The handmade can be a powerful tool, while the 'maker' movement of employing craft practices to satisfy the artistic can be an act of defiance. This is certainly the case for Canadian textile artist Rene Vandenbrink.
Based in London, Ontario, Vandenbrink seeks alternatives to the waste and want of contemporary commercial culture. A trained funeral director and a community art activist, Vandenbrink is concerned with “how our society discards so much so fast," as she puts it. "Consumerism has been detrimental to our planet and the people who are trying to exist on it. People work really hard to buy things they are going to throw away. A lot of the objects that are thrown away are still useful.”
Leftovers, Vandenbrink’s current exhibition at the Shoebox Gallery in Toronto, incorporates a fusion of salvaged objects with collections obtained from nature that are wound with hand-spun and hand-died yarn. Wrapped fragments of her former funeral director’s uniform are juxtaposed with a kitschy assortment of inherited ceramic ducks, bells and coasters, fragments of river-side finds of wood, and a carefully arranged nest of 'Victoria’s Dreads' are a few of the miniature installations used to comment on consumerism in North America.
“I don't want to engage with consumerism," says Vandenbrink. "I avoid it any way I can, and so ‘making do’ allows me to live comfortably without having to buy into these systems. It is a meditative practice to arrange objects, to knit, spin yarn… It protests on a quiet level. It is my way of loving the earth and trying to keep from harming it.”
A 'fuck you' to the institutionalized spaces that see recent art graduates as sources of free labour, Jennifer Lorraine Fraser’s Shoebox Gallery takes matters into her own hands, or rather, her own tiny apartment. “These are leftover collections that exist in my home and are being shared with others by visiting Jen's home," adds Vandenbrink. "It's always interesting to exhibit art in settings outside the white cube gallery system. I hope people in general will be more open to experiencing art in different settings.”
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