Sonja Ahlers is a visual artist and poet from Victoria, British Columbia. An autodidact without formal training, she makes use of and has expanded upon the notion of the artist’s book as a way to challenge the often-closed system of the art gallery. Ahlers pushes the parameters of what an artist’s book might be, in both her published work and her book-inspired installations that fill entire rooms. Delicately fusing collage and text with a diary-like sincerity and contemporary social analysis through a feminist lens, Ahlers pioneers what could be called the ‘highbrow zine’, utilizing a style and voice developed in the North American west coast underground. With three published books and installations across Canada and internationally, she has honed the revolutionary DIY form into a mature and nuanced voice. (Photo Credit: Rosemary Scanlon)
These bodies of work were produced between the years 2009-2013 and is ongoing. Those years were spent between Whitehorse, Yukon and Toronto, Ontario. This back and forth travel between rural and urban place was completely unplanned and went on for several years thus informing the work.
The toe shoe collection began in Vancouver in 2006 and grew exponentially upon hitting pay dirt with the National Ballet’s discards*. From my experience, the toe shoe is its own form of body torture that is, in turn, used to perform an art form. All of the fur was rescued from the garbage of a Yukon tannery – lynx paws that have no commercial value or use, etc. The paws now live in the toe shoes – my own form of voodoo or folkway for healing both the animal and the dancer who once wore the shoe. These objects are made or found/distilled then displayed. It’s hard to see in the photographs, but there is a small bottle of Obsession surrounded by shed snake skins in a bell jar within a bell jar. For me, there is a certain power in displaying and arranging objects. I live in a space surrounded by shrines. They are tended to daily or weekly – dusted and re-organized, like any housekeeping. I’ve been doing this since I was a child as a way to make sense out of chaos. The small wooden plaques display tufts and scraps of fur instead of the trophy head itself – my version of feminine vs. masculine. My friend, the artist and healer Lisa Prentice, says that once art is displayed in the gallery, it becomes a type of taxidermy. The creative process and relationship with the artist that gave it life and form is no longer there to be seen.
Landslide: there was a long garbage strike that summer in Toronto. I took my recycling down to Magic Pony on Queen Street and built the installation in the window. It turned into a fractured landscape (as well as hell to produce while exposed in a large window on a very busy street). The folded book sculptures are constructed from VC Andrews’ books (garbage) and damaged copies of my own book, Fatal Distraction. A small red flag made from paper and a toothpick was a note to self (and later ignored). Fragments of ephemera in both installations are source materials for The Selves that was published in 2010 by Drawn + Quarterly. Many of these materials were recycled once the strike was lifted.
*many thanks to Grant Heaps.
Northern Lights, Ottawa Art Gallery, 2013 (Ola Wlusek, Curator)
(Photo Credits: David Barbour)
(Photos by the artists)