Woebegone: Pets and The Darkness of the Human Psyche

I probably walk by the Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects gallery on a daily basis. I peer into the window from time to time, but I've never actually went in. Until yesterday. After a delightful brunch at The Sparrow, my friend and I walked past and saw through the window a neat little collection of magnifying glasses hanging on the wall. With curious looks on our faces, my friend and I watched the people inside choose a magnifying glass and walk up to the tiniest paintings I've ever seen. Not being able to resist, we HAD to see what the scoop was.

Inside, Dana Holst, an Edmonton based painter, is showing an exhibit called Woebegone. At first glance it seems like a cute idea, paintings of pets on tiny Victorian piano keys surrounded by green mohair and mini paper flowers all pinned to the wall. Upon closer inspection (with nifty magnifying glass of course!), I realized that it's not quite as "cute" as I had hoped. In fact, it's really rather disturbing. What I saw was 80 miniature oil paintings entitled "Momento" that depict portraits of tortured family pets--dogs, cats, bunnies, rats, and I think I even saw a goose. Some of the poor poochies and kitties had missing ears, broken limbs and the saddest eyes I've ever seen.


As I walked around with my magnifying glass, I honestly started feeling sick to my stomach, especially after coming upon a binder filled with reports from various Humane Societies stating exactly what happened to each and every pet hanging on the walls. The first page I flipped to had a gruesome story of indecent sexual acts and torture which I care not to delve into further but my friend and I continued to read on in complete horror which lead to the inevitable question, "What is WRONG with people???" I think the thing that hits home the most is that each miniature piano key is labeled with a number and the pet's name so that you can reference back to the binder to see exactly which pet is the one that was burned, tortured and/or killed.

Despite my disgust and feelings of nausea, we continued upstairs where large canvas paintings were hung and not surprisingly contained the same kind of theme. The exhibition title piece, "Woebegone", is a painting near the front corner showing two brothers caught in the act of luring a neighbour's cat into a noose. Across from that painting is another that shows a young girl in bunny ears about to be attacked by three greyhound dogs all with boxed and bloody ears. 15 feet wide, the diptych "Going, Going, Gone" is a meer $12 000. Regardless of the fact that it is quite an interesting piece, I'm not sure I know anyone who would willingly hang something that disturbing to view on an everyday basis...but to each their own.

This isn't an exhibit for the faint of heart, but it is a creative look into the human psyche to see the kinds of darkness some people have inside. Just make sure you pick the right magnifying glass because as a little girl who couldn't have been more than 8 told me, "the little one is hard"...so choose a big one, you'll want to get a good look.

November 3-25, 2006
Katharine Mulherin Contemporary Art Projects
1086 Queen Street West
Toronto, ON M6J 1H8

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