Exhibitionists·In Residence

Women gone wild! How one Toronto artist got back to nature

Watch eerie stop-motion animation by Winnie Truong. Inspired by the Scarborough Bluffs, her latest project is all about women and the wilderness.

Inspired by the Scarborough Bluffs, Winnie Truong's latest project is all about women and the wilderness

Winnie Truong. Lean Back, 2016. (www.winnietruong.com)

Beyond hanging with morbidly obese squirrels in the park, the options for "getting back to nature" aren't necessarily obvious when you live and work in the busiest part of downtown Toronto. But roughly 40 minutes out of the city you'll find the Scarborough Bluffs, a stretch of waterfront parkland that extends 15 kilometres along Lake Ontario.

Winnie Truong, this week's Exhibitionist in Residence, lived there in January and February last year as part of the Doris McCarthy Artist-in-Residence program, an experience that offered her a secluded studio space on a cliff above the water. "For two months, I took it as an excuse to become a hermit," says Truong, 28, who was born and raised in the city. "I allowed myself to be immersed in nature."

The result of her time there is her latest series Paper Cuts — a collection of paper collages that was shown at Toronto's Erin Stump Projects last spring. This Friday on Exhibitionists (airing at a special time this week), we'll be airing some of the videos that came out this series: stop-motion animation of hairy characters, or "wimmin creatures," as she calls them — mythical ladies who seem to be part human, part plant.

The spot where Truong lived and worked during the residency "is sort of right on the bluffs," she says, giving her views of the lake and a nearby ravine. "It was just a magical experience, and I was visited by deer and foxes and birds all the time, and even though it was the middle of winter, it was very sort of alive, present."

"This work all came about because I was working closer to nature than I would in my Toronto studio," she says, and just like her, the characters in her Paper Cuts series are women living by themselves in the wild. They're "navigating these weird environments," she says, and the series follows a loose narrative. "It's about women navigating alone in nature, and sort of playing out different tropes — from our relationships with our friends and other female family members." 

Snips of brambles and stalks — inspired by the dried vegetation around the studio — are tangled up in their hairy bodies. Or maybe they're actually growing out of them?

Whatever the answer, there's usually some major ambiguity going in in Truong's work. Since her student days at OCAD, she's become known for drawing hair — usually large-scale portraits in pencil crayon and pastels, where feminine waves and braids and curls threaten to grow right off the page, more alive than the person underneath. It leaves an impression that's both teen-dream beautiful and unsettling...especially if you grew up watching the Peanut Butter Solution.

Winnie Truong. Fulcrum, 2014. (www.winnietruong.com)
Winnie Truong. Fan Dance, 2015. (www.winnietruong.com)

"I've been working with hair for a long time because it's already imbued with so many different stories, like it's an indicator of your social standing, your gender, your subculture," says Truong.

"It's a natural part of our bodies. We all have it, we all deal with it in some sort of way and so that that's always been a fascination for me."

Even though the new series is a little less hairy than usual, she says she's still working through the same ideas with Paper Cuts. "It's about finding the liminality between what is beautiful, what is ugly, what is discomforting, what is familiar."

Take a look.

Visit Winnie Truong's website to find more of her work. Watch Exhibitionists online or at a special time this Friday at 12:30 a.m. (12 a.m. NT) on CBC Television.

Want to see your creations on CBC Arts? Just send us an e-mail! You could be an Exhibitionist in Residence this season.


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