No piece at Dark Days is the product of a sound mind.
Chemical imbalance, however slight or overt, colours every performance, photograph and installation at the exhibition, gradually giving the viewer the feeling that they have entered a nightmarish garage sale.
An amorphous jumble of chicken wire, two-by-fours and faded sheets are haphazardly nailed together against a wall, resembling the deranged weekend creation of a gang of caffeinated eight-year-olds.
“It’s pretty demented,” said photographer and Dark Days contributor Tommy Aird.
The viewers enter the “fort” by crawling through a cardboard refrigerator box laid on its side, and soon find themselves in a warm cocoon of earth-toned sheets and tacky retro furniture.
The theme is hibernation, explains longtime Yukon artist Joseph Tisiga, basking in his sprawling fort.
“In winter you create this cozy-esque den, and then reside in it somewhat,” he said.
Heaps of assorted refuse are strewn about the fort, awaiting a spot in Tisiga’s building whimsy. A one-person tent composed of wool sweaters and blankets by Douglas Drake adds to the show’s “cozy” motif.
Nearby, felt cocoons hang from a dead tree branch. Below them are a smattering of inviting felt vessels decorated in bright floral colours.
Staying true to the Dark Days theme, all of the felt creations were conceived – like so many Yukoners – long after the sun had set, said artist Jessica Vellenga.
“Most of them are about watching the sky, the awaiting of light between dusk and dawn,” she said.
Complex tapestries of bright colours stand against pitch-dark backgrounds in a series of digital images by Jon Gelinas. These resemble mathematically correct northern lights.
“People digested the theme in different ways, lifting out of the dark, how they feel about the dark, embracing the dark,” said photographer Morgan Whibley.
“It’s funny, a lot of people took (the Dark Days theme) for something warm and cozy,” he said.
Behind him, unearthly – yet lovable – wool owls bask in an freakish cage made of twisted copper wire.
Whibley’s “absurdly dark” contribution stands in sharp contrast to the lovable, fuzzy art it neighbours.
“All the dark, all the cold, all the frustrations of an entire winter saved up for one emotional explosion,” said Whibley.
Three self-portraits occupy the frame, each one a disturbed hybrid of layered facial expressions.
Sitting alone in a darkened studio illuminated only by a single lightbulb, Whibley slowly drained himself of optimism by focusing on the “accumulated aggravations” of a Yukon winter.
Capturing his facial expressions by manual camera, he then melded the negatives together in the darkroom, forming mutated emotional composites.
“Some feel like they’re embracing craziness, some feel like they’re exploding with rage, but all three are on the darkest end of the scale,” said Whibley.
Escapism is a favourite hobby of any winter-bound Yukoner, often taking the form of a dependence on DVD films.
The Yukon’s addiction to moving pictures is explored with Fabienne Tessier’s phenakistoscope, a rudimentary machine that creates the illusion of movement through images spun on a disc.
Mounted on a blackened lamp base looted from a burned-out house, the phenakistoscope displays an eerie image of a deeply depressed woman waving a hand in front of her face, instantly transforming her sallow expression into a rosy smile.
In the winter, wearing a mask, however false, is sometimes the best way to cope, said Tessier.
“People always ask you, ‘Oh, how are you?’ and you always say ‘good’ without thinking about it, maybe because people don’t want to know how we really are,” she said.
Makeup sits next to the machine, allowing viewers to falsify their own sallow winter visages.
With scribbled pages hanging from a clothesline strung between a retro kitchen table and a wooden coat rack, poet Michael Reynolds has tried to place his winter art psyche on display.
The bizarre installation represents Outage, Reynold’s newest poem about characters who gradually move into a dreamlike realm after being plunged into blackness by a power outage.
Each suspended page (some are computer printouts, some are haphazardly penned notes) details the evolution of Reynold’s writing process.
“It’s hard for audiences to get a poem in one reading Ã‰ this gives them some sort of way to begin to access the work before they hear it,” he said.
For an exhibition devoted to the dead of winter, Dark Days ultimately creates a surprisingly chipper atmosphere.
“If we all had some really dark, cynical piece, you’d kind of have to wonder what we’re doing here,” said Aird.
Dark Days runs from Wednesday until Friday at the Old Fire Hall. Performance shows on Thursday and Friday starting at 8 p.m. Admission is $5.
Contact Tristin Hopper at firstname.lastname@example.org