by Anna Kovler

To say that a woman has “come undone” is to say she has lost her composure or self-control. In the group show Not Too High, Not That Low at Division Gallery Toronto, seven woman artists, with works that showcase their precise and deliberate handling of materials in innovative ways, exhibit anything but a loss of composure.

Eleanor King’s (She’s come) Undone (2018) crowns the exhibition with the word undone painted crisply across several wood panels and un-stretched canvas adhered to the wall. Incorporating the raw material into the finished work, the panels stand on the same cans of household paint that were used to paint the entire composition. Dried green and blue paint runs loosely down the sides of the cans in messy drips that contrast with the hard-edged, straight lines of the spelled-out word. In a single work, King brings together opposing elements: chance and control, support and artwork, raw material and finished work. This playful awareness of the physicality and history of art materials is echoed in many works in the exhibition.

Both Angela Teng and Tammi Campbell turn paint into a sculptural material, pushing the paint far beyond its normal mode of application. Teng creates yarn out of paint by squeezing it out of a tube before crocheting it into abstract compositions. Her work marries the quaint and domestic women’s craft of crocheting with the historically male-dominated sphere of hard-edge abstraction. In a similar process, Campbell turns paint into what looks like bubble wrap and tape, producing the uncanny illusion that the minimal compositions hanging on the gallery walls have not yet been unwrapped.

A paper tapestry by Myriam Dion also alludes to craft and traditional women’s work. She uses an X-Acto knife to cut thousands of tiny teardrop holes from newspaper pages, turning contemporary news into decorative motifs. In the centre of this large, intricate work, a unicorn lies dead on a red blanket below The New York Times logo, raising the question of whether this is a found image or a fictional scenario invented by the artist. A testament to Dion’s laborious and precise process, the tapestry references craft while relying on newspapers. There is the inevitable suggestion here that the news is also crafted, a fiction woven together like rugs and tapestries.

Hanging in a row, eight canvases from Wanda Koop’s Still (2017) series feature cascading colors resembling a sky at sunrise or sunset, with the canvases loosely representing the spaces between urban skyscrapers. Koop highlights the vertical edges of each painting, showing only a poetic sliver of the monumental buildings. As the eye bounces between centre and edge, trying to distinguish between foreground and background, we recognize the artist’s coy self-awareness as she manipulates our expectations and the optical possibilities of paint.

Like Cinderella’s lost slipper, Brittany Shepherd’s stray gloves lay on the gallery floor. Made of hardened polyurethane, the gloves can pass as belonging equally to a cleaning woman or to a glamorous woman. Whomever they belong to, they have been thrown off and left behind, along with the expectations attached to those identities. Bea Fremderman’s apple and pear sculptures recall either Sleeping Beauty’s poisoned apple or Eve’s original sin. Bites taken out of the fruits reveal their inside to be Styrofoam, enriching the biblical and fairytale allusions with contemporary questions of plastic waste and over-consumption.

Unafraid of evoking traditional crafts or well-worn narratives, the seven artists in this exhibition invert, challenge, and master the materials they chose and the histories told by those materials. The distinctions between craft and art, and between women’s and men’s work, may seem outdated now, and yet the work here shows them to still be in need of reconsideration, rebuttal, and celebration.

Not Too High Not That Low is on view at Division Toronto from January 23 – March 3, 2018.