State of the Arts – Wendy Trusler

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

Wendy Trusler’s World of Cooking and Dreaming

Sometime in the late nineties I decided to stop doing theatre. I was a bit lost, had suffered an awful break up and felt that making art was perhaps not what I wanted to do in life. All of that changed in one year when I met my partner. We spent our weekends hiking and sketching. I had a mild epiphany. I needed to make things by myself. The collaborative aspect of theatre had crushed me. Perhaps the visual art world could help.

The most significant exhibition I saw at that time fell into my psyche just when I needed it. Wendy Trusler’s Antarctic Chronicles installation was a visual story about the time she spent as cook on a scientific expedition in the Antarctic. Being someone who adored the history of polar exploration, her exhibition at the Gallery 1313, lit by candle light no less not only fit with my interest but it’s use of materials helped make my decision final; I am from now on going to make visual stories that I can put into art galleries.

From Antarctic Chronicles. These pieces evoke a shared atavistic act; that is to interpret.
From Antarctic Chronicles. These pieces evoke a shared atavistic act;  that is to interpret.

Wendy’s use of materials is harsh and gentle: slate with scratched writing and figures on them, encaustic explorations of tundra and found objects that spoke of ancient domesticity were and still are extraordinary. While I was inclined to love her story about the Antarctic expedition I knew there was something else far more profound about her approach that I found tantalizing. Wendy has a way of putting things together that I feel is neglected in the current cold world of contemporary art. She brings together story, objects, art making and atmosphere with a strong emotional force. Everything, seems worn by hands. The surfaces are all soft and smoothed or scratched. They evoke human frailty. Her work is like poetry but with things, she moves these objects and ideas around like a poet uses words. There is tremendous care taken toward each seemingly vestigial idea; you realize that Wendy works with time as much as anything. For me this is a mark of someone deeply involved in creativity.

Last year Wendy, who is now Peterborough based, published The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning. It’s a hard cover journal about her trip to the Antarctic. In it are her recipes as well as those that she received from Chinese and Russian participants. It’s a remarkable book and perhaps my favourite art project in many years. The imagery is gorgeous and the design element of the book is… well it’s just so Wendy. The recipes are fantastic. That they are written to serve upwards to 20 people makes them unique in a world overstuffed with foodie-ness. But what I came to love as I read was Wendy’s uncluttered thoughts about the world she was in and how she might go about making art from it.

A detail from a recent work. As viewer you are included in her investigations.
A detail from a recent work. As viewer you are included in her investigations.

Wendy employs a sensitive approach to her writing like she does with her work. She has a kind of old world resilience and work ethic. Wendy can easily roll up her sleeves when the need calls for it. The trip must have been enormously grueling however Wendy’s acceptance of the opportunity and her courage in the face of loneliness, hard work and often miscommunication (most of her colleagues hardly spoke any English) shows an artist who is navigating the world with her heart. As smart as Wendy is, and she is terrifically smart, it is the blood that pulses through her, beating away with the rhythm of the natural world that seems to be the core of who she is and what she does. Food, creativity, the Earth, remoteness, isolation and the connection of our flesh with all these things is where her art seems to spring from.

Being this talented would make some people fairly aloof or personality challenged however Wendy is a gracious person with great personal style, a biting sense of humour and artistic ambition that never clouds her purpose. It will be no surprise to me if her profile expands now that the gigantic publishing firm Harper Collins has released The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning upon the world market.

I hope it does and that Wendy becomes far better known in our country as her work and her very classy way of doing things would be a welcome respite to much of the dreary pretension that passes off as art today.

I asked Wendy some questions, these are her thoughtful responses:

1. You seem to pull from so many different places to make work; found objects, encaustic, built environments, conceptual performances. Is it about searching for the right thing? Is it an ongoing experimentation with objects and materials? Why not just make films or just paintings?

It’s a bit of both. I’ve never been able to ignore the potential in things, but that curiosity wasn’t always a part my art practice—which is to say, early in my career I was a painter who also happened to be a keeper of things and tinkerer. But I wouldn’t let those worlds merge.

I’ll tell you a funny story about the turning point some time, but I don’t want to exhaust you here.

Long story short, when I opened myself to incorporating objects into my work and exploring different ways of exhibiting I fell in love with the way the interplay of media enriched my vocabulary and helped me reach people. So yeah, it’s about finding the best way to share an idea, but also about how to keep a conversation going. The ABCC (Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning) is a good example.

Tinkering is still a guilty pleasure, which is where ReWorks comes in—I like that I can keep things out of landfill and perhaps even inspire others to do the same.

2. Writing plays a role in your work. How important is that? What is it you love about writing?

Honestly, I think I’m still trying to understand the role writing plays in my work, which may be why it looms as large as it does.

Again, it wasn’t always that way. I think we had a conversation once where I admitted my youthful, albeit private, disdain for a fellow art student for using text in his paintings. And after I graduated from OCA, while facilitating artist in the school projects I used to try to get the kids to consider their drawings and paintings as another language—which of course they are—but in those early years I wasn’t open to any crossover even though when I look at titles of my own work from that period there is always a suggestion of narratives. Eventually I admitted it to myself stories were as important to me as form and colour, sometimes even more so. I now accept I’m wired to see and find stories.

Antarctic Chronicles was the turning point and writing plays a huge role in that body of work, but it is also integral to the development of works that that aren’t scribed with stories.

I typically begin a project by brainstorming and hone in on an idea through wordplay and research. There is always a lot of sorting and filing involved which is an odd and necessary busy work. I have to say, finding the right words to fit a project doesn’t come to me as easily to me as finding the right materials, but I love the project development stage and the way it brims with potential and words. In time all that activity points me towards a form.

3. I see the Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning as such a benchmark in how artists can share their work. It’s not just imagery from your studio, or presentations on exhibitions, it’s an actual story with practical applications. Is this a statement in that, you are an artist with a strong imperative to share something useful?

Yup, I think so, but as we’ve discussed there are a multitude of ways that art can be useful and many ways it is needed.
There’s a lot I could write here, but with respect to the ABCC what I suggested in a blog post covers it. Before undertaking the book project I had to be certain that I was adding to the conversations I started with Dancing in a Northern Kitchen, Another Kind of Dance 1 & 2 and Antarctic Chronicles.

Entre nous here’s a quote from Teresita Fernández commencement address featured in Brain Pickings a while back. I keep the link in my pep talks folder on my computer:

Being an artist is not just about what happens when you are in the studio. The way you live, the people you choose to love and the way you love them, the way you vote, the words that come out of your mouth, the size of the world you make for yourselves, your ability to influence the things you believe in, your obsessions, your failures — all of these components will also become the raw material for the art you make.

4. You and I have spoken about the environment and the natural world, we are both inspired by its forces. Can you talk a little about how your work relates to natural environments?

My work has been shaped by the experience of having lived in wild places and in seclusion for prolonged periods, both which I think are conducive to forming a unique relationship with the land and landscape. I know my understanding of the natural world is the driving force to create works to draw a viewer into the land and point to caring about it, I wonder if it’s also what compels me to work on a grander scale.

For more on Wendy visit her blogs and see for yourself the many things this lady gets up to: and the book has a Facebook page too!


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