Four smiling people standing around a table in a darkened room, lit by an overhead light. One person is looking through a Viewmaster while the other people look through photo reels from a box on the table.

The Brain is wider than the Sky

Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery

Tara Cooper, Hyang Cho, Meg Harder, Žana Kozomora, Amanda Rhodenizer, Aislinn Thomas. Curated by Crystal Mowry.

The lives of artists – whether they be poets or painters – often make for excellent legends. In the case of the American poet Emily Dickinson (1830 – 1886), reclusive and non-conformist tendencies allowed the writer to create distance between her own interests and an inquisitive public. Known within her local community as “The Myth,” Dickinson honed her craft on her own terms and largely for her own pleasure. It was only after Dickinson’s death in 1886 and the posthumous publication of her letters and diaries that readers would encounter a version of the human condition that was uniquely hers.

The Brain is wider than the Sky draws its inspiration from a poem of the same name penned by Emily Dickinson. In this concise verse Dickinson offers a list of juxtapositions that invite us to see the human imagination as an instrument of sublime capability. Premiering new work by artists based within Waterloo Region and Wellington County, The Brain is wider than the Sky proposes a shared cerebral space within the architecture of the gallery.

Correspondence is a central theme that is woven through each of the works included in this exhibition. For multidisciplinary artist Tara Cooper, installation is a practice parallel to that of the travelogue. Combining abstraction and fragmented nautical references, Cooper creates an archive of a place one can never truly know. The gap between memory and reality is tested in Žana Kozomora’s suite of new lens-based works, in which the artist returns to her childhood home in Sarajevo and reconsiders its context through a tourist’s perspective. Site and history are similar preoccupations for painter Amanda Rhodenizer. Through the use of figuration and staged interactions in vacation homes, Rhodenizer explores the distance – both physical and emotional – that separates her subjects. For Hyang Cho, a misdelivered letter inspired a new project wherein correspondence and translation are redefined. Drawing inspiration from “fraktur” – a form of illuminated folk art associated with the Mennonite traditions of her youth – Meg Harder proposes an epic narrative set along the banks of an infinite river. Making the awe-inspiring relatable, Aislinn Thomas gathers accounts of a contemporary celestial event that can be understood as a people’s history of the sublime. Seen together, the works in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the distinct worlds that may exist between the ears of other people.

The Brain is wider than the Sky at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery

A people’s history of the sublime: TOTALITY (21.08.2017)
Aislinn Thomas
9 channel sound, 37 minutes (looped)
Stereoscopic viewers, reels of collected images
Image credit: Mike Lalich

On August 21, 2017 people from all over North American were eagerly anticipating a rare celestial event: a total solar eclipse. With specially designed viewing aids and DIY contraptions in hand, people all over the continent were hatching plans to amplify the spectacle. Some planned parties to share the experience with their loved ones, while others embarked on extensive journeys to be in the “line of totality” – a path where one can witness intensified visual phenomena. Those who have first-hand experience of a total solar eclipse can attest that it is nothing short of sublime. Temperatures drop noticeably and animal behaviour can change dramatically. Such events can be transformative, especially when shared.

For Aislinn Thomas, that transformation yields a narrative that reverberates with each retelling. In making A people’s history of the sublime, Thomas solicited contributions of accounts related to the eclipse on August 21, 2017. Supplemented by images and audio that have been publicly shared on the internet, these accounts form a shared resource that aims to democratize the sublime. Ever the respectful collaborator, Thomas honours the idiosyncrasies of her contributors and the unexpected humanity that can be found when we are sitting together in the dark.

-Crystal Mowry

Aislinn Thomas is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice includes video, performance, installation, and text-based work. She culls material from everyday experiences and relationships, exploring themes of vulnerability, empathy, possibility and failure. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and is the recipient of several grants and awards including a C.D. Howe Scholarship for Arts and Design, a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Masters Scholarship, and grants from the Ontario Arts Council. Aislinn gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and Ontario Arts Council.