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Nancy Edell: Spriacle II 1998
Spiracle II 1998
Nancy Edell worked as a printmaker and film animator in Western Canada. before settling in Nova Scotia in 1980. Influenced by the traditional folk practice of Nova Scotian rug hooking, she adapted the art form for her own use. This aligned her with feminist artists of the time who were incorporating folk and craft elements into their fine art practices. Edell often incorporated autobiographical details into her dream-like compositions, whose lively designs belie the laboriousness of her process.
She treated her move to Nova Scotia in 1980 as a fresh start, and began to explore traditional Nova Scotian mat hooking techniques as a means of making images. In Blomidon Cow, she incorporated the view from her window of the well-known Nova Scotian landmark, Cape Blomidon. Edell would continue to incorporate autobiographical details into her dream-like compositions, whose lively designs belie the laboriousness of her process.
Mat hooking signified a profound departure in her work, aligning her with feminist artists of the time who were incorporating folk and craft elements into their fine art practices. It was a choice that established a gender position from which she developed the feminist utopia depicted in her Art Nuns series. With its scenes of a community of celibate, women artists devoted to the creation and exploration of art, the Art Nuns series illustrates Edellís shift to a woman-centered vision. The diligent Art Nuns inhabit a parallel universe which challenges the modernist rejection of narrative, description, subject matter and drama. Throughout this shift in media, Edell continued to draw and make prints, producing mixed-media works such as Assyrian Visitation.
In the 1990s her hooked-rug works grew beyond the familiar format of the enclosed border which was typical of her earlier work. Carved and painted plywood frames, and frames created from found, everyday material such as Astroturf, protruded from her hooked images, in shapes reminiscent of wings, or flames. Work such as Spiracle II illustrate the move from sequenced, cinematic narratives which are generally read from left to right, to a more densely structured pictorial space in which all the motifs appear to float. Edellís final body of work has been described as cataclysmic and urgent, depicting pathological processes, micro-organisms and systems of medicine and biology ó a response to the terminal cancer that would eventually take her life.
Spiracle is the name of orifices present in animals such as fish, spiders and insects that usually lead to the respiratory systems. Edellís choice of title suggests the borderline between the interior and exterior of a body, which is metaphorically repeated in the composition. Depicting scenes both above and beneath the surface of a landscape, Spiracle II presents a shift from Edellís earlier sequenced narratives to a more densely structured pictorial space in which motifs appear to float. The above-ground scene is dominated by a flying insect and a vessel. Below it is an underworld containing chimera-like creatures, among them a flesh-coloured larva with human legs.
Nancy Edell taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design from 1982 until 2002, and was a visiting professor at numerous institutions throughout Canada. She exhibited extensively in Canada and abroad. Her last major exhibitions include Dualities (Dalhousie University Art Gallery, 2003) and the retrospective at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (2004).
DJH and IJ from Beneath the Surface