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Anastasia Jaffray on A Feminist Arcadian Landscape
15 November, 2023
[Joyce], you already are a great woman [architect].
In her reframing of Canadian artist Joyce Wieland’s work, feminist historian, and artist Cynthia Hammond challenges prior biography-based interpretations of Wieland’s oeuvre with analyses of four creative works: three paintings, read as self-portraits, and Beaver Lodge, the artist’s former studio and house at 497 Queen St. East, Toronto.
Distinct from critics writing in previous decades, Hammond neither flattens Wieland’s work into a facsimile of her biological and romantic history, nor discredits the artist for her experimentation with media. Rather, she explores themes cited by Wieland: interspecies vitality, the feminist concept of ‘becoming,’ Katherine Mansfield’s conceptualization of Arcadia, and experimental landscape painting. Twenty-eight years prior, the two artists met during Wieland’s exhibition at the McMaster University Art Gallery. Speaking of Hammond’s artistic ambitions and work with feminist themes, Wieland remarked, ‘Cynthia, you already are a great woman artist.’ Through her autobiographical approach, Hammond connects herself to Wieland’s ecosystem, becoming, as in Wieland’s paintings, inseparable from the landscape of Canadian women artists.
The chosen artworks depict abstract figurative representations of women undertaking creative acts, rendered as integral to their environments. Wieland’s expanded definition of a landscape encompasses the women as well as their artistic tools, and the surrounding plants, animals, and natural phenomena. Space and the body, in Wieland’s hands, are both plastic. In both her self-portraits and her work at Beaver Lodge, Wieland practiced self-identification through matter. By extending Wieland’s body of work to include the interiors, landscape, and architectural work she choreographed at Beaver Lodge, Hammond ties the spatial history of the building to Wieland’s creative acts – again, the artist is inseparable from her environment. For Hammond, Wieland’s home and studio is a space of creative possibility and complexity, where the garden and interiors have been morphed into a hybrid of artwork and architecture, just as Wieland rendered her figures into human – non-human abstractions.
Today, a blue oval plaque left of the front door announces, ‘The artist and filmmaker Joyce Wieland … worked and lived here …’, yet Hammond relied on a real estate agent’s 3D tour to identify existing evidence that Wieland directly shaped an architecture for herself and other women artists to support further creation. While the phrase ‘Et in Arcadia Ego’ (‘Here in Arcadia, I am too’) remains carved into the dining room shelving, Wieland’s studio was converted to a primary bedroom and retains little of its original character. Mobilizing historian Abigail Van Slyck’s reading of library interiors as disappearing material evidence of women’s activities in public spaces, how does Beaver Lodge now reflect Joyce Wieland’s complex history, once her studio has been removed? Hammond’s argument for Beaver Lodge as a total work of art compels women writing architecture to search for sites that bear evidence of women artists asserting their spatial agency.