A slow se­duc­tion, then — bam!

Diana Thor­n­ey­croft uses fas­ci­na­tion and shock to ex­plore in­clu­sive­ness

The Hamilton Spectator - - A & E - REGINA HAGGO

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

DOU­GLAS HAGGO

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.

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