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Saturday, July 13, 2024
Arts: Celebrate Pride Month with a visit to RiverBrink’s latest exhibition
RiverBrink's director and curator Debra Antoncic giving a tour of Dianne Davis' "We Live the Opposite, Dar(l)ing" exhibition.

Debra Antoncic
Special to The Lake Report

In this new summer exhibition at RiverBrink Art Museum, artist Dianne Davis has transformed the second-floor interior space of the public art museum back to its time as a private home, of a sort.

Working in the media of drawing, photography and installation, Davis has created fictional characters and relationships  that pay homage to queer artists from the past.

In so doing, Davis has fashioned an alternative history for RiverBrink, inserting imaginary characters from an invented historical queer community in Niagara. 

The exhibition, open now at the museum on Niagara Parkway, continues until Sept. 14.

The fictional narrative is established in the main floor entryway, with a photograph providing  documentary evidence and period objects employed to set the stage.

The invented couple, named as the botanist Helen Gyger and artist Lily Nicol, are said to have lived at RiverBrink from 1924 to 1952. 

Although in reality the property remained undeveloped until Sam Weir began to build his vacation home in the late 1950s, this fanciful intervention into the history of the site serves as the foundation for an exploration of the couple’s imagined life together.

In the upper bedrooms, period clothing and bric-à-brac, personal effects, private letters, photo albums and postcards enhance the authenticity of the mise en scène.  

In addition to the fictional couple and the imagined queer circle in Niagara, the exhibition draws on queer legacies from the past, particularly artistic legacies and communities established in Paris.

The title of the exhibition is taken from a fragment of poetry attributed to the Greek poet Sappho, and the featured artworks reference well-known artists and photography pioneers such as Claude Cahun, Berenice Abbott and Man Ray.

Anchoring the exhibition are botanical prints done in cyanotype, photo-based images of  delicate botanical specimens from the Niagara area.

These prints are credited to an artistic and professional collaboration between Helen and Lily but were, in reality, created by Davis, a highly accomplished photographer, who adapted them from a found book of pressed plants from the 1890s. 

The botanical subjects, in striking Prussian blue, are visual reminders of the work of yet another photography pioneer, English artist and botanist Anna Atkins. 

The exhibition at RiverBrink is the third installment of a project Davis initiated in 2017.

The premise is more fully realized in its current form, and the lives and experiences of the subjects fleshed out in even greater depth through the accompanying website welivetheopposite.com.

While the fictional story takes place in the early 20th century, the exhibition is rooted in a re-imagining and reconstructing of queer legacies from the past, with the goal of supporting dialogue with the present.

While queer life did flourish in some specific places and times in history, cyclical repression over time has repeatedly forced queer lives back underground, as in the imagined story of the lesbian couple in this body of work.

This history of suppression has limited communication about queer experiences across generations.

Through this fictional creation, the exhibition connects the past with the present. 

Dianne Davis is a Chippawa-born, Toronto-based visual artist. She has had solo exhibitions  at Harbourfront Centre, Angell Gallery, and Cedar Ridge Gallery.

Her work has been featured in  numerous group shows in the United States and Canada, including Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and the Tom Thomson Art Gallery.

Davis is the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including Canada Council for the Arts, and Ontario and Toronto Arts Council visual arts grants.

She holds a B.Sc. and M.Eng. from the University of Toronto, a BFA from OCAD University, and an MA from Concordia University. 

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