Circadian at AX, the Arts & Culture Centre Of Sussex, NB

By Jon Claytor

Amy Ash has followed her Canadian curatorial debut Harbour with Circadian and a picture of New Brunswick’s contemporary art scene is beginning to emerge. Where some curators might try to show how contemporary New Brunswick art fits into the international scene, Ash shows us what makes New Brunswick art unique and different. Harbour focuses on the almost mythic ebb and flow of people, cargo, and wildlife in and out the Saint John Harbour. Circadian highlights the particularly slow rhythm of maritime life and how it affects the art that is made and viewed here.

Anna Torma, Lullaby (detail)

The exhibition features eight New Brunswick artists, but their work seems slightly out of place, as if they belong in a forest, living room, studio, cemetery, or bedroom – anywhere but a white cube gallery. The art is deeply personal and organic. Each piece reveals in its material construction the layers of time and repetition inherent in its making. The circadian rhythm of creation. The daily circle of work and rest. Time might be our greatest resource in the Maritimes and, although these artists live busy lives, full of children and other duties, the work is woven into that life, not separated from it. According to the exhibition catalogue, artist Anna Torma turned to fabric arts as a safe art practice to incorporate into her daily routines as a mother. Jim Boyd learned stone carving to make a tombstone for his father’s grave. All of these artists create as part of the daily rhythm of life.

The work in the show is quietly still, but very alive. An amorphous ceramic piece by Emilie Grace Lavoie seems to be growing naturally by the entrance. Torma’s intricate and mesmerizing wall-hangings invite us to contemplate each stitch as a passing moment. Karen Stentaford’s photos measure the passage of time and light with archaic analogue photographic processes in a sort of visual geology where the moments of life lived are trapped in the layers and blemishes of the chemical process. Janice Wright Cheney’s gentle portrait of a fern combines a digital print with delicate embroidery to meld together work ethics from the past and present. A sound piece by Jud Crandall captures and manipulates the sound of the salt marsh in all its layered complexity. Near the sound installation a butterfly sits on a deer’s antler, fresh from its metamorphosis in a piece by Tara Francis made from porcupine quills, birch bark, sweet grass, sinew, cow leather, and felted goat and rabbit wool. The materials situate her work as contemporary, but also put it in direct line with her Mi’kmaq and Irish descent. Boyd’s stone sculptures are at once strong and fragile. His spherical vessels, egg-like forms, and stone fish bring to mind fragile fossils. One cannot look at them without meditating on labour and the cycles of life.

Circadian at AX, installation view, 2020

Perhaps the piece that links all these ideas best is When the dishes are done and the shadows are long, the taste still lingers by Alana Morouney. It is simply a chair – the type of old chair you would find abandoned in a maritime barn. But that is not all. It has been lovingly restored with a soft leather seat and backed with a hand-knit sweater. The sweater fills the space between the spindles and, on either side, warm sleeves wait to be filled. You can sit in this chair and feel its embrace. You can slide your arms into the sleeves and button them tight over you. It is art that functions as a comforting gesture. It conjures a child and a mother. It reflects on growing up and the sum of life counted in the repeated daily rhythms of work, chores, and love.

This is why contemporary Maritime art is different from urban Canadian art. It simply comes from a different place, a place where art and life, chores and imagination, passion and responsibility, are one. It’s a slow place, a place it takes time to notice, a quiet place. A place that is also vital and contemporary. Ash’s curation asks us gently to take a moment and feel the circadian rhythm of our artistic community.

Circadian continues until February 29
AX: The Arts & Culture Centre of Sussex:
The gallery is accessible.

Jon Claytor is an artist living and working in Sackville, New Brunswick. He is the co-founder of Sappyfest and Thunder & Lightning Ideas Ltd.