Cake: Fiona Kinsella, Art Gallery of Hamilton, June 5-October 3, 2010, Hamilton, Ontario. Curated by Melissa Bennett[Record]

  • Paul Lisson

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    Paul Lisson

Fiona Kinsella is a mixed media artist and painter who has exhibited across Canada and in the United States and Europe. Kinsella’s artwork belongs in both private and public collections, and is represented by Transit Gallery in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

Fiona Kinsella est une artiste multimédia et peintre qui a exposé ses oeuvres à travers le Canada ainsi qu’aux Etats-Unis et en Europe. Les créations de Kinsella se trouvent dans des collections privées et publiques et sont représentées par la Transit Gallery à Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

A most unusual pâtisserie. Exceptionally high ceilings, expansive walls, and dramatic lighting. Elaborate displays of cakes in every size. Single tier and two tier. Icing finished with embossed rolling pins and crimpers. Sugar paste ribbons, small decorative beads, and sugar wired flowers. Not a chair or counter in sight. No napkins or cash register. There is, in fact, nothing to eat here, but much to savour. The setting is an art gallery, and not a pâtisserie. The lighting is dramatic, but also specific, bringing emphasis to the predominantly white, sometimes ivory icing and decorative detailing of moulded blossoms, sugar cultured pearls, and in this case, inedible lustre. It's quiet as a church, as if the whole place is wrapped in sound-deadening crepe. Beside one ornately housed cake, a tag: It reads like the ingredients to a recipe, or an incantation. Similar invocations accompany each of the cakes. On the walls hang tumescent paintings that project outwards and defy gravity. A tag: Fifty pounds to indicate the weight of oil paint miraculously fixed to canvas? Cakes and paintings resonate with one another. The ambience suggests meditative calm. The austere fondant of the cakes, the regimented lines of the frames, the formality of the gallery—these things negate the gaiety of cakes and the celebrations they animate. Everything seems ordered, prescribed. Inside the gallery, tension builds. The room is dark and the lighting is specific, drawing attention to details. Teeth. Many different kinds of teeth. Bones. Bullets. Hair. A great deal of hair. The tags are not meant to mislead. Was it midnight when Kinsella called upon the pixies, goblins, brownies, and wirry-kows? Did they help her decorate the cakes with insect wing, porcupine quill, and glass eye by the light of will-o-wisp? Or was Kinsella a victim of their mischief, and changelings now inhabit the gallery? Four small rectangular tomb-like cakes lie side by side. On one rests a spoon. The handle of the spoon takes the form of a dragon—and the bowl of the spoon holds a heart-shaped human tooth. The cake is named for Saint Vincent De Paul and references the miracle of his incorruptible heart. Another small cake boasts a little fork with three tines exhibiting human skin and animal bone. A third cake is titled cutting tooth and displays a silver baby spoon cradling a long rooted and slightly bloodied adult tooth. A fourth coffin cake named Porcelain hosts six yellowed dentures. Each of the small cakes is framed by human hair, and upon each little bed lie relics of the once living. Larger cakes, such as Protector, Breath, Metamorphosis, and Ether, integrate glass eyes, rib bones, fox teeth, seeds, and insects. The materials provoke an experience beyond the visual; they draw upon instincts as fundamental as your salivary glands. Some of Kinsella’s paintings are heaped like luxuriant mounds of icing or whipped cream, others are fecund groupings of roses, and finally there are those that reveal subterranean strata. These last are not mounted on the wall; they sit flat pushing upward from their pedestals. Paintings become sculptures. Their scale, orientation and suggestive edibility bring us full circle back to the cakes. The organic nature of Kinsella’s pedestal paintings are suggestive of exfoliate heads—those church or tombstone carvings of leafy vines that gradually reveal a face. Sometimes the Green Man, with leafy hair or beard, peers out of the foliage. Other times the vines and branches explode from mouth and ears. "God is in the details," whether attributed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, or Aby Warburg, or Gustave Flaubert, is an exhortation. …