BY LAURIE SNELL
The room is dim and the only bit of light comes from glimmering glass and small spotlights on twisted clay.
WAR: Light Within/After The Darkness at the Clay and Glass Gallery is a celebratory exhibit of survival and the spirit of resistance to war, that aims to transport the visitor to a time of little hope and blatant disregard for human life.
With eight Canadian contemporary artists involved in the exhibit, each has a personal connection to one of the greatest tragedies of our modern history – the Holocaust – and a stunning ability to create pieces of art with clay and glass with beautiful articulation.
Revealing the damage that war, genocide and hate do to nature, a handful of trees sit uprooted, surrounding a shadowed fence while one patch of grass sneaks between the scorched earth – representing the many people who fled the war and hid in forests.
Footprints that turn to ash as you walk along a pathway that enters a large chamber, are a reminder of the gas chambers and how many were forced to take that ill-fated route.
And as you look up, a transparent Star of David sparkles as the outdoor light falls on it – a sign of pride and a target of hate during the war.
These are just a few of the scenes at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery that explore the darkness of the period.
The exhibit, which began in September 2013, has been extended to March 16, 2014 because it has been so well received. It has had visitors from all parts of the country, young and old. Public affairs manager William Hlowatzki said even a few survivors have toured the exhibit.
“There were a couple artists that were contacted by Christian to create something specific for the exhibition and it did have to have sort of a clay and glass background to it,” Hlowatzki said.
But crafting WAR: Light Within/After the Darkness was not an easy task. Sparked by the family history of co-ordinator and curator Christian Bernard Singer, the exhibit is a reflection of stories handed down from his grandmother about his great-grandmother’s experiences.
In his foreword to the exhibit, the curator explains, “they are the stories about love and privation, told through a lens of naivety and innocence … The history, and the stories about the letters that came from Europe begging for help to escape, provide the basis of inspiration for this exhibit.”
Assistant director Katherine Ronzio explained, “We have had all kinds of exhibits … we usually stick to a theme and find artists to create pieces to go with the theme the curator decides on.”
Ronzio also added that the artists involved are generally Canadian, but they have had work from Europe and the U.S. “I don’t think it’s all that difficult to find clay and glass artists,” she said, adding that they hold clay and glass crafting classes at the gallery for beginners and intermediates as well.
While some artists, such as Claire Weissman Wilks, are better known for their drawings, many were not afraid to take chances and try something new. With swirls of clay bodies wrapped around glass vases and intricately placed, Weissman Wilks took on the unusual task of using unfired clay to create pieces of art.
“Because they’re not fired, it makes them that much more delicate,” Hlowatzki said.
But each piece, like all art, is open to interpretation.
A scene in the centre of the exhibit depicts a torn apart living space, with laundry everywhere and glass shattered. It packs a greater punch when you hear the cause and desire for ambiguous interpretation by the artist.
“What Mary McKenzie did was – her husband’s family were Dutch – and of course during the war that whole area was bombed heavily by the Nazis. So what she did was tried to find clothing and things of that era. Her process was to take those pieces and put them in slip – slip is watered down clay. So you take the material, dip it in and you let it dry. And you dip it in again until you get a really good build up. Then she puts it in the kiln and all the fibre gets burnt away and you’re left with these pieces, so they are really delicate shadows of what they really were,” Hlowatzki said.
And the artist won’t answer whether or not the fictional family fled the scene, were taken, or even survived – it is all up to the visitor to decide.
Some of the other artists involved include Chari Cohen, Laura Donefer, Tina Poplawski and Helene Brunet-Neumann, who are all based in and around the Toronto area.
Most of the artists’ work is available for sale in the gift shop, employee Mariah Gomez said. “We have a really good relationship with the artists. There are a good amount of sales usually throughout the week and the artists get 65 per cent profit.”
“(The exhibit) is supposed to show the struggle. I think each of the artists was individually inspired to be involved,” Gomez said.
For more information, visit www.canadianclayandglass.ca or phone 519-746-1882.