The Fine Art of Mucking About: Eleanor Bond

The exhibition with which Eleanor Bond opened the new space at Winnipeg’s Plug In ICA (from November, 2010 to January, 2011) seemed a shock. In place of the brilliant adaptations of buildings and urban spaces that had established her deserved reputation as one of the country’s most distinguished painters was a body of work that marked a dramatic shift away from the social and architectural and towards the personal and the figurative. The title of the exhibition, “Mountain of Shame,” was a fairly clear indication of the personal nature of the work. In a collection of paintings, sculptures and drawings, Bond courageously mapped out a kind of emotional topography, in which the vulnerabilities of doubt, age and loss weren’t so much deployed on the surface of her various media, as they became those very surfaces.

It is not entirely accurate to say that Bond has left behind the research she had been conducting into architecture and urbanism. One of the finest paintings in the exhibition, Happy Town, was a painterly excavation and reconstruction of the city of Hamilton, which Bond recognizes as a city with a downtown core similar to Winnipeg’s. At a walkaround talk she gave at Plug In surrounded by her art, she said the painting “was a way of mapping a number of things; a sense of entropy, of degradation, a failed modernist promise.”

While she can point out the various strata and characteristics of Hamilton in the painting, the lake bottom, the colours of the downtown brick, the Escarpment and the Plateau, she is equally interested in visual pleasure. Titles have always been important to Bond and the naming connects to a spirit of vitality she chooses to recognize in the city’s shadow of decline. Happy Town was a slightly cheeky reference to a storefront that was outside the window where she was having an exhibition. “It was a nail salon called Happy Nails and it was a very beautiful, vibrant, edgy, exciting kind of signage. I wanted the painting to be a gift and also to reference the way that we sometimes use humour to look at the abject and speak about those things that are difficult to speak about.”

“Mountain of Shame” is full of those brave and honest articulations, whether it assumes the posture of *Grievous Objec**t*, a tall, thin tributary sculpture to a friend who passed away, or takes the form of a *Dark Cloud of Indecision* or the chaos of a “mucking about painting,” called *Fear of Living Too Long.*

No less evident is her departure from the way she used to make art. “I was on sabbatical and so I had a chance to start playing with paint and when I did, paint’s inner landscape started coming out. I was squeezing it out of the tube and building things in a more sculptural way.” A sense of the tangible and the visceral is apparent throughout the exhibition. “I found it very liberating to start imagining the personal architecture that I carry around and what happens when you put it outside yourself and look at it in a different way.” “Mountain of Shame” is the myriad measure of that different way of looking.

Volume 30, Number 1: Production

This article originally appeared in Border Crossings #117, published March 2011.

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