Experiencing Catherine Miller’s exhibition at the Confed Centre
by Judy Gaudet
I stand and imagine I’m inside the glass case, among the green fronds as they fall in soft curtains, softer fragments, shot with silk threads, lit with glass beads. It’s a wall of seaweed, the colours and textures lovely. There are four glass cases. In the next, an opposite world—a wall of cement blocks covered in assorted fabrics. In the third there are a row of fabric sculptures of potato plants, some doing well, some with their leaves rather blighted. The reason is in the root, where some plants produce families, houses, and others taps running with polluted water, embroidered money, dead fish. In the last case there’s an abandoned house, knit from cotton thread, like an abandoned fish net lost at sea, or houses in the country where the families have joined the urban exodus. It’s a sensuous world Catherine Miller creates, colours and textures from cotton, wool, silk, organza, wire, threads and beads. But also a pointed one—where the viewer must consider both the beauty of the Island landscape and some of the dangerous effects people may have on it.
These experiences are part of the display of fabric art in Catherine Miller’s exhibit Changing Environs presently on at the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown. If you come in through the Richmond Street entrance you will first see these four large display cases in the lobby, then continue into the downstairs gallery. Here my eye is drawn to the beautiful fabric art scenes on the right wall, that seem to offer sheer pleasure. I suppose you can go round the room in any order. But I save those for last. To the left there are more things to think about, the sun setting on a corner store and rural post office, a dried river bed, a house roof inundated in the ocean, a series of six lighthouses, three standing and three fallen. The message here is clear: change is loss, may be threat, an island is vulnerable to economic pressures, environmental degradation, to global warming. I’d heard about the maps of the Island in various stages of drowning, but found them more moving than I’d expected; there’s a loveliness in the rusted nails woven into the white fabric to make the shapes of the land in various levels of ocean rising, one material finding its various possible equilibriums within the other.
In the middle of the floor, a strange other map of blue lace doilies and embroidered money draws a further social conclusion, as does the rowboat carrying the Island’s symbolic oak tree with its roots wrapped for transplanting, rescued in a kind of ark in the flood.
Last is the wall of beautiful fabric scenes. The thread painting in which the planted field, the house and stream and the golf course share the upper section, all contributing to and relying on the water table and the well in the bottom part of the picture, reiterates the theme of warning. But I study the other two fabric paintings—the vivid trunks of a forest opening onto the shore, red cliffs holding their position against the calm and deep blue ocean. Sunlit, beautiful, rich. They remind me of what we still have, our Island, vulnerable, yes, and yet so full of wonder still, and worth our love and care.