Elaine Whittaker: Ode to a Fervent Sun

Ode to a Fervent Sun, mixed media, 2024

Ode to a Fervent Sun
Elaine Whittaker

April 24 – May 18, 2024
Red Head Gallery, Toronto

Opening Reception: Friday, May 3, 5:30 – 7:30 pm
Performance: Friday, May 10, 7 – 8 pm, Saturday, May 11, 3 pm and 4 pm. Sara Porter, Dance Artist
Poetry and Song: Thursday, May 16, 7 – 8 pm. Poets: Kelley Aitken, Maureen Hynes, Jim Nason, Maureen Scott Harris, Laboni Islam, Dilys Leman, nancy viva davis halifax. Vocalist: Heidi Breier

The Red Head Gallery is pleased to present Ode to a Fervent Sun by member Elaine Whittaker.

Ode to a Fervent Sun pays homage to the enticing but fraught relationship of our skin with the sun. An ever-present necessity for life, the sun is the source for biological processes, the seasons, ocean currents, ecology, and our warming climate. The sun is omnipresent in all the ways we navigate the complexities of our lives. Through installations, photography, and mixed media artworks, Elaine Whittaker examines and queries that relationship.

Arriving as an adolescent on Grand Bahama Island in 1968, the artist experienced the delights and anxieties of a scorching tropical sun. The exhibition is a visual memoir of the six years she lived there, drawing on embodied memories and objects of the past. In one installation she recalls the pleasures of hours spent on a beach slathered in oil. Another artwork, a radiating sun composed of ‘paper dolls’, confronts the norms and expectations for a young woman living in a sun-obsessed society – seeking the perfect tan and the perfect bikini for the perfect body.

Whittaker’s past artworks have often explored our skin—the physical boundary and canvas where individual memories are etched and embedded. The anthropologist Nina Jablonski observes that ‘our skin mediates the most important transactions of our lives. Skin is key to our biology, our sensory experiences, our information gathering, and our relationships with others.’ For Ode to a Fervent Sun, Whittaker incorporates microscopic images of her skin to amplify the meditative and connective aspect of the dermis that encases each of us and connects us to the wider world. As we relocate out of the sun and into the shade, our porous skin will continue to protect us while also recording the trauma of climate change. As literary scholar Steven Connor states, ‘The skin always takes the body with it.’ And our memories and fears of the sun in today’s slowly burning world.

Ode to a Fervent Sun is part of the Contact Photography Festival and the Canadian Art Hop.

Sunspot AR3599, yarn. 2024

Artist Bio:

Elaine Whittaker is a Canadian visual artist working at the intersection of art, science, medicine, and ecology. Biology is the basis for her installations, sculptures, paintings, drawings, and digital images. Her artworks incorporate traditional and unconventional materials: paint, pigment, wax, mosquitoes, salt, human and mouse cells, textiles, repurposed fibres, and live microorganisms.

She has exhibited in art and science galleries and museums in North America, Europe, China, South Korea, and Australia. As Artist-in-Residence at the Pelling Laboratory for Augmented Biology (University of Ottawa), she collaborated with scientists to create the artwork Lungs of the Earth. It was exhibited in La Fabrique du Vivant at the Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2019). She was one of the first Artists-in-Residence with the Ontario Science Centre (2018) in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, creating the installation Skinscape for the science centre’s 50th anniversary. Her work has been featured in art, literary, and medical journals, and in books, including Viral Behaviors: Viruses and Viral Phenomena Across Science, Technology & the Arts by Roberta Buiani (2024), Bio Art: Altered Realities by William Myers (2015), and, On Media, on Technology, On Life: Interviews with Innovators edited by Arthur Clay & Timothy J. Senior (2021). She has been an active member of the Red Head Gallery artist collective since 2004.

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