Sarah Mihara Creagen at Forest City Gallery, London, ON

By Kim Neudorf

In a delicate watercolour drawing just outside the gallery, yellow flowers and intricate, twisting stems reach from a soft brown shape made of soil. A transparent tube points downward, suggesting the plant is part of a medical process that’s not immediately visible. This idea of plant and medical apparatus as a cohabiting, collaborative organism is repeated to various degrees in the drawings and installation in Sarah Mihara Creagen’s Toxic Bodies, and often include direct or indirect participation from the artist herself.


Sarah Mihara Creagen, A self-scope / Informed consent for colonoscopy, 2023, drawing on watercolour paper

In two large drawings on the left wall of the main gallery, A self-scope / Informed consent for colonoscopy and Chimera, Creagen is drawn lying and sitting amidst various tubes, medical containers, plastic IV bags, and other medical equipment that merge inventively with the artist’s body as well as to various plant life. Creagen is either lounging, mirroring the shape of a large intestine which arches above her, or perched like a sculpture or fountain, receiving and emitting skillfully aimed jets of blue liquid. In both drawings, her pose helps frame the scene, allowing detailed, highly composed views into and through the loopings and net-like configurations of medical and organic forms. In a larger drawing on the right-side wall, Hyperaccumulating at my infusion every 7 weeks, Creagen lies on her back beneath IV bags affixed to a metal stand partially propped up by the robust stem of a sunflower while brightly-colored liquid squirts directly upon her tongue. The gallery walls, painted a bright teal, link visually to various shades of blue in the drawings, emphasizing a particularly sterile, utilitarian, synthetically cheerful hue.


Sarah Mihara Creagen, A Flush (of mushrooms, a flushing IV), 2023, IV stands, infusion bags, chains, oyster mushrooms

In the central installation, A Flush (of mushrooms, a flushing IV), four metal IV stands partially linked with chains are grouped loosely together, somewhat resembling the velvet ropes found in movie theater cues.  IV bags hang from both stands and chains, filled with spongey, cork-like material from which small, thin mushrooms grow. At the base of one of the stands is a teal-blue medical basin filled with soil and various plants, lit by a lamp. The lamp’s timer blinks intermittently, resembling a more dramatic medical alert system. The installation’s title, referencing both the name of a mushroom’s bloom, as well as an IV medication process, links associatively with another of Creagen’s drawings, Mermaid!, wherein the artist is either being gleefully expelled or in the midst of being flushed.


Sarah Mihara Creagen, Mermaid!, 2023, drawing on watercolour paper

In a diaristic exhibition text, Creagen alludes to the IV infusions she receives every seven weeks, as well as to transformation (“and this idea of a chimera”) at the intersections between botany, the mythological, and the medical. She continues this train of thought in a simultaneity of details about biological medicines, a wish “to be more than human,” her own mixed-race Japanese heritage and family history, and an experience of “feeling constantly remade and broken-apart.” These ideas lead into an exploration of biological remediation, or a process by which living organisms like plants and mushrooms help remove toxins from the soil. She wonders if a similar process might be found in bodily relationships to the environment, whether in a city or medical space, such as during recovery from illness. She explains that plants such as oyster mushrooms and sunflowers (both utilized in her work) are known to be particularly skillful at removing toxins. Also listed in the text are details about the installation’s soil (taken from an ongoing bioremediation project wherein its effectiveness has and will continue to be tested) and plants used or referenced (oyster mushrooms, brown mustard, tall fescue, sunflowers, alpine pennycress, zucchini), as well as which heavy metals these plants are known to be able to process.


Sarah Mihara Creagen, Hyperaccumulating at my infusion every 7 weeks, 2023, drawing on watercolour paper

In this context, the specific compositions in Creagen’s drawings, as well as the repeating gesture of IV bag as mushroom growth can be read beyond their immediate, aesthetic appeal. While at times, the exhibition plays with a certain layer of affect invoked by ideas of toxicity and more visceral roles performed by actual and implied bodies, the underlying spirit, evidenced by Creagen’s attention to detail, is more sensitive, intimate, and darkly funny than merely grotesque. While the installation draws out Creagen’s larger bioremediation project with the presence of specific plants and mushrooms, the watercolor drawings are more successful at balancing this research with more personal, experiential depth. Particular details in A self-scope plays this out particularly well: while Creagen’s left hand and arm disappear inside a loop of blue tubing, her right holds a dark intestinal scope-as-projector. Various tones of pink intestine frame and emphasize the intensity of the scene, while also providing makeshift architecture to house both intimate space and private movie screen. In the midst of this invasive, even if humorous depiction of a medical procedure, we are allowed a glimpse of life beyond the fixed nowness of the present.

Sarah Mihara Creagan: Toxic Bodies continues until June 3.
Forest City Gallery:
The gallery is accessible.

Kim Neudorf is an artist and writer based in London (ON). Their writing and paintings have appeared most recently at Embassy Cultural House, London, ON; Support project space, London, ON; McIntosh Gallery, London, ON; DNA Gallery, London, ON; Paul Petro, Toronto; Franz Kaka, Toronto; Forest City Gallery, London, ON; Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Kingston; Evans Contemporary Gallery, Peterborough; and Susan Hobbs Gallery, Toronto. Instagram: @kimneudorf