Montreal-based visual artist Emily Jan’s exhibition The World is Bound by Secret Knots opens at Eastern Edge Gallery today.
The World is Bound by Secret Knots is composed of ten sculptural works, each representing a fantastical yet life-like creature. At first glance, many of the sculptures appear to incorporate taxidermy, but on closer inspection, all of the pieces are created from textiles and found objects.
The work was inspired by an artist residency Jan completed in the Peruvian Amazon in 2015. During her three weeks in a small village called Puerto Prados, she was struck by the overwhelming complexity of the ecosystems that surrounded her.
Jan writes, “…the web of life in the North is sparse but elegant, at Equatorial latitudes it is rhizomatic and impossibly tangled, an almost overwhelming cacophony of information for the natural historian and artist.”
Like many of the pieces in the exhibition, “Apologue I (The Anteater)” is a hybrid of plant and animal life. Its body is made of white felted wool that hangs shaggy on the back of its legs and tail mimicking fur of a real anteater, but a spray of white plastic tulips is arranged in its scraggly tail. The creature is extending a long, curved tongue that’s pink where it leaves the lips, but gradually fades to a root-like white and ends in a burst of green leaves.
All of the pieces are at least loosely based on real animals, and Jan carefully captures details like the hooked beak of a snail pike or the glistening sheen on an octopus tentacle, giving the creatures an uncanny verisimilitude. However, these realistic attributes are paired with otherworldly touches like the plastic tiger lilly tails of a pair of birds of paradise, giving the exhibition a dreamlike quality.
Jan says she comes from a family of scientists and thinks of herself as an amateur naturalist. However, in The World is Bound by Secret Knots she was interested in examining a truth about the teeming biodiversity of the Peruvian rainforest that was more experiential than scientifically accurate.
“There’s places [in the exhibition] where there’s actual biological veracity, but a lot of the work became about impressions. The mixing of plants and animals becomes more imaginary, but it’s about still trying to capture that feeling of being there,” Jan said.
Jan explained that the longer she worked on The World is Bound by Secret Knots, the less committed she felt to accurately depicting particular animals and the more devoted she became to capturing the feeling of grappling with the vastness of the biodiversity and the intricate ecosystems she was surrounded by on her trip.
“There’s only one type of fact, but there’s different types of truth in the world – there’s a lot of different layers of truth, there’s emotional truth and then there’s the actual scientific truth of things. As artists I think we get to operate with different kinds of truths,” Jan said.