The Pink Rider has come to Montreal. She parks her horse on the Birks Building and surveys the city. And she is not alone. Compost Girl dances above the rhubarb and does a sort of astral projection, bringing the natural beauty of the country to bear on the city where people do not compost enough. It sounds like the setup for an eco-superhero movie, but these figures actually belong to a series of works by print artist Bernice Sorge.
The exhibit Where is Here? The Urban Trace marks the culmination of a month-long residency program sponsored by the English-Language Arts Network that aims to build links between Montreal and artists in the Eastern Townships. Having spent more than two decades in what Sorge terms “the green zone” of Dunham, Québec, she has focused most of her artistic efforts on printmaking and creating plates out of the plants she finds near her home. Leaves figure prominently and represent the tympanums “through which we breathe and perhaps through which we hear the celestial symphony, in the rustling of the leaves,” says the artist’s statement.
Now take a woman who communes artistically with nature and put her in the city. What changes? For one, her gathering methods. Sorge is used to walking outside and collecting the natural refuse that’s lying around to use in her work, but she quickly realized that the garbage in the city is far too dirty for that. Not only did this give rise to Compost Girl ready to right our rubbish wrongs, but it also caused Sorge to forage for images of the city that she could digitally imprint on. The colourful Urban Trace pictures are the result. The artist explored new techniques in digital manipulation to create layers of meaning that assert a natural presence onto the manufactured landscape.
Sorge manages to retain her printmaking aesthetic while using digital techniques. Familiar nature patterns embellished with bright colours are superimposed onto the brick and mortar town while the shadow figures transform into a new kind of force, transcending their role as mere shadows in the Body and Soil photos (save for the black and white Body and Soil #4 Alchemical where the shadow and rhubarb leaves merge and come across as a body outline at a crime scene).
The Pink Rider can also be seen in some copper etchings that are on display. This symbol has been part of Sorge’s artistic lexicon ever since encountering Kadinsky’s Blue Rider during a trip in 2008 to Munich, Germany. Whereas Kadinsky’s horseman is a symbol of revolution in modern art, Sorge’s figure is dedicated to those “who don’t have a voice, who fear to speak or fear to create with what is inside them.” Sometimes positioned with the rider’s head facing in the opposite direction of the horse, the Pink Rider embodies the tension between action and inaction.
It’s clear that the artist’s comfort zone lies outside the city limits, but her engagement with the metropolis has produced the more complex and vibrant works in her show. It may not serve as a compelling reason to move, but it offers good motivation to step outside of one’s accustomed boundaries every now and then.
Where is Here? The Urban Trace runs until June 26 at the Visual Voice Art Gallery, 372 Ste-Catherine West, #421. For more information see www.visualvoicegallery.com.