Artist brings na­ture’s whimsy to WAG

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Ali­son Mayes

MANY artists have ap­proached the Win­nipeg Art Gallery with pro­pos­als to tem­po­rar­ily liven up its stark ex­te­rior fa­cade. Most of them don’t get far with ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Stephen Bo­rys, who re­gards the build­ing as an ar­chi­tec­tural trea­sure and be­lieves the vi­sion of ar­chi­tect Gus­tavo da Roza should al­ways be re­spected.

But when lo­cal pain­ter and print­maker Ewa Tar­sia in­vited Bo­rys to visit her back­yard gar­den last sum­mer, he was amazed by the won­drous liv­ing art­works she had nur­tured and sculpted there.

“Her gar­den is right out of a fairy tale,” Bo­rys says. “It was trans­for­ma­tive. I thought, ‘Can we trans­port this to the WAG?’ “She’s de­light­ful. She won me over.” Now some of the magic of Tar­sia’s gar­den has taken root in her just-opened in­stal­la­tion Green… Grass… Dot…, on view for the rest of the sum­mer. It’s the first WAG ex­hi­bi­tion for the Pol­ish­born Tar­sia, who has be­come a re­spected fig­ure on the art scene since em­i­grat­ing to Win­nipeg in 1991.

The na­ture-lov­ing blond artist has play­fully in­stalled 13 liv­ing grass hemi­spheres on the stone ramp at the front of the build­ing. She’s got vol­un­teers lined up to trim the shaggy sod.

She has also draped the mas­sive stone fa­cade with about 700 hand­made green spheres of dif­fer­ent sizes, some made of liv­ing moss and some of re­cy­clable plas­tic. They’re strung on fish­ing line and when the wind blows, they skit­ter across the static wall.

“This is a col­lab­o­ra­tion with na­ture,” says Tar­sia, 52. “They’re danc­ing.”

The ar­dent en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist, com­poster and chem­i­cal-free gar­dener says smil­ing Win­nipeg­gers con­stantly in­ter­acted with her while she was in­stalling the sur­pris­ing splotches of plant life.

They said things like, “Oh, how won­der­ful! How beau­ti­ful!” Some even yelled their en­thu­si­asm from pass­ing cars.

Green… Grass… Dot… con­sists of six in­door and out­door works. Each is in­spired by an as­pect of the WAG’s ar­chi­tec­ture. Some in­cor­po­rate re­cy­cled ma­te­ri­als, such as cut-up plas­tic bot­tles. They’re all in­tended to in­ter­act with the build­ing and cel­e­brate as­pects of na­ture that make ur­ban life “liv­able and breath­able.”

“I love this space — don’t get me wrong,” says Tar­sia while stand­ing on the WAG’s pent­house level. “But I think the ar­chi­tect doesn’t love na­ture so much.”

Be­sides the fo­liage hemi­spheres and dots (some of the lat­ter also hang on the east wall of the rooftop plaza), Tar­sia has cre­ated a light-catch­ing mo­bile called Syn­thetic For­est that hangs in Eckhardt Hall; a glass-bead piece called Clear­wa­ter and Al­gae sus­pended un­der a sky­light on the By Ewa Tar­sia Win­nipeg Art Gallery To Sept. 15 gallery level (a re­sponse to al­gae growth in Lake Win­nipeg); an assem­bly of 17 vi­brant ab­stract paint­ings on the pent­house level called From My Night Gar­den; and a col­lec­tion of round glass ter­rar­i­ums that ap­pear to float serenely in the rooftop pool.

The 65 ter­rar­i­ums, which Tar­sia calls “lit­tle paradise gar­dens,” echo the glass globe light fix­tures above the WAG’s main en­trance. They con­tain about 40 plant species.

Over­all, Tar­sia de­scribes Green… Grass… Dot… as “my homage to the tenac­ity of na­ture, which may be down­trod­den, yet still has the power to dazzle and en­chant us.”

The lo­cal firm 5468796 Ar­chi­tec­ture Inc. col­lab­o­rated on the project. It has worked with Tar­sia be­fore, no­tably on Sunspot, a warm­ing hut for the river skat­ing trail that was also a kind of dot — an orange sphere.

Sasa Radulovic, a part­ner at 5468796, de­scribes Tar­sia’s gar­den on Ea­gle­mere Drive in North Kil­do­nan as “a hy­brid be­tween the shire from Lord of the Rings and Where the Wild Things Are.”

Green… Grass… Dot…, he says, con­trasts the weighty per­ma­nence of the WAG with the im­per­ma­nence and fragility of liv­ing things. The show in­vites the pub­lic to en­gage in a new way with a struc­ture that some re­gard as a “cold ice­berg.”

“Ar­chi­tects all love it, but the pub­lic is hes­i­tant to love it,” he says.

Tar­sia ad­mits to be­ing ob­sessed with dots. Even the el­lipses in the show’s ti­tle are dots, she says.

She had a show called Un­ti­tled Dot at Martha Street Stu­dio in 2007, one called Ab­so­lute Dot at the North Dakota Mu­seum of Art in 2008, and one called iDot at the Buh­ler Gallery the same year.

Her paint­ings are made up of mil­lions of in­di­vid­u­ally daubed-on dots, as well as larger cir­cles. “The idea of dots haunts me,” she says.

She’s not sure ex­actly why, but knows it’s a kind of ele­men­tal shape from na­ture, found in ev­ery­thing from rain­drops to the moon.

She is so pro­lific that more than 40 of her dot paint­ings are avail­able for sale or rental at the WAG’s Gallery Shop un­til Aug. 21.

Tar­sia says her life in Europe was in “huge, claus­tro­pho­bic, over­pop­u­lated cities” such as Gdansk and Vi­enna. When she and her cab­i­net­maker hus­band, Lud­wik, de­cided to start a new life, it was a photo of a wide-open Man­i­toba land­scape — noth­ing else — that told her to choose Win­nipeg over Toronto or Van­cou­ver.

“I saw a pic­ture of the Spirit Sands desert (in Spruce Woods Pro­vin­cial Park) in a mag­a­zine,” she says. “I al­ways be­lieve in my in­stincts.”

BORIS MINKEVICH / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Artist Ewa Tar­sia ad­justs a float­ing ter­rar­ium that’s part of her sum­mer-long in­stal­la­tion Green… Grass… Dot… at the WAG.

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