Myths + Monsters > My Pretties

Curatorial essay written by Elizabeth Underhill for My Pretties exhibition at Gallery 1313, Toronto.

"‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe...

There is a slipperiness to this poetic line from Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Floating loosely between the recognizable and the otherworldly, it is adrift in a chimeric space: a location paradoxically evocative of the sparkly and bright along with the dark and murky, where attempts to reconcile light and shadow into meaning collapse. Like Carroll’s slippery words, the dolls of textile artist WhiteFeather inhabit the realm of chimeras that spans the puzzling threshold between the real and imagined, vacillating from the charming to the ominous. Though they are woven together from recognizable found organic and manufactured objects, WhiteFeather’s dolls prompt us to grapple with an irreconcilable space.

My Pretties is an installation of three of WhiteFeather’s chimeric dolls, Tattie Bogle, Bambin and Poppin. Visibly knotted together with twine and sealed with beeswax, they are strange looking creatures made up of hair, animal fur, feathers, bone - amongst other remnants of the living - and manufactured materials like synthetic gloves and funerary flowers. The transient nature of their organic components dictates a certain lifespan; decay is an inherent part of their existence.

Out of decay comes life, and well representative of this is the scarecrow, to which WhiteFeather’s dolls bear resemblance and are sometimes named for. Used to scare away hungry pests in an idealized hope to protect crops from destruction, scarecrows are made by revitalizing cast away objects; in use and makeup, scarecrows conflate the disposable with the vital. That they should be regarded as folkloric speaks to contemporary attitudes toward the real feasibility of harmony between what is apparently disparate, in particular wilderness and humanity.

Indeed, WhiteFeather’s chimeric dolls give us the impression of distinct realms attempting to merge in their woven appearance with seams undisguised. My Pretties alludes to the “unknown”: a seamless union between the world we know and an otherworldly place that is mysterious to us, which remains relegated to the imaginary. The eeriness of these dolls reveals a sense of awe we feel when faced with this merger, and beg the question: how would we react if these seemingly separate realms were to fully reconcile in reality? My Pretties, with their revitalizing collision of different elements, open up consideration for new possibilities in the world around us.

My Pretties: WhiteFeather
2009