As you look closer, you notice some­thing is darkly off

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - ALI­SON GILL­MOR

WHAT IT IS: A poster from Sto­ry­time, a col­lab­o­ra­tive text and im­age in­stal­la­tion by Win­nipeg-based writer and per­for­mance artist Glen John­son and visual artist and film­maker Les­lie Sup­net.

WHAT IT MEANS: Now on view at Gallery 1C03 at the Univer­sity of Win­nipeg, the in­stal­la­tion repli­cates a read­ing area in an el­e­men­tary school li­brary, circa 1972. (There is also a subur­ban liv­ing room, com­plete with brown plaid couch, to frame “story time” per­for­mances by John­son and videos an­i­mated by Sup­net and writ­ten by John­son.)

The li­brary is re­con­structed with me­thod­i­cal de­tail, right down to the kid-sized in­sti­tu­tional chairs and low tables. The sto­ry­books all have hard li­brary bind­ings, call num­bers and old-fash­ioned due-date cards. Inside, one page of text by John­son is paired with one draw­ing by Sup­net. At first, the gen­tle ca­dences of the words and the soft, wist­ful sweet­ness of the il­lus­tra­tions seem to re­pro­duce kids’ books. But look more closely and you re­al­ize that some­thing is darkly, hi­lar­i­ously off.

“Read Lots” re­sem­bles the mo­ti­va­tional posters of­ten seen in schools, with a slightly caus­tic edge. The pic­ture, of a rather cross-look­ing bear in an arm­chair read­ing Win­nie-the-Pooh, is taken from Sup­net and John­son’s odd lit­tle comic story, “The Bear Who De­spised A.A. Milne.”

“The Milne per­son she felt had slan­dered bears and given hu­mans a very false idea who they were,” the bear com­plains in John­son’s text. “That fel­low she had mauled last week, for in­stance. Stand­ing in the woods with his cam­era and his jar of honey. What

Art his­to­rian Ali­son Gill­mor looks be­neath the sur­face of news­wor­thy art was he think­ing?”

“She un­der­stood the con­cept of fic­tion and even the spe­cific con­cern’s of chil­dren’s lit... but thought these sto­ries were so far­fetched that they were ac­tu­ally dam­ag­ing. But re­ally the bear just hated an­thro­po­mor­phis­ing. So she hired a lawyer and sued.”

John­son’s end­ing is ironic, of course, since a hy­per­crit­i­cal, liti­gious bear is ar­guably even more an­thro­po­mor­phised than a honey-lov­ing “bear of very lit­tle brain.” John­son’s funny, para­dox­i­cal prose is matched by Sup­net’s ge­nius for con­vey­ing melan­choly in­tro­spec­tion and trans­fer­ring these qual­i­ties to an­i­mals in sub­tle and de­lib­er­ately un­der­stated im­ages. (In the artists’ col­lab­o­ra­tive cre­ative process, some­times John­son’s story comes first and is il­lus­trated by Sup­net’s im­age, and some­times Sup­net’s pic­ture in­spires John­son’s words.)

WHY IT MAT­TERS: Sup­net and John­son’s work seems to ref­er­ence the mul­ti­ple lev­els of our city’s very own icon, Win­nie-the-Pooh. Pooh Bear started life as a wild crea­ture, be­came an army mas­cot (and re­ally, that can’t be a good idea), then a zoo an­i­mal, then a charm­ing fic­tional char­ac­ter, and fi­nally a trade­marked, red-sweatered Dis­ney car­toon bear.

With their dis­con­tented bear in an up­hol­stered arm­chair, John­son and Sup­net take a sly comic look at the univer­sal hu­man urge to an­thro­po­mor­phise, whether that is man­i­fested in com­plex world mytholo­gies, cheer­ful chil­dren’s sto­ries, or just In­ter­net side­lines in pi­ano-play­ing cats and dogs with hats.

But they also call up se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tions that come out of the col­li­sion of the hu­man and nat­u­ral worlds. (Take the dis­tress­ing news story of Makoon, the or­phaned bear cub re­leased back into the wild, or in­ci­dents of bears be­ing shot when de­creas­ing habi­tats and in­creas­ing ha­bit­u­a­tion to hu­mans bring them close to cot­tages and towns.)

The poster from

Sto­ry­time, a col­lab­o­ra­tive text and im­age in­stal­la­tion by Win­nipeg-based

writer Glen John­son and visual artist Les­lie Sup­net.

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