Beth Howe

11 January 2008 - 16 February 2008
Opening Reception 11 January 2008 8pm

Back Gallery:


Panel Discussion: January 31, 2008, 6:30 pm

In Environs Beth Howe presents large-scale landscape drawings depicting the areas a kilometer north, east, south, and west of the gallery. These site-specific drawings are stitched with thread into paper, and presented as scrolls, referencing the artist’s parallel practice as a producer of book works. The laborious use of thread highlights the banality of much of the subject matter. The viewer becomes distinctly aware of the effort required to stitch something as ubiquitous and innocuous as a recycling box or windshield wiper. It is precisely this non-extraordinary aspect of the everyday that interests Howe. She resists urge to turn the works into a critique of changing neighbourhoods, instead concentrating on the “insistently non-spectacular”.

In conjunction with both exhibitions, Mercer Union and the Koffler Gallery present Apocalypse – Now what? Art After Political Trauma on Thursday, January 31, 2008, 6:30 pm. Apocalypse – Now what?will discuss contemporary art created in cultures that are still transitioning from the experience of a traumatizing political system. Including Calin Mihailescu, Adrian Blackwell, Mario Di Paolantonio, Gerald McMaster and moderator Georgiana Uhlyarik, the panel will examine ways in which artistic production reflects and analyzes the difficult past and still uncertain present, striving to shape new directions.

On Sunday, February 3, from 11:30 am to 5 pm, there will be a free guided bus tour from Mercer Union to Blackwood Gallery, Koffler Gallery, Doris McCarthy Gallery and Justina M. Barnicke Gallery. Please call (905) 828-3789 to reserve a seat.

For more information, please visit www.mercerunion.org or contact us at info@mercerunion.org or 416.536.1519.

Mercer Union
37 Lisgar Street
(one block SW of Queen and Dovercourt)

Mercer Union gratefully acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council and the Toronto Arts Council.


Tiny Stitches: Environs by Beth Howe

Beth Howe creates quiet monuments. Her practice is rooted primarily in drawing, secondarily in book works. The confluence of these disciplines results in a unique approach to cataloguing the everyday. Howe seeks out the most mundane and archetypal of urban spaces and painstakingly renders them as spaces that resonate as a result of their familiarity. The rigour of her investigation of a chosen milieu is exhaustive, with chosen details highly articulated. Of immediate interest to any viewer is that she elects to draw her subjects in bookbinding thread. This thin strong thread, which resembles corn silk, is stitched into heavy paper in lieu of graphite, ink or charcoal. Close inspection of these stitches brings great reward, and the scope of her process is humbling. Howe first used this approach to drawing in more traditional book works. Her innovative use of the physical binding of the book to render the imagery contained within it led to further experimentation. Eventually the unique drawings took precedence and the book thread remained as a vestige of the book/image relationship.

The drawings in her most recent series, Environs at Mercer Union, are meaningful in the assuredness of each mark, each stitch. Reaching almost nine by four feet, the drawings take the form of scrolls. Medieval scrolls are incredibly labour-intensive works that serve as records to preserve the past for future generations. Howe’s works are meaningful because of the monastic patience she awards each drafted landscape, regardless of its banality. Coupled with Howe’s masterful markmaking and dedication to process, what completes the trifecta is Environs “Cagean” ancestry. Overwhelmed by the surplus of quotidian scenes in which to make her investigations, Howe decided to limit her options considerably. Impressed by John Cages’ formulaic use of the coin toss and games of chance to make prints and drawings, she located her quest for imagery by similar fashion . Each of the four drawings in Environs, depicts the scene exactly one kilometer due north, east, south, and west of the gallery site, Mercer Union. By imposing these limits on her choice of imagery the works become a site-specific exploration as opposed to merely artist renderings of the local neighbourhoods. Each site is easily accessible, and potentially familiar to a viewer. Subsequently her drawings serve as an homage, a chronicle, and an index of the landscape surrounding the gallery.

Howe alludes to the challenge in resisting the urge to focus on the more abject details of her final source locations. In the case of her northern destination, she was presented with an enticing disaster surrounding a collapsed garage, but it fell just beyond the site her formula had dealt her. She speaks of her final decision to stick with the plan:

It wasn’t honest, and the pull was that all too human, morbid curiosity for disaster. A rubbernecker’s fascination with catastrophe. Spectacle. This is not my interest. I am pursuing the insistently non-spectacular. The everyday.”

Here we see where the success of Howe’s work truly rests. For within these quiet monuments to the quotidian, everyday, and underappreciated spaces we inhabit, we are presented not with hyperbole, but with realist drama. Drama that doesn’t beg to be recorded and remembered, but one that should be preserved, just because. We are asked to be, as Dave Hickey writes, “okay with everyday life and beguiled by the tininess of it – and beguiled as well by the tininess and intimacy of artistic endeavors…”.

– Eric Mathew, 2007