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Softcore sets out to challenge notions about the body

Arts centre gallery exhibit described as confrontational and playful.
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Long Arm of the Universal Law by Rebecca Manias is part of the Softcore exhibit by North Node Collective, featuring works by Courtney Holmes, Katie Newman, Heather Von Steinhagen and Manias. It is on display in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre until January 29. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

In a new exhibit, textiles and threads are stitched together into sculptures meant to confront preconceived notions and play with ideas around the body.

“Softcore” is a soft sculpture exhibit created by Courtney Holmes, Heather Von Steinhagen, Katie Newman and Rebecca Manias known together as North Node Collective. It’s showing at the Yukon Arts Centre.

“An important part of the process I found was to face and go headfirst into some ideas that made me uncomfortable,” Newman said.

“Because, for me, personally, I think that’s an important part of art-making — to challenge yourself in terms of, how do you get your messages out?”

Manias says the fabric sculptures of long limbs and eyes with eyelashes stretching to the floor and ceiling she created are a comment on the beauty standards heaped upon people who identify as women.

“I think it’s more confrontational, the work, and it can be seen as confrontational. We’ve had a lot of people find it to be playful. And I think that’s where we’re coming from. We’re trying to be playful with really difficult issues, essentially,” Manias said.

Orange Utility Gloves by Katie Newman is part of the Softcore exhibit by North Node Collective, featuring works by Courtney Holmes, Katie Newman, Heather Von Steinhagen and Manias. It is on display in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre until January 29. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)
Orange Utility Gloves by Katie Newman is part of the Softcore exhibit by North Node Collective, featuring works by Courtney Holmes, Katie Newman, Heather Von Steinhagen and Manias. It is on display in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre until January 29. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

“We tend to try to avoid these things that make us uncomfortable, but being uncomfortable, it’s such a big part of our lives, like everyone’s lives,” Newman added.

Newman said the choice of working in soft sculpture with many pieces in the exhibit sewn or stitched together from textiles or other objects goes along with a trend she sees in the art of highlighting things like sewing and handcrafts that are sometimes seen as “women’s work” and not taken seriously in the context of fine art.

“I think that was kind of one of the reasons that I think we were all kind of drawn to, to engaging with those kinds of materials,” she said.

Manias stressed that many artists over the past 100 years have made serious attempts to reclaim the importance of soft sculpture and work in textiles but along with working in that tradition there was also a lot of fun to be had.

“I keep probably going back to this but it’s supposed to be fun and light but also really good at tackling and dealing with some really serious issues that we all face,” she said.

“It’s like, such a fun play on this idea of bodies soft, we’re made of soft tissues. You know, let’s use that as a jumping off point.”

Newman spoke about some her pieces in the exhibit that radically repurposed pieces of clothing. One was a pair of bright orange rubber gloves that she fitted with impractically-placed zippers and the other was a pair of men’s swimming shorts, complete with tools for waxing surfboards and opening beer bottles, that she made into a pointed witch’s hat.

“It was interesting to me, the idea of taking something that’s designed as being a totally utilitarian item, like rubber gloves, that’s literally supposed to be thrown away when you’re done with it, and try to make it ornate and kind of really no longer useful as a garment,” Newman said.

She said the hat was a play on the trials by water once used on supposed witches.

The Softcore exhibit by North Node Collective, featuring works by Courtney Holmes, Katie Newman, Heather Von Steinhagen and Manias is on display in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre until January 29. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)
The Softcore exhibit by North Node Collective, featuring works by Courtney Holmes, Katie Newman, Heather Von Steinhagen and Manias is on display in the Yukon Energy Community Gallery at the Yukon Arts Centre until January 29. (Mike Thomas/Yukon Arts Centre)

Newman and Manias spoke highly of the work that Holmes and Von Steinhagen contributed to the exhibition and its shared themes.

“One of the pieces has a pill bottle, and then inside, she’s like needle felted pills into the bottle, which I thought was really, really rad,” Manias said of one of Von Steinhagen pieces.

Manias said one of Holmes’ pieces that is sure to catch the eye in the gallery at the Arts Centre is fabric spun around a free-form blanket stitch to create a 14 to 16 foot long piece suspended from the ceiling.

“It’s a type of a stitch that’s often used to sort of fix two pieces of fabric together. You see it all the time and things like you know, wool mittens and stuff like that. It’s just a very ubiquitous, very popular way to sew, Courtney has made this frame of a blanket stitch that’s really framing nothing. It’s just the stitch itself.”

The pieces that went into the exhibition were largely worked on separately with the four members of North Node Collective exchanging ideas and offering input on each others’ work.

“I think it was hard with the pandemic to work on a large scale collaborative piece. And I think that that’s something that we are definitely doing in the next iteration or another exhibition or another set of work that we produce, but there’s definitely going to be something else,” Manias said.

Softcore will be showing the in the Yukon Arts Centre gallery until Jan. 28.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com



Jim Elliot

About the Author: Jim Elliot

I’m a B.C. transplant here in Whitehorse at The News telling stories about the Yukon's people, environment, and culture.
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