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of a feather


20 January - 15 May


20 January
15 May

Curated by

Emily Falvey




Friday 19 January @ 7:00 pm

of a feather

in memory of Gay Hansen

About this exhibition

The exhibition of a feather considers how close relationships with the natural world strengthen our bonds with each other. It is organized in memory of Gay Hansen (1954-2021), a gifted teacher, mentor, and ornithologist who taught at Mount Allison University for thirty-nine years. Hansen was known and admired for an ecologically sound approach to life that encompassed scientific curiosity, nurturing countless students, caring for plants and animals, and a mastery of taxidermy and numerous craft practices, including knitting and woven baskets. She was among the Owens’ most cherished collaborators and a key part of the curatorial team for the celebrated exhibition Cabinets of Wonder: Art & Science in the Academy and the Community (2015).

This exhibition is therefore also a meditation on grief. Joan Didion once wrote, “grief has no distance.” It comes in waves and “sudden apprehensions” that obliterate “the dailiness of life.” And yet the process of grieving—one’s personal confrontation with loss, whatever it may be—often takes shape as an everyday ritual or “working through.” This tension between the memory of everyday closeness and a sudden loss of distance runs throughout the exhibition. In the eponymous of a feather (2022)—a portfolio of photographs that Thaddeus Holownia created after the death of Hansen, his life partner—we are plunged into the intricate, otherworldly patterns of bird feathers. These tender portraits of bird study skins, which are part of a collection Hansen assembled for the Biology Department, hover between life and death, heartache and repose. They are also a record of the couples’ time together. Early in Holownia’s career as a photography professor at Mount Allison, he found a dead, yet perfectly intact Blue Jay while out on a field trip with Fine Arts students. He brought the bird to Hansen, the university ornithologist, who he felt would appreciate the gift. This is how they first met. The plumage of this bird thus marks the beginning of their long relationship.

Left: Pale beige feathers with dark brown tips overlap one another, filling the entire image. Right: The frame of this vertical image is filled with layers of black feathers speckled with white spots.

Thaddeus Holownia, Red Tailed Hawk, 2022 (left), Guinea Fowl, 2022 (right), from the series of a feather, archival pigment prints, courtesy of the artist and Corkin Gallery, Toronto

of a feather joins a series of other projects highlighting Hansen and Holownia’s creative partnership. ICARUS: A Falling of Birds (2017), for example, documents the devastating incineration of a flock of 7,500 migrating songbirds, who were drawn to a thirty-meter-high flare at the Canaport Liquefied Natural Gas plant in Saint John, New Brunswick. In the wake of the disaster, Hansen was among a group of biologists responsible for identifying the twenty-six species of songbirds that died in the flame, one of the most difficult tasks of her career. Working from this evidence, which came to be housed at the New Brunswick Museum, Holownia made photographs of the birds. In an effort to grasp the magnitude of this loss—an avoidable tragedy for which Canaport LNG was eventually fined under the Migratory Birds Convention Act—he eventually composed these images as falling bodies dotting a memorial scroll.

A circular photograph of a fence sits within a black frame. The edge of the image is imperfect, and the sky is filled with wave like textures. In the distance a second fence lines the horizon.
A circular photograph of shore line and sea stack (rock) in the distance, sits within a black frame. The edge of the image is imperfect, and the hazy sky shows water-like textures on the surface of the image.

Karen Stentaford, fence # 1, Oliver’s Cove, 2022 (left), Karlinn, 2023 (right), archival pigment prints, courtesy of the artist.

Hansen’s life was defined by connection—to the environment and the plants and animals living there, but also to her family, students, and community. And yet, this deep sense of relationship also brought her into contact with some of most disturbing manifestations of alienation from nature. Karen Stentaford’s haunting landscape photographs negotiate similar contradictions and reflect Hansen’s influence on her work. Using photographic processes that centre slowness, temporal dislocation, and collaboration with the environment, Stentaford makes images that critically examine her relationship to place. The series Oliver’s Cove, for example, delves into the relationships the artist developed with this coastal landscape and its picket fences, as well as the people who frequent this location to tend community gardens. Rather than attempting to “capture” this landscape and its ecologies in a gesture of ownership, Stentaford reconsiders the very notion of “relating” as a form of both closeness and displacement. By welcoming the environment into her process—using saltwater in the collodion wet plate process, for example, or allowing rain and hail to fall on the glass, thus creating voids and other distortions in the image—she recognizes non-human agency and works collaboratively with it. She also positions slowness and duration as key to more reciprocal relationships.

Gay Hansen often said, “I love learning and I love helping others learn.” Indeed, connection, collaboration, and mentorship were at the heart of her life. While the exhibition of a feather is a meaningful opportunity to publicly acknowledge the contributions she made to her community, it is also a moment to consider how we may carry them forward. How can we continue to find respectful ways to relate to one and other and the world around us in a time of increasing alienation and grief? The answer is, of course, together.

Image Gallery

Artists in Conversation

About the Artists

Thaddeus Holownia is a teacher, visual artist, letterpress printer, and publisher. Born in 1949 in Bury St. Edmunds, England, he emigrated to Canada in 1954. In 2018, he retired from a forty-one-year career as a Professor of Art at Mount Allison University, where he also served as Head of the Fine Arts Department. In 1998 and 2006, he was awarded the Paul Paré Medal of Excellence, the university’s award in recognition of excellence in teaching, scholarship, service, and creative achievement. He is a Fulbright Fellow and an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts.  He was named to the Order of New Brunswick in 2015.  Holownia’s artwork has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, including Shutter (Nelson Museum Archives & Gallery, Nelson, BC); The Nature of Nature (Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, NS); 24 Tree Studies for Henry David Thoreau (Heckscher Museum of Art, Huntington, NY); and of a feather (Corkin Gallery, Toronto ON).

Karen Stentaford is an artist and educator living in Sackville, New Brunswick, within Mi’kma’ki. She specializes in large-format photography and the wet plate collodion process. Working in a variety of photographic-based media, her work explores place, belonging, and memory influenced by the Newfoundland landscape of her childhood. Stentaford received a MA in Photography from the Edinburgh College of Art, a BFA from Mount Allison University, and a BEd, Visual Arts Specialist, from NSCAD University and Mount Saint Vincent University. She is currently an Associate Professor in the Pierre Lassonde School of Fine Arts, Mount Allison University.