262 Fairmount O. Montreal, Quebec
November 9 — December 8, 2019
By Penelope Smart
The walls at Articule in Montreal are piss-yellow — the perfect backdrop for The Sisters’ Fart Corner, a new series of ink drawings and animation by Brooklyn-based Canadian artist Sarah Mihara Creagen. Fart Corner is a playful body of work that is rated R. For those who do not wish to talk about piss and shit, kindly close your browser.
It would be a shame to shy away Creagen’s subject matter, though, because what she lays bare in black ink and bright backsplashes of watercolour is fascinating: figures playing out imaginative personal narratives of surgery, recovery, sex and IBS-related business. Yes, there are exposed labia everywhere, especially in Grafting: union must be kept moist until the wound has healed, but what is truly explicit here are bodies, consent, and ownership. Creagen’s figures — most of whom have female anatomy — expose truths about bodies that we are happy to accept and own, such as self-love practices in the form of masturbation or reading a favourite book on the toilet, as shown in Washroom Stall Chit Chat w/Chastity belts. Leaking into each frame, however, are a host of corporeal realities that we are quick to reject and shame: sex, BDSM, farts, pee, and other solids and fluids — especially where vaginas are concerned.
Queerness makes its presence known and felt within Creagen’s blurring of bodies, boundaries, and the raucous interplay of the sacred and profane (pure and impure, clean and soiled). Creagen succeeds in translating the mess of gender not only through her representations of genitalia, submission and girly accessories (heart sunglasses, thongs) but in her exacting and elegant script-style coupled with natural untidiness. Sex is a tricky noun and verb in these works: an opening, an incision. An act of self-mastery, a site of violence. As a reprieve, on a separate wall, Creagen offers the viewer an overly innocent animation called Gardening lessons: grafting, examining, splitting. The seven-minute video’s shadow play is pretty, but the value of botany as a motif in Fart Corner is the grounding effect of seeds, earth, soil. Her animation works as a simple affirmation of sexual health.
Hot air is something special here.
Creagen shows passing wind in two distinct ways: In the title piece, The Sister’s Fart Corner — a large diptych that’s properly installed in the corner of the gallery — fart gas takes on a Sci-fi laser-quality or Care Bear count-down rays (out your butt). In Weather Butt, fart gas produces auric colour-fields that expand like smoke-stack plumes. While Creagen’s subject matter is art historically connected to Edo-period scrolls in which a male figure’s farting was competitive and political, the act of belching and flatus here can be read as a personal metaphor for subversion and superpower. Wielded for good or bad, it’s inside your insides — or what’s churning inside your intestines — that count.
To the outside world, Creagen describes herself as “White-passing Japanese,” which is more than a hint that themes of identity and representation are being served up with sides of awkwardness, derision (hissing, even) and self-doubt. Creagen connects her experiences of being mixed-race with the vulnerabilities of the examining table and bondage. Swirling around Fart Corner is a freaky, sneaky message: you cannot cut your feelings out of your flesh, and you cannot flush your feelings down.
The pottery humour gets literal with TP scroll, an installation made of pieces of toilet paper sewn together with blue thread. It’s two-ply, draped, and tattooed delicately with Sumi ink drawings. At first glance, it hangs like a detention-worthy highschool prank. Then, oddly, it softens into a recovered memory of the iconic sky-blue book cover for Robert Munsch best-selling Love You Forever (1989). The story tells of a parent’s unconditional love for their child, and on the cover is a turd-cute toddler having a field day with toilet paper. Creagen’s tiny toilet paper narratives, filled with bare butts and roses, speak to reverie, privacy and personal moments.
Fart Corner is an airy, safe space for tits and ass. The stakes are highest, however—in the faces of these figures. Creagen’s careful, caring hand can articulate micro sensations. It is as though her finely tipped brush understands an essential biological sequence: synapses fire, and then muscle, tissue, and cells become the curl of a lip; the twitch of a nose. The bugging of an eye. Squint, look up close, the facial expressions are the most uncomfortable moments — and the most pleasurable. The title piece The Sisters’ Fart Corner, a bodacious woman, with a fart-sister by her side, throws her head back in full cackle. She is fully alive. She gives no fucks and is one hundred percent liberating to look at. She is farting her heart out; she is free.