Sisters in solidarity

It started with a photograph: eight miners’ wives bruised and bandaged in the wake of police strike-breaking efforts pose together stoic in their cause. United. Sisters.

Taken nearly 80 years ago the image is one of the few remaining photographic artifacts of the mining town of Corbin in the East Kootenays. Over the past three summers life has returned to the ghost town that has come to provide not only the inspiration but material and studio space for the artists of the Corbin Union Residency who gather there each August and seek to emulate the early ideals of the people of Corbin their solidarity and the strength they found in community.

In the exhibition Sisters a collaboration between two of the residency’s founding artists Warren McLachlan and Jason De Haan the legacy of the abandoned mine is put on display. With many works incorporating objects found at the sight and repurposed to reflect its history the unresolved tension of oppression and rebellion is palpable.

“It’s such a materially based exhibition” says McLachlan “and we’re trying to let the materials speak. There’s an undercurrent of violence that can be taken from the work in a way but we also wanted to leave it open to interpretation.”

Yet despite the importance of the materials this is very much an exhibition of ideas. While the process of conceptualization and creation took only 10 days in December the ideas that fuel the artwork have been percolating since 2012. Within the history of Corbin can be found themes of political and cultural turmoil resistance and control transience migration and crime not to mention the intrusion of something such as coal mining on to the supernatural beauty of the wilderness. These themes and ideas have been constant fodder for the artists of The Residency and have figured prominently into their continuing experimentation and collaboration.

“For me ‘Corridor’ is a key word as the space has almost always been used in that way by different groups both human and non-human” says De Haan. “It’s in the way the railway ran through carrying coal to the ports of the West Coast rum flowed through to the prohibition markets in the States the hummingbirds of the area travel all the way down to Mexico and it’s in the way we use the space too. It’s very migratory.”

As a result the exhibition seems less about displaying the work and more about using it as a tool to transmit these ideas. Knives forged from old rail tracks speak to the impermanence of form and the potential violence of the oppressed. A hummingbird encased in concrete is beauty hidden by the work of man all the while exploring the themes of control and ownership of the intangible. The minimalist curation contributes the necessary space for the audience to ponder and absorb the message. An artist talk at the Untitled Art Society on March 27 will also give both De Haan and McLachlan the chance to expound upon their ideas.

Although Sisters marks the first time that work from Residency artists has been exhibited in Canada it is not meant to stand on its own. Two previous exhibitions have been shown overseas while “Sisters” itself is designed to be supplemented by works from other artists. “When we conceived of this idea it was supposed to be a part of a larger exhibition involving all of the members of the residency” says McLachlan who explains that in future adaptations each artist will contribute work from their private perspective.

As the project moves forward just like the original Sisters the artists of the Corbin Union Residency will stand together and be stronger for it.

SISTERS is on exhibition at Untitled Arts Society until March 28.