Leather sculptures. // Dana Buzzee

Contribution to community—Calgary artist creates leather, BDSM-inspired sculptures

Witch Bitch Switch
By Dana Buzzee; Harcourt House Artist Run Centre; until Sat., Sept. 7.

Walking into Calgary artist Dana Buzzee’s Witch Bitch Switch exhibition kind of feels like walking into a posh BDSM store. Quality, black leather pieces—with plenty of metallic bits—are displayed against stark white walls. While it’s not immediately clear what position you might put someone into with them (or vice versa), there is something about the patterns of the bindings that feels familiar.

Buzzee’s artistic practice is rooted in fibre and textile techniques—knitting, they say, being the big one. But to create an earlier exhibition, which was inspired by a dream, Buzzee needed to learn leather smithing and found that there was an overlap.

“The construction of my sculptures, I think, took a lot of lessons from lace knitting,” they say.

For Witch Bitch Switch, Buzzee took inspiration from archived “community-based documents”—such as zines and books—from North American Pagan, LeatherDyke, and Sex-Positive Feminist communities.

“I do have a deep love of printed matter and community-generated printed matter and art, especially from communities that I identify with but that are from generations from before my own,” they say. “And I find a lot of meaning in using that as source material and considering it in the studio when I’m making work.”

Witch Bitch Switch includes both leather sculptures and photographs of the sculptures in use. // Dana Buzzee

Buzzee’s connection to this tangible evidence of community came about while they were growing up in a small town “before the internet was the internet that it is now.”

“Trying to find meaningful representations that sort of mirrored or reflected my identity back to me in an affirming way was kind of impossible, and so when I would get ahold of a zine or a book that really made me feel seen, it was such an important experience,” Buzzee says. “And I think that kind of honouring that process and that desire is what drives that sort of research in my practice now.”

Buzzee describes most of the shapes as “fairly abstracted” and explains that they have a love of forms and formalism—”which is maybe news to me a little bit.” They say this love came about with the discovery of post-minimalism and particularly the works of Eva Hesse.

“I really just found myself falling in love with sculpture. So a lot of the forms are sort of plays on the potential that smaller, wearable pieces have, and like a modular approach, and for me that really reflects the act of a stitch in lace knitting and the variations on that to form pattern or repetition.”

As for the larger web-looking pieces, Buzzee thinks there’s a pretty obvious reference to spiders, but they’re also based on BDSM furniture.

The larger webs also present more of a practical challenge, given some of them are quite large. Buzzee says their current studio is the biggest they’ve ever had, but still isn’t big enough for some of the pieces. A lot of Buzzee’s work is done on the floor and then they will try to hang them up so they can “get to know them and see where they need to be tweaked or adjusted.” 

The really big ones—like the 30-foot sculpture—had to be hung over two walls.

Photographs silkscreened on newsprint. // Dana Buzzee

Buzzee, who has a background in drawing, says they do some sketches in advance and will make notes on shapes they’ve had dreams about, but when it comes to actually making the forms, sometimes what they’ve dreamed isn’t possible.

“So it’ll take a different direction, or the actual way that it is realized is maybe a little bit more practical or needs to be adjusted,” they say.

The exhibition also includes a few photos of the sculptures in use. Buzzee asked people they knew to “activate the sculpture through self-directed performance” and then photographed them. The photos in the show are silkscreened on newsprint, which Buzzee explains is not only a nod to the printed matter that inspired the work, but their own contribution to that lineage.

Witch Bitch Switch is being shown alongside Riley Tenove’s Social Creatures. Read the interview with Tenove here.

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