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Virginia Mitford

Dawson City
September 27, 2017

Virginia Mitford is an emerging artist who divides her time between the far edges of the country. Her childhood spent on a remote trapline in the Yukon with her family and dog-team has had a huge influence on her art practice. Working with a variety of media – namely printmaking, dancing, and drawing – she examines her own personal history within broader concepts of feminism, uncertainty, and change. Since graduating from Memorial University with a BFA in 2013, she has taken part in multiple artist residencies in Montreal, across Newfoundland, and in the Yukon. Most recently she took part in the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture's residency program in Dawson City, where she was working on a self-portraiture series entitled Let Myself (Go). After this, she was artist in residence on the Chilkoot Trail where she continued research on this project while hiking the trail. Her lithography-based exhibition Alluvium: To Wash Against is currently being shown at Eastern Edge Gallery in St John's.

1. Fermentation

Virginia Mitford, Viscera, 2015, three-colour stone lithograph on paper

I feel comforted by fact that humans are basically tubes that need feeding, and that those tubes are filled with all sorts of important flora that also need feeding. I wonder how much control we actually have over what we are feeling and thinking, when much of what makes up “ourselves” is a huge community of bacteria and yeasts. I enjoy collaborating with these cultures outside of my body, to see what rich complexity of flavours can develop from simple ingredients packed into a jar and given some time to ferment.

2. Letting myself go

Virginia Mitford, The way my body is in these pants, 2017, graphite on paper--animation video still

My recent artwork has involved stepping into my younger body by revisiting moments in home videos and re-wearing old clothing. I am attempting to reclaim the awkwardness and discomfort of my body/movements/actions through humour, honesty, and vulnerability.

I am particularly intrigued by the phrase “letting yourself go”' – just one of the statements that encompasses double standards and constrictive expectations towards women's appearances and actions. I am interested in the difficulty of having clothing and the body interact in socially acceptable ways, especially for women who have to constantly negotiate what it means to be “too much” or “not enough” – for example by showing too much or not enough skin. I like to highlight those moments when the body, in the face of all these judgements and standards, reveals itself unabashedly through the cover of clothing with hair, sags, bumps, folds, and wedgies in all the wrong places.

I consider “letting yourself go” as an empowering and conscious act, not a loss of control. Through my artwork and in other parts of my life, I wish to highlight the capacity of women to make choices and be in control of their lives, to counter the narratives that paint women as passive victims who are responsible for bringing on their own negative experiences. I am very compelled by self-portraiture as a way to take back some of that control.

(Disclaimer: I use the term “women” to encompass anyone who is feminine or femme all or some of the time.)

3. Dancing (the Lindy Hop in particular)

Virginia Mitford, Let myself go project, 2017, documentation of group recreation of hip hop dance recital

I enjoy the act of communicating and responding to another body's subtle movements. In swing dancing, momentum and connection is the basis of the dance. Connection also includes feelings of “stretch” and “compression” in which two people are either gently pulling away or leaning into each other's weight. It is that moment of maximum compression when something is about to happen. I feel so much joy when I share a dance with someone in which all our subtle changes of tensions match perfectly, so that my body seems to know exactly what to do without my mind's involvement. My entire body tingles with a feeling of gratitude and intensity that I can't even come close to adequately explaining in words or comparing to anything else in my life.

At the same time, I am interested in awkward movements and celebrating those. I have been recreating a hip-hop dance rehearsal from my childhood with and without other people, with and without an audience. The awkwardness of getting back into my pubescent self is only heightened by the fact that I am still really bad at this dance!

4. Textures of mountains, dog noses, etc.

Auston Pass, Tombstone Territorial Park

When I spend time in the mountains I become pre-occupied with imagining what it might be like to be physically exploring different textures that I can see on distant mountaintops and hills. I am obsessed with hiking to craggy ridges, smooth plateaus, boulder fields, and steep valleys, because I want get to know them in person. These places are always different at a distance than up close, and I find that mystery endlessly exciting.

My favourite texture of all is the moist bumpy black part of my dogs’ noses, which is surrounded by velvety soft adorable-ness with those little spiky whiskers I have re-named “norping probes.” I melt. I also enjoy feeling paintbrushes on my face and having naps on pillowy soft moss in the tundra.

My dog Scupper's nose, detail

5. Stone lithography

Virginia Mitford, A Study of Action and Movement: Lithography, 2016, two-colour lithograph and video still for animation

The rich way that ink sits on paper, especially when layered, is enticing and beautiful to me. I find the labour-intensive process of making a print helps me become invested in my present surroundings and develop a new context around emotionally laden past experiences. For that reason, I have used this process to revisit a section of home video from my childhood that documents the inside of our cabin after a flood. I have also created a series of short animations that focuses on the movements and gestures involved in lithography, linking them to the seemingly disparate experience of cleaning up after that flood. These animations, and the accompanying print “video stills” are included in my exhibition at Eastern Edge Gallery.



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