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BY ELIZABETH NOLAN, Salt Spring DRIFTWOOD    Nov. 12, 2014

Salt Spring women who have spent the past year exploring their creative possibilities with the Centre for Loving Inquiry present some of their results at the Pieces of Her Story exhibition at ArtSpring this month.

Creative mentor Ahava Shira, founder of the centre and its Year to Love program, guides participants into developing a practice to develop free self-expression. As the show’s title suggests, the entire story of a person’s life would be difficult to represent — but with a great deal of courage, it is possible to share some of the particulars.

The reasons for embarking on such a journey of self-discovery and expression are as individual as the women involved. For Charlene Wolff, it was the death of her well-loved husband Robin Gibbard.

“Robin had a huge presence due to his larger-than-life personality,” Wolff explains in her statement. “I have always felt very small next to him and rather insignificant as most people on Salt Spring know me as Robin’s wife. In this past year I have spent much time and internal exploration redefining who I am and how to move through this process of grief and being a widow.”

Wolff’s installation portrays this inner state extraordinarily well. The viewer is almost overwhelmed by a huge portrait of Gibbard done by the expert hand of island artist Julia Lucich. In contrast, a series of six photos of Wolff take up only a tiny fraction of the possible space within their frames. The images themselves are somewhat obscure, her face hidden by hats. Wolff has also created a moving video project as part of the exhibition.

Rineke Jonker’s project involved formalizing her life-long love for telling children’s stories by creating a new story and bringing it beyond the draft stage. The charming result called Debbie Dutton’s Buttons is presented for reading at the show, but the installation moves beyond the prototype book to create an integrated experience related to the tale. Viewers are invited to enter the story space through a living room set with adult and child-sized rocking chairs, where a satin wedding dress and several containers of buttons await visitors’ creative hands. The opportunity to create one’s own button designs is also offered.

Fabric artist Jane MacKenzie compares emotional processes to external marks in Scar/Skar, wherein textiles and thread echo healed skin and the colourful lines of a road map. She transforms an elegant cream-coloured cardigan by adding sheer sleeves and skirts, embroidery and trailing ribbons. An unaltered lacy dress for a small child is hung nearby, symbolizing the fact that complications, wounds and embellishments will inevitably change the design as life progresses.

As MacKenzie writes, “The emotional scars/wounds we accumulate through time dictate the way we navigate the world and help create the geography we inhabit. The scars are our real beauty and when they are integrated and accepted into our selves they create the complexity and depth we share.”

The show also includes a series of photographs and mixed-media works by Denise Okan, who catalogues the beauty she has enjoyed in her world travels but also the need for a place to belong to.

Each of Sam Barlow’s mixed-media works produces an entire narrative through the combination of image and text, expressing her love of storytelling.

Judith Barnett’s quilts are evocative of her complex character, with fabric, colour choices and stitching revealing qualities such as thoughtfulness, individuality and the “unexpected bumps” of her journey.

Odette Graham’s painting A Work in Progress represents the challenges of a working mother who respects the limitations of her current situation, as well as her integral strengths.

Poems and other written expressions by the participants are also displayed on wooden gates representing the stages of the Year to Love journey.

The show is open daily at ArtSpring from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Wednesday, Nov. 19.