Kathryn Walter

4 November 1999 - 18 December 1999
Opening Reception 4 November 1999 8pm

Back Gallery:


The sound loop – a repetitive machine noise – sets the scene immediately: industrial-age workshop or micro-factory. Those familiar with Kathryn Walter’s work will recall she has made various projects on development sites that are also sites of demolition. In these locations, the contradictory conditions of production/destruction form a backdrop. In Mercer Union, the impending collapse is temporal rather than architectural – it is one of the gallery’s last shows before the turn of the millennium.

Now and then, the artist appears in the gallery and can be regarded as a performative element amongst other materials. She works at a table, assembling “kits” that include felt insoles. The felt was donated; the web from which the insoles were die-cut lies in a heap nearby. It suggests felt works by Robert Morris. The felt itself evokes Joseph Beuys, whose artworks and performances are associated with his personal account of rescue by tribesmen who wrapped him in that thick warm fabric. There are handmade candles, supplies to make them from, and strips of reflective ribbon to wrap the insoles and candles together into each “kit”. All these items have a glimmer, however faint, of usefulness in an emergency.

Impending millennial celebrations are forecast on a film projection of fireworks. Over the course of the show this explosive film loop is eroded by dust and emulsion scratches, so it comes to display both triumph and breakdown. Nearby, shelving is divided into the sizes S-M-L. From this display, viewers are urged to pick up a “provision” which, on the surface, seems free. Actually, these end-of-the-world souvenirs are embedded with a reciprocal obligation to consider issues of production and nationalism. As people move through the space, the supply of kits is depleted in a production and consumption countdown.

Kathryn Walter’s performative gift-factory or assembly line (or is it a gift-wrapping station?) participates in a history of artist multiple-making that stretches from the 1970’s mail art to current zine culture giveaways, where ‘craftsmanship’ is forsaken in favour of photocopiers and micro-assembly-line production methods. Viewers who take time to show up during this busy festive season fraught with its anxieties of technological apocalypse, are rewarded with a gift (while supplies last), a consolation prize or loot bag for an end-of-millennium birthday party.

At the millennium’s terminal moment, the coherence between art and Canadian nationalism, is compromised, even as the theme recurs in local spasms of millennial culture on which to be capitalized. Kathryn Walter’s “kits” send up a certain tourist-trap fatalism. Her “provisions” are fully loaded with the warm fuzzy felt of Canadiana. Armed with this Y2K survival kit, we will march to the end in warm felt insoles, clutching a handmade birthday candle and a little strip of reflector ribbon to no doubt make us visible when the chariots thunder down into our eternal darkness of doomed technology.

– Judith Doyle

Kathryn Walter is a visual artist who works with a variety of media, sites and forms of presentation to study the intersections between visual art and social history. She has shown her work in galleries and other public sites in Canada, and participated in International Symposia in Czech Republic and Finland. She has lived and worked in Vancouver and Montreal and is now based in Toronto. She is currently curating FELT, an exhibition at the Museum for Textiles, and will be exhibiting her installation, Fool’s Gold, at the University of Toronto, Scarborough College in February, 2000.