Objects of Care, Objects of Dread

Mia Feuer, who was born in Winnipeg and is now based in Washington, D.C., makes large objects that combine the personal and the political in uncompromising ways. Her sculptures are attempts to build bridges between separated spaces, whether what divides them is physical, familial, cultural or economic. In Stress Cone, she made a piece that addressed the difficulty she and her father were having in communicating. Her father was an electrician, and on one of her trips back to Winnipeg, Feuer took pictures of an electrical power grid and got her father to explain how it worked. “It was my attempt to speak his language in terms he would understand.” Her dissection and reassembly ended up speaking a language that was both emotional and formal.

In Collapse she made a tribute piece to the Arlington Bridge, a structure that was originally built in England to cross the Nile but when it didn’t fit, it was purchased by Winnipeg at a discount price and installed over the CP rail yard. “I loved that bridge as a child, and I decided to make the piece as if all the parts had disassembled themselves and were trying to fly across the world to get to the Nile. I hadn’t yet visited Egypt and I had exoticized it as this Biblical place.”

The Middle East has been a preoccupation of both her life and art for six years now. She was in Egypt when Mubarak’s government was overthrown, and before going to graduate school she lived in the West Bank for six months, “doing sculpture workshops with kids, collecting garbage in markets and building puppet theatres. It was unbelievable. The education there was a lot more thorough than the one I got in Hebrew school.”

She has made powerful pieces out of her engagement with Israel, Palestine and Egypt. Her most recent project is one that reverses the flight from Egypt back to North America. “After I had watched oil tankers moving in and out of the Suez Canal, I started reading about the tar sands in Canada and here in Washington, D.C. I’m hearing about the Keystone Pipeline and the controversy surrounding energy.” She arranged to visit the reclamation sites in the tar sands project around Fort McMurray and what she saw was “the scariest shit I’ve ever seen in my life. They filled this giant crater up with this contaminated material left over from the oil extraction, and it’s so toxic that seedlings won’t grow there. For some reason they figured out they would grow wheat but the wheat is not doing well because all these field mice moved in, and so to deal with the field mice they went and got dead birch trees which they install with the roots sticking up into the air. Then these giant black ravens circle over and perch on these dead, upside down trees, and off in the distance you see the refineries and the flames coming out of the smokestacks. I couldn’t believe I was looking at this. How do you not make art after that?”

So far she has done drawings that are based on photographs of the refineries and the trees. “I need to draw a little bit first, before I start sculpting. It loosens me up and helps me figure out what’s going on in my head.” She intends to build a sculpture that will have “600 fabricated birds swarming out of the back of a weird truck. But you know, even when I’m drawing pictures about the tar sands, I’m still thinking about Palestine and Cairo. I’m trying to sew all these moments together and then rip them apart. I don’t have any answers. All I can do is make things.”

Above images: (Left) Mia Feuer, *fort mcmurry study 4, 2012, watercolour on ink paper, 12 x 9”. (Left centre) Evacuation Route with Rubies, 2010, styrofoam, latex paint, illuminated automotive tail lights, 14 x 7 x 8’. (Right centre) The Cairo Tower Collapses, A Fishing Boat in Alexandria is Constructed, 2011, styrofoam, latex paint, upholstery foam, fibreglass-reinforced plaster, powdered tire rubber, shellac, indigo powder from market in Cairo, water from the Nile, 12 x 6 x 7’. (Right) Stress Cone, 2011, sytrofoam, latex paint, 500 cast foam-rubber leaches, approximately 600’ square. Installation view at Conner Contemporary Art gogo art projects, Washington, D.C. All images courtesy the artist and Conner Contemporary *gogo art projects, Washington, D.C.

See also: Art Pages