A slow seduction, then — bam!
Diana Thorneycroft uses fascination and shock to explore inclusiveness
A herd of small horses are caught in the act of ascending a snowy ramp.
I’m peering at them through the gallery’s darkness when Diana Thorneycroft, the artist, comes up to me and says, “Bosch and Bruegel.”
She’s referring to a pair of 16th-century Netherlandish painters whose elaborate landscapes inhabited by humans and fantastical creatures fascinated and shocked viewers.
Thorneycroft, a well-established Winnipeg artist, has been creating and exhibiting for more than 25 years. She is showing three striking pieces at the Art Gallery of Burlington. The exhibition’s title, “Black Forest (dark waters),” is also the title for a series of photographs featuring figures from “The Village,” one of the two installations. The horses belong to “Herd,” the second installation.
Thorneycroft’s installations comprise natural and massproduced objects and materials. In “Herd,” more than 160 plastic horses fill a 12-metre-long ramp. The ones at the far end seem to go through the gallery wall. Thorneycroft creates this illusion by attaching the rear parts of their bodies to the wall.
The horses as a group seem united, all walking toward one goal without any human intervention. Some have fallen down. Some get knocked down. Thorneycroft kept stopping to fix things as we talked.
Each horse is distinctively different, a testament to their individuality and inclusiveness. Moreover, Thorneycroft exaggerates their differences. She covered some of the horses with fabric patches joined by black seams. One has a human hind leg.
Not content with merely covering the bodies, Thorneycroft began to bake and melt the plastic toys in her oven, radically altering their shapes.
Some horses are obviously disabled. A white horse with a dappled coat, for instance, walks with its back legs off the ground, supported by a two-wheeled device. It’s also a hybrid: one foreleg sports a claw. And that’s not all.
“The dapples on that horse are midges,” Thorneycroft explains. “On one side I glued dead ones on, one at a time, and the other side they were drawn.”
Thorneycroft says she chose horses because they are associat-
ed with power and beauty.
“Despite the profound strength in a horse, their limbs are incredibly vulnerable,” she tells me. “If a leg gets broken, they are normally put down.”
Thorneycroft says “Herd” was the earlier of the two installations. She started collecting plastic toy horses in 2013, a year after visiting Shenzhen, China. There the sight of disabled people having to perform for money broke her heart.
Thorneycroft leads me to “The Village.” From a distance, it looks as though she has recreated a cosy Christmas village. A variety of figures, buildings and vegetation fill the snowy landscape. Fir trees topped with sparkly snow stand near wooden structures, or grottoes, illuminated with miniature lights and inhabited by figures. A drum band prepares to play in the square. The scent of a forest lingers in the air.
But this isn’t Christmas. This is more like Bosch and Bruegel.
Five horses surround “Winter Dancing Feeding Station,” a wooden structure on stilts. The horses feed from intravenous tubes that link to horned creatures on an upper level. They are supported by strings like marionettes.
A hybrid with a G.I. Joe body and a long-eared animal head inhabits “Vagina Dentata Storage Facility,” another structure on stilts. The creature holds a staff in its left hand topped with a clitoris-like vessel. It drips fluid into a metal cup placed below it.
Thorneycroft says she goes for “a slow seduction, then — bam!”
Regina Haggo, art historian, public speaker, curator, YouTube video maker and former professor at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, teaches at the Dundas Valley School of Art. dhaggo@the spec.com
Diana Thorneycroft, Winter Dancing Feeding Station, mixed media, detail from The Village. Part of Black Forest (dark waters), her exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington.
Diana Thorneycroft, Herd, altered plastic horses. Part of Black Forest (dark waters), her exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington.
Diana Thorneycroft, detail of disabled horse from Herd, altered plastic toy. Part of Black Forest (dark waters), her exhibition at the Art Gallery of Burlington.