April White has been named the 2017 recipient of the Cox & Palmer Pivotal Point Grant, valued at $5, 000. She was awarded the grant to create a new series called, I Didn’t Volunteer for This, while attending the Spark Box Studio Residency in Ontario, and the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture Residency in the Yukon.
Based in St. John’s, White is an interdisciplinary artist known for work that finds wonder in moments that might otherwise feel unremarkable, and investigates our relationship to our own bodies.
I Didn’t Volunteer for This examines involuntary bodily actions like sneezing, yawning, laughing, and crying through performance, drawing, watercolour, and watercolour animation. The series will build on White’s 2016 solo exhibition at The Rooms Provincial Art Gallery, A Day in the Life Of, as well as a watercolour series called Sneeze that she has been working on over the course of the past year.
For A Day in the Life Of, White documented an average day in her life by taking notes, making videos, and sketching. She used that material to create a show that included watercolour paintings of intimate, everyday moments like waking up with the cat curled on her chest and brushing her teeth.
The show also featured a journal, flipped open to show a hand-written entry and an animation of White getting out of bed and hauling on her pants. The show pays meticulous attention to moments that usually blur by and don’t get acknowledged in an account of one’s day.
“After making the waking up animation I thought what if I try a yawn?” White said. “I was thinking of things that happen to you in a day that everyone experiences, these involuntary actions where your body just takes over and you don’t get to control what happens next. They’re typically very fleeting moments that no one notices – but they are reminders of the body we inhabit.”
White’s Sneeze is a series of watercolour self-portraits that depict various stages of sneezing. Like A Day in the Life Of, it’s about elevating the mundane and exploring what it means to make a moment of vulnerability public, but Sneeze zeros in even more tightly on a very particular action.
White explained that part of what inspired her to make portraits of herself sneezing was an interest in challenging the historical representation of women. By painting herself in a moment of lost composure, White troubles a history of women being treated as beautiful objects in art.
“For me to take something like a sneeze, record it, and capture what each micro-expression looks like frame by frame, I’m exposing so much of myself and hoping to delve into questions about what’s unflattering and why,” White said.
I Didn’t Volunteer for This will also deal with bodily vulnerability and loss of composure. White has just begun her research for the project, and is working her way through a stack of library books with titles like An Essay on Laughter and A Brief History of the Smile.
She’s thrilled to have won the Pivotal Point Grant because it means she’ll be able to really focus on making the new work during her upcoming artist residencies. She’s also excited to have the opportunity to visit other parts of Canada, meet other artists, and share her work with them.