Louder than words

Joan Sullivan
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Joint exhibition bears ‘Witness’ to the power of collaboration

In “Witness,” Po Chun Lau and Heather Reeves are two visual artists gesturing to each other across a spectrum of media and touching at a psychological point of observance and endurance.

In their work they forge what lasts and what remains, culling and recovering structural or emotional remnants that have passed through terrible crisis, or sheer age.

While Lau is a sculptor and Reeves is given here to hefty, multimedia, wall-mounted works, their materials — such as wax and metal — often actually overlap.

Altogether their pieces, whether suspended or set on a pedestal, are robustly three-dimensional. And their natural palettes of disinterred, burnished or faded tones sing, or keen, together. They are united under a title that evokes seeing, giving evidence, and both holding and beholding occasions, encounters and accidents.

Lau’s pieces are amazingly suggestive and redolent, forming figures from delicate wrappings that seem to have been blasted and shelled. They are made of burlap, wire mesh and wax, or bronze. Some are small, about 7.5 inches. Others are almost five feet tall. They seem always to be feminine, sometimes old, sometimes children. They stand, at times alone, at times in twos or threes, in postures and clusters with titles including “The Conversation,” “Come With Me,” “Secrets,” “Waiting” and “Our Stories Begin Here.”

Shrouded, pierced, compelling, they are infused with testimony. They have passed through something which transformed them, and the event and their body is now fused in story. They have a distinctive presence which is shaped from their very absence; their faces and bodies are simply negative space. They have disappeared. Yet their carriage and narrative has stayed.

Reeves’ works are also about exposure and surfaces and process. She has “quilts” made not entirely from textiles but often composed of found wood, rusted metal, screen, “eaten maple leaves,” and “span worm moths.” (We knew they had to be good for something.)

Her tapestries, like the “Fire Quilts” and “Widowmaker Quilts,” display a kind of underneath stitching and spare, precise, trailing threads, like trackings and signs of the hand that made them. Their organic shapes are replanted from life and include “banksia leaves” and “lemon gum leaves” set within red and black squares and blocking.

Her “Renovation Quilts” include inscribed moulding, a mounted and embellished shutoff valve and “checkerboards” of door facings, old square nails, blue tacks and metal grids.

In “Flower,” a red, floral, old, old trace of wallpaper seeps through like a memory.

Such recall is integral to both Reeves’ and Lau’s work — not just to the finished product, but also within their constituent parts, which are steeped in their own history.

And those histories — framed, formatted, twisted and aligned — do speak, they do tell.

“Witness” continues at the Craft Council Gallery at Devon House in St. John’s until March 6.

“SHHH!”, by Stephanie Barry, runs concurrently in the Annex Gallery.

Organizations: Craft Council Gallery, Devon House

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