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Toronto
Terence Dick
Mary Anne Barkhouse at The Koffler Gallery
July 19, 2017

I woke up around five yesterday morning to the sound of my dog barking downstairs. We don’t have air conditioning, so the windows stay open during the night and I always worry that someone will try to break in. I was thinking that it finally happened as I made my way through the house. (I wasn’t thinking what I could do about it, armed as I was with a cellphone flashlight and nothing else.) The dog was at the back door, so I let her out, thinking she needed to go to the bathroom, but instead she chased something in the shadows of the garden and leapt up at the neighbour’s fence. There was a furry creature on top of the rickety trellis and it took me a couple seconds to see it was a raccoon. I didn’t want to deal with vet bills for a ravaged canine, so I grabbed the dog and dragged her back inside and went to bed. She continued to bark intermittently for the next hour or so, but everything was chill when I finally got up at seven.



Mary Anne Barkhouse, Le rêve aux loups (installation detail), 2017 (photo: Rafael Goldchain/Koffler Gallery)

Even though they sometimes shit outside my kitchen window and knock over the neighbour’s green bin (mine is secured with high tension bungee cords), I don’t have a hate-on for the city’s least loved mammals like some of my fellow citizens. I actually felt embarrassed about the dog’s behaviour, because they have as much right to the city as we do. Maybe even more so. They were here first, but now we’re stuck with each other, so what’s to do done?

The ethics of relating to fellow animals was already on my mind, having visited Mary Anne Barkhouse’s solo exhibition at the Koffler Gallery this past weekend. She makes an explicit connection between her Indigenous background, native North American animals like wolves, owls, coyotes, and hares (not, at least in this exhibition, racoons, by the way), and colonialism. However, her animals are more than metaphors for human relations. From a First Nations perspective, non-human animals aren’t resources to be consumed and/or slaughtered by human animals; they are equal participants in both nature and the metaphysical realm, and, as such, are afforded a much greater moral authority than they have in European conceptions of the great chain of being.



Mary Anne Barkhouse, Le rêve aux loups (installation detail), 2017 (photo: Rafael Goldchain/Koffler Gallery)

Barkhouse establishes this equivalence by having her life-size sculptures focus on each other. Human visitors observe as the animals that occupy the gallery remain intent or contemplative. In once case, an owl looks down upon a strange gathering of miniature people with the same distance. Any judgements, however, are fraught with assumptions and inversions. One ornately framed image of two wolves reads, “Though I am hated by all beasts, I nevertheless rather enjoy that.” A parallel dichotomy is constructed through silhouette sculptures of black wolves and pink poodles. The two sides – one representing nature, the wild, North America, and Indigenous traditions; the other standing for culture, domestication, Europe, and colonialism – face off in the gallery and on a rooftop of a neighbouring store. The opposition isn’t simple though and there is a mutual curiosity that coincides with their difference. It’s there in the packs of dogs wrestling with each other at the nearby dog park and the nocturnal visitors who inspire such intense emotions in my homebound hound.


Koffler Gallery: http://kofflerarts.org/
Mary Anne Barkhouse: Le rêve aux loups continues until August 20.


Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.

 

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