Mireille Perron's new exhibition, "The Anatomy of a Glass Menagerie: Altaglass" curated by the University of Calgary's Christine Sowiak, is playful in its celebration of decorative glass figures, but there is no shortage of conceptual inquiry into the territory of art history and museology. The aptly titled exhibition features a literal glass menagerie made up of glass figurines of animals, as well as a collection of cyanotype images depicting plants and organic forms. Meditating on the human relationship to objects as well as to nature, Perron explores the histories of particular glass museums, namely, The Corning Museum of Glass and Altaglass, a family-run glass business run out of Alberta, Canada that operated between 1950 and 1981. Altaglass specialized in pressed, blown and free form glass wares of anything from animals to vases and was founded by John Furh, a Czechoslovakian immigrant who fled the Nazi regime. After his death, the factory donated its inventory to the Historical Society of Medicine Hat and District.
Perron's cyanotypes are a clear tribute to English photographer and botanist, Anna Atkins (1799-1871), known for her cyanotypes of botanical specimens and credited as the first woman photographer. Perron takes glass animals from the collections of these museums and puts them under UV light, through which their inner structure becomes apparent. Objects that appear solid otherwise, transform into lenses to reveal a ghostly spinal structure. "I like to think of a cyanotype for a glass animal as being equivalent to an Xray for a live animal," Perron clarifies.
Using objects from the Corning Museum's extensive collection, Perron was able to create cyanotypes that represent a long history of glass object making, from Roman times to the present, incorporating a strong component of history. Intertwined with this idea of museum histories is the focus on the animals themselves. Perron puts into question the human relationship with the animal world and the means by which we represent this relationship. She explains, "Each time we as humans represent nature, we are constructing our social, historical and political view of nature. When it comes to animals, these views range from pets as family members, to food, to beings we should see as our equals."
Perron situates the animal figurines to construct a narrative of sorts. In her artist's statement she writes, "These compositions introduce narration by juxtaposition and reconcile scientific and narrative structures...By recasting Altaglass animals and objects in new scenarios, I hope to give them back voices that speak of where they come from and more importantly where they would like to go."
Perron very intelligently invites the viewer to contemplate the histories of craft, artifact, and museology, simultaneously addressing the way the human perception of nature plays into these histories.
IF YOU GO:
"The Anatomy of a Glass Menagerie: Altaglass"
Through April 6, 2019
2500 University Drive NW
University of Calgary