Exhibitionists·In Residence

Is this the work of the Illuminati? Lizard people? Our latest Exhibitionist in Residence?

Choose your own conspiracy theory. There's a secret hidden in these GIFs by Meg Dearlove.

Choose your own conspiracy theory. There's a secret hidden in these GIFs by Meg Dearlove

Toronto-based illustrator Meg Dearlove is this week's Exhibitionist in Residence. (Courtesy of the artist)

When you meet Meg Dearlove on this week's episode of CBC Arts: Exhibitionists, the Toronto-based illustrator will give you a brief peek inside her home studio, showing off shelves that have been artfully crammed with old comic books, cutesy vintage kitsch, mason jars full of pom-poms...you get the idea.

Minimalism? Donald Judd can keep it. Dearlove's a collector, and a few of her favourite things cameo in the series of GIFs appearing on this week's episode, pastel-coloured illustrations of an alternate dimension where some sort of mystery is taking place. "I like to use things that are kind of around my space and give them a new life," she explains — but it's up to you to imagine why they're there.

So what are you looking at?

Says Dearlove: "You'll see repeated imagery that refers to a secret society I've kind of created."

Secret society?

"I guess it's supposed to be similar to a secret cult," she hints. (Any more detail and it wouldn't be a secret, right?) And inside these ordinary scenes, she's planted evidence of their existence. If you look closely, you'll notice repeating images and patterns in all of the GIFs: pyramids, matches, a smiling tiger. Follow the clues, and spin your own conspiracy theory.

Choose your own adventure

All those motifs? "They kind of work together to tell a story," she says. But it's a story with no fixed plot. The GIFs aren't meant to be viewed in a specific order, but the objects take on a "different life" from scene to scene, she says. See that severed foot in the garden GIF? It pops up again in the illustration with the cat clock. "It's a very small object on the shelf," she says. "It was supposed to be like a souvenir from visiting that location, for instance."

The origins of the series

The GIFs came out of a collaborative project Dearlove worked on last year. Involving fellow artists Heidi Berton, Owen Marshall and Ben O'Neill, it was organized by 4Panel for a comic arts festival in London, Ont., called Tingfest. (As for 4Panel, it's an online comics community where contributors create stories told in, you guessed it, four panels.)

So the mystery of Dearlove's "secret society" is actually even more complicated than what she's shared with us here. For every "strip" in the project, each of the four artists would submit one illustration featuring the same set of mystery symbols.

What's next for her?

Dearlove says she will be back at Tingfest again this April, this time as a featured artist, and she'll be unveiling a new exhibition of paintings as part of the event. (Details TBD.) In the meantime, find more of her work on her website and Instagram.

Check out the GIFs.

Stream CBC Arts: Exhibitionists or catch it on CBC Television, Friday nights at 11:30 p.m. (midnight NT) and Sundays at 3:30 p.m. (4 NT).