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Now at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre: symbionts of capitalist ruin and Strength & Fragility

symbionts of capitalist ruin and Strength & Fragility remain on display at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre until Aug. 18
Artists Gwenyth Chao and Marney-Rose Edge opened their respective shows at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre on June 22.

Sunshine Coast debuts by two Vancouver-based artists resulted in a symbiosis of sculptures and paintings about vital habitats. 

Gwenyth Chao, who shapes three-dimensional assemblage out of compostable biomass, opened her show symbionts of capitalist ruin alongside Marney-Rose Edge’s charcoal-and-wax renderings of bird nests, Strength & Fragility, during a public reception at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre on June 22. 

“I’m very fascinated by the eagle’s minds when they’re scavenging,” said Chao, who made a site visit to the Sechelt landfill where she collected plastic detritus collected by birds and ingestible biomaterial like bean husks and eggshells. The resulting artworks, as in Avialamycotagracileria 2nd generation in situ, 2024-2024, combine the residue of human manufacture and the transformative elements of organic compost. 

The works possess an otherworldly beauty. In osteo-remains, 2024, eggshells, tea leaves and bird-pecked bones form a twisted root-like structure that writhes and reaches around a vacuous core. In another sculpture beets, garlic peels and synthetic netting take on the mein of seaborne flotsam cast up by the sea. 

The relationship between the sculptures — including a mound of loose earth borrowed from the grounds of the Arts Centre itself, and destined for return when the exhibition ends — evokes a world busy about the process of decomposition and recomposition, and littered with the residue of capitalism. 

Chao’s body of work is enthusiastically cross-disciplinary; she adapts techniques from 3D printing and pastry cake decorating to fashion the long tendrils of vegetable cellulose festooned around the gallery’s wooden columns. The Latinate titles she applies are products of her own imagination. “They’re all made-up words,” she said. “I like the slippage between the power dynamic inherent in [subverting] names from the scientific community, over, say, Indigenous names that have been in use for many years. I’m imagining these [works] emerging after our climate emergency. I’m intentionally mixing them up and poking fun.” 

The bird nests depicted by Marney-Rose Edge — using powdered charcoal and cold wax — tangle with similar materials, knit into seductive geometric patterns drawn from first-hand observation, photographs or video. The New Zealand-born artist began painting nests a decade ago, originally with acrylic paint.  

Donated nests are now scattered around her studio, ready for her to tease out their distinct characters in oversize black-and-white images. Among the works on display at the Arts Centre, Resilient shows three eggs surrounded by tight-woven thatch. Coastal Getaway is a side profile of a nest that seems to hover in mid-air. In The Minimalist, a sparse triangle of twigs loosely braces two eggs. 

“It makes you wonder how [newborn birds] survive so well,” Edge said. “They’re very good at camouflaging their nest with foliage and nature.”  

Edge built a garden outside her studio to attract birds, allowing her to study nests under construction. “I love the aesthetic of being monochromatic,” she said. “Even though I paint in watercolours and oils and colour, these have a strength. The minimalism is stronger with empty, negative space.” 

Minimalism applies to her creative process, too. “There is no drawing before I start,” Edge added. “I just launch into it, leaping off a cliff every single time.” 

symbionts of capitalist ruin and Strength & Fragility remain on display at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre until Aug. 18.