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 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. My experience is such that the toe shoe is its own form of body torture 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 shoe – some kind of voodoo for healing both the animal and the dancer. The small wooden plaques display tufts and scraps of fur instead of the trophy head itself. Feminine vs. Masculine. Each and every one of these objects is some form of taxidermy. Made or found/distilled then displayed. It’s hard to see in the photographs, but there is a small bottle of never-used Obsession in a bell jar within a bell jar. Snake skins surround the bottle of perfume. The Landslide installation: there was a very 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 – another unplanned fractured landscape (as well as hell for me to produce while on display during business hours on a 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 a toothpick was a note to self (and later ignored). Fragments of ephemera in both installations are source materials for The Selves (2010, Drawn and Quarterly). Many of these materials were recycled once the strike was lifted.
Northern Lights, Ottawa Art Gallery, 2013 (Ola Wlusek, Curator)
(Photo Credits: David Barbour)
(Photos by the artists)