Rosemary Kowalsky (1920 – 2006) was a prolific Manitoba artist whose exploration of the fragility of life overlapped with her passion for gardening. This exhibition brings together Kowalsky’s work from multiple collections throughout Manitoba. Most active in the 1980s and 90s, Kowalsky inscribed a deep memory of violence into her practice, often suggesting that it was a reflection of her personal experience at the front during World War II. In her painting and installation, she strived to create a language that spoke to the conditions of fragility and trauma without glorifying or portraying violence. Through the use of repeated images of flowers and garden tools, juxtaposed against often jarring titles, Kowalsky created an iconography for these concepts that can be located within the familiar realm often associated with women’s work, while stating that dark histories are often located in the most innocuous spaces.
Lateral Symmetry brings together four Manitoba women artists whose practices respond to Kowalsky’s work, focusing on the blurred boundaries between nature (whether wild or cultivated) and its human inhabitants. At the core of these artists’ practices is a focus on processes that foreground the inevitability of decay and the porous boundaries between natural and human domains. In some works, such as Tracy Peters’ Shed project and Elvira Finnigan’s Saltwatch experiments, objects and sites have undergone guided transformation that has been temporarily stalled for the exhibition. The artists’ attempts at controlling these natural and chemical processes are always met with their essentially unpredictable nature, such as in Basma Kavanagh’s colony of miniature pots that both suggest and are built to host living things. Meanwhile, Sarah Ciurysek’s towering photograph of layered earth situates the viewer underground, bringing to the fore the simultaneously disorienting and grounding depth of the soil beneath us.