Vibrant Decay: A Niagara-Based Art Exhibit

Photo by Justyn Warner on Unsplash

From Sept. 9-17, the Niagara Artists Centre partnered with the Supporting Women, Femme and Trans Artist Group (SWFT) to host a group exhibition called SWFT: Vibrant Decay. SWFT is a Niagara Region group that seeks to embolden each member in pursuing their own creative work. This exhibit featured 15 pieces from 12 artists, with many of the pieces available for purchase.

As the exhibition’s title suggests, the theme of this exhibit was finding the beauty in death and decomposition. Pieces like Sylvia McCormick’s Complete Circulation show this by depicting fungi growing in a tree trunk, showing death giving way to new life. 

Other pieces such as Jessica Szaszi’s The Caterpillar incorporate the theme by showing a caterpillar undergoing its metamorphosis into a butterfly; the decomposition of the caterpillar inside its cocoon turns into the birth of the butterfly, another example of vibrant decay.

The event, as well as SWFT, was founded by Magdolene Dykstra, whose Drawing 5 was the final piece of the exhibit. The piece itself is a photograph of a rock covered in gold lines, reminiscent of the Japanese art of kintsugi. The description included in the event pamphlet explains that this was a result of Dykstra following the grooves in the rocks and pressing unfired clay into them. Naturally, this meant that the clay would not stay there for long, and this was the point of the piece.

“By situating these works in the environment, I relinquish control allowing the grooves that trace the formation of these non-human bodies to direct my drawing,” she wrote in her description. “I embrace their inevitable breakdown as they return to the Earth, preserving the memories of these works through photo documentation.”

The event had two co-organizers, both of whom submitted pieces with multiple sections to them. Mori McCrae submitted a three-part piece: Riser, Little Green Apple and Falling. The first is a leafy, stair-like structure with several small apples on each step; the second is a green apple cut to the core; and the last is that same green apple but browning and rotting, a visual metaphor for the effects that the passage of time has on a person. All of these pieces were hand-sewn.

Rea Kelly, the other co-organizer, had three pieces as well. Two of the pieces had titles: Ontario Street (St. Thomas) and Rodman Hall. The third was untitled. Additionally, Kelly provided zines for viewers to take. Her pieces all revolved around architecture, each overlapping incomplete outlines of buildings onto each other. Though there were no complete buildings on any of the canvases, each piece’s outlines blended together into a house-like shape. Her abstraction of the buildings tore down their original form and gave way to a different form:

“Through the act of drawing I am reducing the three-dimensional buildings into a combination of lines that reflect how I visualized the building and that record my memory of that moment,” read her description. “As such, these drawings are a human experience of architecture and a visualization of the buildings that make up my hometowns. Ultimately, through the context of buildings, I am exploring how humans find, seek, and assign meanings to things.”

The pieces from this exhibit toe the line between beautiful and morbid. The blending of traditionally unsettling elements with aesthetically pleasing elements calls into question the viewer’s perception of destruction and decay. This juxtaposition also forces the viewer to acknowledge that beauty is often a result of previous destruction. 

While SWFT has not announced what other exhibits they have in store, Dykstra states on her site that they are still accepting applications for new members.

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