Cynthia Short

6 April 1982 - 24 April 1982
Opening Reception 6 April 1982 8pm

West Gallery:


Cynthia Short is an artist working in Toronto. For the last several years she has been working on small sculptures using materials such as wax, soil, and paper mache.

“I try to make things that have a quality of something remembered or recognized. I hope that my images grow from a place that we all have inside” — Cynthia Short, on her work.

Cynthia Short
Joan Borsa
Vanguard, March 1983

Upon entering the gallery we see a grey horse and a grey person. represented in enough detail that there is no mistaking what they are. Except for these objects the room is empty. A horse and a person together is a familiar sight for most of us. But there is something odd about this horse and person. They look out of place, lost or abandoned. There is a tension to their association–a sense of unwritten correspondence, unspoken dialogue in the space between them. We know they “go together”, a union of sorts. Knowing something about other relationships between animals and humans (horse and person) we attempt to insert dialogue in the space provided (the distance between them). We are at a loss for an appropriate text and begin to look more closely for clues to the nature/state of their relationship.

The objects are life-size and are made out of a soft porous-like substance (papier maché and paper mash over an armature), which at first glance reads “sculpture material” and on second reading suggests ”other world.” The softness of the surface implies a fragility or vulnerability. The objects do not have the sense of permanency (solidity/longevity) associated with some sculpture materials (stone, metal, wood) but instead appear to have a natural attrition period. In this way, the objects seem to possess a human frailty . . . or is it an animal frailty?

The horse is saddled and stands with stirrups in position, ready to be mounted. It is not obvious whether this is a gelding or a mare, but from the title of the exhibition, Lightmare, it can be deduced that this is a mare. The horse is wearing blinders.

The person (a female nude), whose back is turned to the horse and to the entranceway, appears to be engaged in some activity. Once we are parallel to the figure we see that she is holding a metal object resembling a pastry cutter except that it is all metal and has a flat solid bottom. This “tool” also looks like a currycomb minus the rows of metallic teeth. Draped over the other hand is a cloth reminiscent perhaps of a falconer’s glove but more like a glove puppet (mouth open, as if speaking . . . “from the horse’s mouth?”). The horse looks slightly anxious, is holding its head alert in the direction of the person. Here our observation ends and speculation begins.

Is the horse in its state of blindness dependent on the person and waiting somewhat anxiously for her to initiate some action? Is this a domesticated beast, who trusts and serves this person? Control seems to be in the hands of the female –she holds a rather threatening metal object. But control is quickly reversed when we examine the saddle. Inserted rather discretely in the seat of the saddle is a disturbing metal section. It looks and feels like the coarse side of a vegetable grater (the missing rows of teeth from the currycomb?). Perhaps these are equals after all. A person without clothes is as vulnerable as an animal. They are both grey and of the same substance. Each poses a physical threat through their metal weapons. Perhaps they are enemies, both armed to prevent domination by the other. . . or ”friends” sharing the experience of control/domination. Maybe they are alike (human-animal counter parts) and, their external (physical) appearance is simply a disguise. The familiar (a horse and a person) becomes alien as our cognitive knowledge of the situation is displaced by elements we have a sense of but cannot fully comprehend. Recognition begins to function on the level of the subjective experience of the objects, transvaluing the nature of the object. The unarticulated consciousness of the horse and the person are present but not decipherable.

Although we know the objects physically stand before us, they are mental images (the artist’s) and exist with or without the physical representation. The objects/images are of this physical world but are also images of objects from some “other” world. This other world may be another place such as the moon or another galaxy or it may be our own private world of inarticulate mental images.

Cynthia Short’s images seem to stem from mythology and allegory. This tendency is also apparent in her earlier works Mules (1980) and Moon Crazers (1981), were comprised of smaller scale groupings of odd little animals resembling distorted versions of a donkey or mule. These earlier works have the same mysterious sense of time and place, have a similar vulnerability but are slightly more whimsical. The animals are group members with little individuality, apparently resigned to their sameness. The horse and person, in comparison, convey uncertainty, anticipation and tension. They are seen more as polarities than members of the same group.

This is a seductive piece charged with sexual fantasy …. notions of love and lust and the self-devouring nature of almost everything. The work is contained within the notion of opposition/polarization. Even their grey appearance hints at this association. The colour grey is composed of white (good) and black (evil). Grey is used metaphorically to suggest every thing has an opposite or contrasting side.

In one of her essays, Susan Sontag said, ”to tell the truth is to tell both sides of it… to successfully do this you must try to show how complicated things are.” This is what Cynthia Short does in Lightmare.