Montreal-based artist Vicky Sabourin is Eastern Edge’s Artist in Residence, she will be performing Warmblood at this year’s HOLDFAST Contemporary Arts Festival.

The piece combines installation and performance art to examine the liminal space between life and death.

Sabourin’s performance of Warmblood begins with her removing soccer ball-sized beach rocks from a life-size, felted horse’s belly. She considered creating organs to fill the horse’s stomach but decided on rocks because she liked that they were more open to interpretation. She also liked that the rocks felt like a reference to the fairy tale world of Little Red Riding Hood, who stuffs the evil wolf’s stomach with stones.

After lifting the stones out, Sabourin climbs inside the horse and lies so that only her legs are protruding from the horse’s belly. During the three-hour performance Sabourin crawls in and out of the horse again and again, finally replacing the stones and leaving the room.

Sabourin often shapes her work around a piece of narrative or overlapping narrative fragments. She built Warmblood on the story of a person who has to kill their horse and get inside it’s body to survive.

Her inspiration for the piece partly came from hearing that humans can have a deeper bond with horses than with any other animal. For her the richness of the relationship between humans and horses makes the act the piece is centered around the ultimate form of animal sacrifice.

In preparation for the piece, Sabourin volunteered at stables, to get a better understanding of the relationship between humans and horses, and to get a better sense of horses’ physicality. While she was working on the felted horse she was using her apartment as a studio. Living with the horse meant that she developed a special type of intimacy with the object.

“I made the horse right next to my bed, every morning I had to step over the horse’s head when I got up. As it was growing my cats were sleeping in and on the horse all the time. There was a strange kinship that built up as I was making the piece,” Sabourin said.

The horse is very life-like without being an exercise in reproduction. This is an example of how Sabourin likes to tip toe along the divide between real and imagined worlds in her work.

“There’s an interesting line where things are realistic enough that at a glance you might think it’s the real thing but as you get closer you can see all the details and materials that were used,” she said.

Sabourin says the horse in the show is a mare because the piece is about rebirth as well as death. When Sabourin emerges from the horse’s stomach it’s like the horse has just given birth to her, paradoxically when she enters the horse’s stomach her movement brings the animal to life.

“When the horse is lying flat she looks dead but when I crawl inside it’s like a bit of magic happens. It’s as though my movement and breath brings the animal back to life,” Sabourin said.

As Eastern Edge’s Artist in Residence Sabourin is currently using the gallery as an open studio where she is displaying two bodies of work; the completed Warmblood, and a multi-chapter work in progress called Becoming Invisible.

Along with a life-size, felted horse, visitors to the gallery will also notice sculpted barnacles and treasures scavenged from woods and beaches for Becoming Invisible.

Bits of Becoming Invisible are spread through out the gallery, like a lot of Sabourin’s work, it’s a mixed-media work that incorporates felting, found objects, and sculpture. On the day I visited, a tiny felted bird perched on a column in the center of the gallery and a ball of snarled twigs (called a witch’s broom) sat on a table, across from a lump of wet clay that was in the beginning stages of becoming a tree stump. People are welcome to drop by the gallery to see what Sabourin is working on and ask her about her practice.

HOLDFAST Contemporary Arts Festival (formerly the Art Marathon Festival) is running from August 10th -13th this year, with events happening throughout St. John’s. The annual festival is run by Eastern Edge Gallery who have programed four days of installations, performances, screenings, artist talks, dance, community events and artist-led workshops. In the interest of making contemporary art accessible, all of the festival’s regular events are free and many events are open to people of all ages.