From Saturday’s Globe and Mail
Published Saturday, February 5, 2011

Avian at Lonsdale Gallery
Until Feb. 20, 410 Spadina Rd, Toronto; www.lonsdalegallery.com

When I mentioned to a friend that I had seen Avian, a new group show about birds at the Lonsdale Gallery, he let loose with several dozen reasons why he dislikes birds. I was baffled. Unlike, say, horses, with their colossal, bone-crushing builds and sharp hooves, most birds are small, timid, and often come in comforting colours. Some people have weird reactions to animals.

Avian is a deceptively simple show, one devoid of peacock hues or flashy displays of pillowy plumage. Thus it requires concentration to fully appreciate, because, let’s face it, everybody knows what a bird looks like. It’s the conveyance, the ways in which the bird sculptures and images are fabricated, that soars here, not the actual depictions, which tend to favour common birds over exotic Tweetys.

To wit, Julie Oakes’s dazzling flock of Murano glass sparrows, hand-blown in Italy to her specifications, hover over the gallery like a vast pearly chandelier. Captured in various moments of flight, from full wingspan swoops to wings-to-the-side dives, the sparrows are simultaneously weightless and pendulous, fragile and crystalline hard.

Avian’s curator, Stanzie Tooth, told me that Oakes is currently having many more birds fabricated, and plans to show them at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, in Waterloo, Ont. During that exhibition, one bird a day will be allowed to drop and smash on the gallery floor. So see Oakes’s sun catchers now, before it’s too late.

Amanda McCavour’s “thread drawings” (her term) of birds combine the compact toughness of thick upholstery embroidery with a lace-like transparency and ballpoint-doodle freshness.

McCavour constructs her sculptures by sewing an image onto a water-soluble material, layering her threads heavily in some spots, to create strong outlines, and letting other parts remain almost vacant, connected via a single thread. When she is done, she simply immerses the thread and secret material in water until the supporting concoction dissolves, leaving only the “drawing” behind.

Like Oakes, McCavour is exploring the dual reality of birds, animals that are designed to defy gravity, and yet are tough as nails (or talons) – animals we put in dainty cages to better admire their chipper songs and pretty colours, genetic traits left over from when they were ravenous dinosaurs. What better materials to capture this marvellous conflation than brittle but heavy glass and airy but binding thread?

An added bonus: Along with her show-stopping glass works, Oakes offers a series of beautiful and creepy, bone-white ceramic sculptures of birds. Many of the birds face the viewer full-frontal with their bellies and legs contorted and arched; poses that can be read, depending on how you interpret the birds’ facial expressions, as depicting the animals in mid flight, in rigor mortis, or, pardon my anthropomorphizing, in a state of sexual arousal.
Like I said, some people have weird reactions to animals.

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