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Mike // Portrait by Maren Kathleen Elliott

Edmonton artist’s solo exhibition goes digital due to COVID-19

Stringlism: Textures, Threads & Identity
By Maren Kathleen Elliott; digital exhibition; Thu., May 14 (5 p.m.) to Sun., May 17 (3 p.m.)

Edmonton artist Maren Kathleen Elliot’s solo exhibition, Stringlism, was supposed to open in May at the Edmonton Convention Centre, but the current pandemic put an end to the event—not only because of the ban on gatherings, but because Elliott was stuck in Ottawa where’d she been doing an artist residency at the Ottawa School of Arts. Despite the setback, she found a way for the show to go on. The exhibition will now proceed online with a 3D Gallery and performances throughout the weekend of May 15.

Elliott says organizing the event online has been a challenge, but an interesting one.

“Working in this way has forced us to … engage in different ways than we might have otherwise,” she says. 

With the exhibition forced to move online, Elliott and her collaborators came up with new ways to connect her portraits with the performances. 

“[Rhythm FX Collective] just gave their dancers photos of the work and said, ‘Can you improvise a response to that and talk a little bit about the story you imagine?’” she explains.

Her collaborators include the Rhythm FX Collective, Sweet Kula Yoga, Edmonton Dance Theatre and Ivan Touko—all of whom were originally supposed to perform in the exhibition space at the convention centre.

Elliott has danced for years and reached out to some of the dancers she knew to see if they would perform at the exhibition opening. Touko, who is teaching an Afro dance class, was an especially fitting guest, as Elliott met one of her subjects for Stringlism through one of his events.

Elliott says the dancers’ interpretation of her portraits is a level of integration that wouldn’t have happened had the show taken place as planned.

“And some of them are uncannily true about some of the subjects or our relationship,” she says, “which I thought was kind of wild.”

One of the biggest challenges for Elliott has been that many of the pieces for the show are in Edmonton, while she has six of them with her in Ottawa. Those six will be featured in the online gallery, while Elliott’s mom has helped get the pieces in Edmonton to Elliott’s collaborators so they can be used in filming performances.

In creating her portraits, Elliott layers black and white crochet threads on grey-painted masonite and then glazes it in place.

“I always have had a fascination with unconventional materials and what meaning can be brought to a piece of art just via the choice of materials that you use,” she says. 

Elliott adds that part of the inspiration for the works came from a figure drawing exercise where you leave your pen on the paper and keep it connected in one line as if it were a piece of yarn.

“That idea, I think, really appealed to me and I was like, “What would it be like if I did that actually with physical yarn?’” she says.

Her decision to do portraits came from her interest in people, and the subjects she’s captured are all people she knows, many of whom she met through working in the arts in Edmonton. Her mother is also one of the subjects.

Links to the weekend’s events will be made available through Eventbrite and Elliott’s website.

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