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Metal fashion, fossil history strip back layers at Gibsons Public Art Gallery

Fashion, a Complex Relationship and Strata on exhibit until March 10
Artists Linda Suffidy (left) and Tam Harrington meet at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery.

A pair of new exhibitions at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery invites visitors to peer through history using radically different perspectives. 

In Tam Harrington’s Fashion, a Complex Relationship, ornate garments fashioned from repurposed metal and plastics stand ready to adorn women from ancient Egypt, medieval Europe, and Havana night clubs.  

Within the colourful frames of Strata, arrayed in the Eve Smart Gallery, acrylic and glass shaped by Linda Suffidy depict the seductively grooved contours of deep time. 

Both artists met with members of the public during an opening reception on Feb. 17. Attendees stood among the mannequins adorned by Harrington, punctuating its parade of feminine power. Each piece by the Gibsons-based artist and educator is inspired by a period or woman who influenced her creative journey. 

“Clothing can be about progressive change or it can be about holding women back,” said Harrington. “That’s why so many of the things that have hoops are like cages, keeping the woman inside.” Harrington’s regalia for Queen Elizabeth I includes a hooped petticoat (known as a farthingale) that defines a boundary around the regent while pinpointing her as a centre of attention. Its high ruff collar is made from intricately joined strips of metal splayed from the neckline, simultaneously exalting and protecting. 

The association of Harrington’s wearable art with armour is unmistakable, whether in its three-dimensional realization or in her ink drawings accentuated by acrylic paint. The Ten Commandments Bra & Venus Flytrap Thong exudes seductive allure alloyed with adamantine brawn. 

Her assemblage Mur de Fluer evokes the practice that arose in 12th-century China for embroidering clothing with flowers and scenes of nature. But there are no shrinking violets in Harrington’s sculpture: leaves and petals are realized as gleaming flanges and tines. Her Bra for Breast Cancer Awareness is a barbed bandeau that in 2005 launched her reputation for metallic intimates including corsets, chastity belts and thongs. “Everybody was seeing [sadomasochism], and I was saying no: it’s armour,” recalled Harrington. “Our culture can look at something and have such divided responses.” 

Working in her studio, Harrington occasionally chuckles when adding subtle touches like the bas-relief skulls and a belt of gilt sand dollars in Amazon Warrior. Over nearly five decades working with rigid materials, she discovered that flexibility is key. “The works themselves evolve over time,” she explained, “and sometimes I rob Peter to put something on Paul.” 

Vancouver-based artist Linda Suffidy, in her first appearance on the Sunshine Coast, uses her textured acrylic works to depict a universe similarly in flux. In Lava Beach, concentric rings fashioned from clay emanate from regimented ranks of stones. Coral Strata is a fossil-like trail of undersea tendrils, at once an overgrown trilobite and an organic treasure map. 

“I think it’s all about observation,” said Suffidy, “and I’m particularly struck when I see things that make me look through the lens of time. When you see repeated elements in the composition, it [shows] a still moment yet it has animation ongoing. Each piece has an area of focus and that’s where transformation is generating from.” 

Suffidy incorporates acrylic fragments from her palette to ensure that no particle is wasted. “I’ll take all the scraps and make something new,” she said. “I see this as symbolic of our mark on the world. We have all these waste things, but they’re going to become part of the fossil layer.” Her two-panel work Aftershock suggests a geological cross-section with magma-tinted veins, the fervor of metamorphosis instantly petrified and preserved. 

Fashion, a Complex Relationship and Strata remain on display at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery until March 10.