrated lecture on historical, narrative, and rogue embroidery, and embroidery in relation to taxidermy.
Members $50, Non-members $65, Full-time students $40. Materials $8.
Advance registration is required, class size is limited. To register, call 416-599-5321 x 2221.

Seminar: Adam's Simple Ration with Stephen Schofield
Saturday October 16, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm
Spend a day with the artist that includes an illustrated lecture, a walkthrough of the exhibition, and experimentation with eggs to produce temporary sculptures. Test the potential of food as an art-making material and consider the poetic transformations that take place when “Adam’s simple ration” is put to use.
Members $50, Non-members $65, Full-time students $40. Materials $8.
Advance registration is required, class size is limited. To register, call 416-599-5321 x 2221.

<i>Untitled (Male)</i>, 2009, polyurethane, cow hide, canvas, embroidery floss, ceramic epoxy, glass, enamel, 76.2 x 91.4 x 55.9 cm. Courtesy of the artist
<i>Shadow Puppetry (Goat)</i>, 2008, embroidery floss, goat hide, 45.7 x 71.1 cm. Courtesy of the artist
<i>Detail of Shadow Puppetry (Goat)</i>, 2008, embroidery floss, goat hide, 45.7 x 71.1 cm. Courtesy of the artist
<i>Untitled (Female) (Embroidery)</i>, 2009, goat hide, embroidery floss, 104 x 132 cm. Courtesy of the artist
<i>The Last to Win</i>, 2009, 216 x 234 x 74 cm, polyurethane, cow hide, embroidery floss, ceramic epoxy, glass, synthetic hair, nylon
<i>A Gathering</i>, 2010. Photo: Jill Kitchener

Person Place Thing

By Sarah Quinton

Person Place Thing showcases the tactile, large-scale works of Lia Cook, David R. Harper and Stephen Schofield, who create displays of intimacy, exploring portrait-based iconography as a lens to cast light on themselves and reflect it on the viewer. Person Place Thing is where textiles and sculpture meet: Cook, Harper and Schofield make work that is tactile, physical and large in scale – qualities that intensify a sensory encounter. They draw the viewer into embroidered, sewn and woven narratives of nature, identity and history.

Person Place Thing refers to the tangibles in life – people, places and things – that shape and define one's relatively intangible self.

Faces & Mazes: Lia Cook
Lia Cook's portraits of dolls and young girls are impossibly rendered with polka dot rosy cheeks and perfectly pursed lips. At a vastly enlarged scale, they become pixilated, and difficult for the eye to reconcile. The intimate moment that is forced upon the viewer is one of complicity, as most of us have, in one way or another, contemplated the idealized, too-perfect doll image. These are portraits that play deftly with tensions between material and image, life and death, abstraction and representation – and make careful examination of cloth as a medium of artistic expression and tactile experience.

Cook uses an electronic Jacquard loom to weave portraits that dissolve into continuously changing maze-like patterns. As the pictures fragment, a perceptual shift occurs, moving through a place of transition and ambiguity to reveal the physical, tactile nature of the woven image. Drawing on familiar and childhood sources, including images of herself as a child, Cook uses a photographic detail, layered and woven in oversized scale, to intensify an emotional or sensual encounter.

Fascinated with the potential of weave structure, Cook acquired an antique Jacquard loom head in Europe in the early 1980s and restored it to working condition. She researched the traditional Jacquard design process in which all work is done by hand and then pioneered the use of the electronic Jacquard handloom both in her studio work and while teaching in the classroom. Currently, she produces her weavings on a loom with 2,640 independently programmable warp threads. She uses photographic and weave software to design her work.

Skin & Bone: David R. Harper
David R. Harper embroiders portraits onto animal skins, playing on one of the traditional roles of portraiture to immortalize and elevate the subject through artistic representation. His portraits of anonymous Victorians, for example, inserted into a domesticated animal world, honour humans from another era and at the same time venerate the animals that he is re-presenting. Harper's embroidered images frequently read like old-fashioned tattoos – by turns romantic, nostalgic and autobiographical. With the blended human/animal attributes that are seen throughout Skin & Bone, the artist presents us with a decidedly cryptic mix of power relationships such as the hunter and the hunted, the owner and the owned.

While a bear skin rug or a rack of antlers might be the highly prized keepsake from a hunting excursion, Harper's hybrid animal objects are precious reminders of the contrasting ideals of co-existence and dominance between human and nonhuman animals. No matter how 'real' we want the sculptures to be, they remain fictional entities that commemorate the human need to bring natural worlds into human environments.

The artist taught himself the craft of taxidermy while he was an undergraduate student. He builds his own three-dimensional forms or purchases them readymade, and is committed to working only with sustainably-obtained hides. In high school, Harper learned how to build boats by reading how-to magazines, and spent time in tattoo parlours where he became familiar with the traditional motifs that now influence his embroidered images.

Stumble: Stephen Schofield
Stephen Schofield's one-and-a-half life-sized sculptures are intensely sensual. His patchwork figures are based on the ancient Roman scholar Pliny the Elder's tale of Dibutade, a Corinthian woman who traced her lover's shadow on the wall to fix his likeness, by which to remember him in his absence. Schofield pays homage to Dibutade, the legendary muse who is associated with the origins of drawing, as he traces sections of the male body onto pieces of fabric and reconstructs them as a whole.

In the artist's words, these ephemeral, float-y beings “…have a relationship to the classical nude in a superhero kind of way. They are also a kind of effigy or fetish because they are made from worn clothing, which always carries some trace of the person it touched.” The cloth is transformed into a taut skin that contains human forms that hover between a highly spirited/spiritual realm and a dream world filled with personal reverie.

The Dibutade series are stiff (not stuffed) sculptures, pieced and sewn together from childhood clothing, and have terrific resonance with centuries-old traditions of quilt making and home sewing – as well as the classical nude. Once Schofield's three-dimensional figures have been drafted, cut and pieced together, he soaks them in sugar water before inflating and drying them until the cloth becomes a taut skin.

Schofield says: “Membranes interest me because they allow me to explore the porosity, vulnerability and resistance of a person as a theatre of one.”

© 2010 Textile Museum of Canada