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Spirit Matter, Centre d'art et de diffusion CLARK, Montreal, Quebec, 2020

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«Spirit Matter»: l'amie des bêtes, Delgado, Jérôme, Critique Arts visuels, Le Devoir, 25 janvier 2020 >

SPIRIT MATTER

A flywheel of dualities —Spirit/Matter - Body/Soul - Breath/Death—Bonnie Baxter’s Spirit Matter asks you to pause for a sensory-based proposal. Divergent mediums and technologies tug at our primal responses: a looming rat/man figure flooded with de-naturing light pushes against a wall—pricking at our phobias like the smell of a hospital. Passage through a small portal brings you to a 360° continuum of great loping wolfhounds—embodiments of body, coursing in endless circles. Their desire for life is like ouroboros: inevitable, compelling, frightening, joyous. Above, chimeric angels hover—an aurora of synapses firing. Together the elements form both an intoxicating diorama of Gaia and an artist’s rendering of the cerebrum.

Baxter has featured her companion wolfhounds as icons and transformative figures in most of her para-autobiographical series. Their short life cycles, from birth to death, have enacted the “eternal return” in her cyclical re-formations. In Spirit Matter they enact this infinite circle of existence.

“Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviours.”
- The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness (July 7, 2012)

Our capacity for empathy is not unique and, by extension, neither is the indefinable quality we refer to as “spirit.” We turned “human” into an adjective that bestows almost limitless value and consequently devalues all others by definition. It was used to justify colonialism, slavery, servitude and sexism, and continues to serve as the justification for our abuse and neglect of our fellow creatures and, consequently, the planet itself. This exhibition feels like a eulogy and a challenge to our self-designation as “sapiens.”

As a society we are becoming disconnected from others, our heads in the clouds. Baxter’s art has always been good at asking questions, giving us space to hear our own thoughts. Images, layered thick, provide many points of access, many possible meanings. It’s your journey she’s concerned with, as much as her own. This installation wraps around you, lets you enter a perspective grounded in physical reality—fur, sinew, muscle and grass—while giving you access to something transcendent. We’ve been inducing spiritual experiences to expand our understanding of ourselves and our place within the universe for as long as we’ve been drawing pictures. We’ve been doing it because “spirit” matters. It is what keeps us responsible to ourselves and others. Baxter raises her voice in a growing chorus of artist/climate-activists striving to awaken a response to the sublimated and crippling fears of the climate crisis. Through divergent narrative strains she creates a mythic landscape, an immersive, experiential continuation of her dystopian RatKind series, a singular vision giving shape to the experience of belief: faith that life, all kinds of life, have meaning in themselves.

- Christine Unger