A walk down memory lane

Rosie Butler reconstructs childhood memories.

Fourth-year fine arts student Rosie Butler was intrigued by her some of her earliest childhood experiences growing up in Whitehorse, Yukon. Butler was interested not only in the content of her memories, but also in their form: the curious ways in which the exaggerated reality of youth mixed and merged with her childhood biases, dreams, and fears. It was this whimsical combination of extravagant realism and fantastical surrealism that inspired Butler’s ongoing mixed media exhibition 1206 Elm Street, which is currently on display at Sackville’s START Gallery at 7 Lorne St.

The exhibition is composed of five untitled projects: three oil paintings that  form the backdrop for a series of projected animations, and two dioramas. Together, the pieces embody Butler’s assertion that “[C]hildhood is a strange and fantastic time. It is a time when the truth is what you make it, and coupled with the extravagance of memory it becomes even more bizarre, embellished to your liking, and floats back to the surface at the most unexpected of times.”

 Like fragmented childhood memories, Butler’s work is haunting, fleeting yet somehow enduring, and endlessly captivating. The three oil paintings featured in the exhibition make use of vivid colours and simple compositions to depict everyday locales from Butler’s childhood: a single story house, the interior of a church, and a stark bedroom with a blue wooden bed. Viewed independently, these oil paintings are straightforward and accessible, even simplistic, and act as an interesting exploration of the ways in which we shape our memories over time, condensing and smoothing them as they are pared down to their most basic ideas.

However, the black line animations projected onto these canvases add a second paranormal element to Butler’s work, melding dreams with memories to create a provocative visual experience. The formerly unassuming house is transformed into a haunting dreamscape inhabited by a menacing spider and its unsuspecting victim, while the modest church is reinvigorated by the addition of a feverish figure trapped in a loop of unceasing prayer, and the stark bedroom is haunted by a disembodied shirt that drifts rhythmically through the canvas’s negative space. These otherworldly images are engaging and unique, contrasting the kinetic with the static and the old with the new.

Butler’s paintings were complemented by a set of dioramas, the first of which depicts a leafy, luxurious landscape, while the second is an interactive representation of Butler’s titular childhood address, 1206 Elm Street. The latter is encased in an unadorned wooden silhouette of Butler’s home with small, circular peepholes that allow the viewer the opportunity to examine the elaborate, miniature rooms within. These rooms explore the use of depth and space, shifting perspectives by layering materials and images in novel and unexpected ways. The resulting sculpture is playful and imaginative, a visual treat that must be experienced in person to be appreciated.

Butler’s exhibition can be viewed until Tuesday, Feb. 4.

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