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Reviews: If those seeds die, we die.

The New Gallery
Calgary, Alberta

November 2007

Fiona Kinsella: The Wilderness

by Sara Knelman


We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Kinsella's cakes may not be edible, but they are meant for consumption, and the act of ingesting them brings intense emotions to the fore. The ingredients can perhaps be read as a map of Kinsella's own experiences, gathering objects and generating memories over time and through many different landscapes. But the components - as ethereal as finger prints and as tangible and indestructible as teeth - reference universal rituals we can all recognize: birth, death, love, loss and decay. The media lists that accompany the works read like sublime recipes; the combinations of sweetness and duress, literally sugar and tears, suggest joy and heartbreak in a simultaneous instant. In these impossible combinations, Kinsella beckons us toward the uncomfortable challenge of the unfamiliar, and the possibility in that wilderness of finding truth through unadulterated, unmediated reactions.

Like relics of saints and martyrs, the objects Kinsella displays so meticulously, so reverently, are touchstones to the spiritual realm. Looking at art, Kinsella reminds us, is a kind of pilgrimage in itself, and a vital historical tradition. In the 19th century, the Grand Tour was a rite of passage that brought people into confrontation with the great art of Europe, and in particular of Italy. The French author Stendhal wrote about his own experiences in Florence in 1817, where the art he saw elicited a dizzying confusion, a quickening heart - an intense psychosomatic reaction that would later be called the Stendhal Syndrome. Cases continue to be documented - my mother fainted the first time she saw Michelangelo's David - and this necessarily spontaneous confrontation has become the holy grail of cultural tourism. Today, however, the sheer volume of visual culture can be overwhelming. The culture of consumption, of buying, eating, looking, and generally taking in ad nauseam, can make us feel oversaturated: sick after eating the whole cake. Kinsella's delicately curious work makes reference to this reality, but it also brings us back to a quieter moment, and offers the chance of escaping into a past, a memory, a fantasy or a simple captivation.

The title of the series is a conscious echo of the iconic Canadian landscapes by the Group of Seven, art that brought us into proximity of a literal wilderness. The journey Kinsella offers, though, is into the mind: an exploration that can bring us out and back again, to a new place.

Sara Knelman is the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Hamilton.

ReviewsIf those seeds die, we die