Wendy Coburn may be best known for her work The Spirit of Canada Eating Beaver, a small bronze sculpture that, for its delicacy and restraint, might pass for a Florence Wyle if not for the large, fat, hairy genus Castor chomping away between a woman’s legs.
The woman lies on her side, head propped up by her hand. She watches the beaver with a bored, almost critical gaze, as if to say, “Geez, you’d think a beaver would know how to eat beaver better.”
In the other sculpture in the series, Leda and the Beaver, the woman eats out the beaver to much more apparent success. The beaver reclines in ecstasy, little front paws limp and relaxed, webbed hind feet splayed out indecorously. Let the woman show the beaver how it’s really done. Coburn has a thoughtful, pokerfaced quality, but her work betrays a deeply comical mind, a mind that is self-aware, sensitive and roguish.
The combination of formality and whimsy is a hallmark of Coburn’s work. Not just because she explores the lives of lesbians is the word dyke appropriate when describing her oeuvre. She uses formal techniques — bronzing, sculpture — to capture deeply emotional and charged moments. She creates indelible structures to contain the volatility of nature.
Wendy Coburn's latest project features a series of toy U-Haul trucks and trailers.
On Coburn’s dining room table sits a piece she’s yet to show publicly: a turkey baster cast in bronze, in the style of Jasper Johns’ Light Bulb 1 (Coburn often critiques or pays tribute to recognized work in her own).
“To me, that Johns piece says 'idea,'” Coburn says. “This is an idea as well.”
Coburn captures the relevant moments in the lives of queer women with respect and humour. The turkey baster, such an icon of gay and lesbian culture: sperm deliverer, ad hoc enema. To Coburn, these are objects worth creating long-term artifacts out of.
Coburn is skilled at all the mediums she works in, be it video, sculpture or photography. This last medium informs her latest work, titled U-Haul Suite. She is presenting this series of photographs at a realty office in Leslieville, also known as Lezzieville. The irreverence runs deep.
The photographs, except for one, appear in pairs. To make the series, Coburn worked with old-fashioned magic and new technology. She made the images in situ, building a screen and projecting images of natural harmony and disaster against it. She photographed a series of toy U-Haul trucks and trailers she had purchased on eBay in front of the screens. The effect is enchanting. The photos have a quality of early filmic special effects, like the space scenes in the first Star Wars movie.
The intention is to show the accumulation, both with objects and with emotions, that we acquire when we enter into unions. Sometimes we walk away with less, sometimes we walk away with more, but there is always a struggle when we try to find love and create homes for ourselves.
Photographs by Wendy Coburn
Opens Thurs, Sept 13, 7-10pm
Runs till Thurs, Oct 25
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747 Queen St E, Unit 102