Born and based in Ottawa, Anna Williams studied sculpture and printmaking at Mount Allison University. Her artwork employs the animal and narrative to examine the construction of female identity and power relationships in contemporary society. With recent solo exhibitions in Canada and the US, William’s Canada House re-opens the Ottawa Art Gallery in April, 2018. Her work has been purchased by the Canada Council Art Bank, the Government of Canada, the City of Ottawa, The Kamm Foundation, and Humber College, and is in numerous national and international private collections. Her large-scale public works are situated in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal.
“My recent sculptural works examine the construction and manipulation of identity in contemporary society. Employing narrative and the animal as the primitive other, this work resides at the intersection of the personal and the social, poetics and politics.”
A single tableau, Anna Williams’ exhibition Dark Timber is a subtle tale of contestation. Upon entry, the viewer is arrested by an overwhelming cloud of glass arrows caught in mid-flight. Arching hundredfold across the gallery, the life-size arrows thunder toward the far corner of the still, captivated, space where two bronze fawns are at rest on a capacious island of braided rug.
Squadron offers a duality and dialogue at the intersection of the personal and the social, poetics and politics. Cast in bronze and then painted, each bird is given a new strength, presence and function to negotiate the space between a graceful representational form and the more sinister concept of a war bird. Each layer of paint applied over the bronze shrouds the deeply rooted ideas of tradition and value associated with the medium, removing what is expected and prompting the viewer to question notions of tradition and conformity. Squadron challenges the viewer to explore what it means to be vulnerable while presenting an unexpected beauty in something unconventional and quietly threatening.
Anna Williams Canada House on view at the new Ottawa Art Gallery as part of the inaugural exhibition Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes / We’ll all become stories
Canada House offers the viewer a moment of pause to investigate what we have lost in our passage from nature to culture, and the perceived notion of permanence in contemporary society. This installation is comprised of three life-sized cast bronze beavers constructing a beaver lodge made out of individually cast clear resin tree branches. The lodge will be lit from within to create a ethereal and alluring yet foreboding presence in a darkened gallery, while an audio recording periodically loops the sudden warning of a beaver’s tail crashing down on the surface of a lake, silencing the scene.
The iconic and industrious beaver—of all the creatures of the natural world it is the one who most relates to the human tendency to alter our environment to suit our own, not ecology’s, needs. The beaver understands our desire to build, dominate, and exploit our habitat for short-term gain, but also the sanctity of home and family. The contrast of materials in this installation is integral, the strength and permanence of the bronze beavers in opposition to the fragility and delicacy of the resin lodge. The beavers stand in for us—so confident in their permanence that they build their home out of glass, unhindered by the warnings echoing in the distance.
The thunderous clap of a beaver’s tail on the surface of a lake alerts the viewer that they have disturbed the peace of their surroundings, asking the viewer to heed the warning and alter their course. The reverberations echo through the space, to remind us of a time when our relationship with nature was one of a balanced partnership. When there was a revered wisdom held in the natural world that humans acknowledged and depended upon for guidance and survival. We are now completely at the mercy of our changing environment and yet it is a narrative of our own creation—that our modern blueprint of progress is coming at a steep price, a price that we can’t afford for much longer.
Canada House explores the boundaries of presence and loss. As a society we’ve lost our connectivity to nature and in doing so our ability to hear and acknowledge warnings. The slap of a beaver’s tail – so crisp and clear in its message, yet the listener has to be present to grasp the intent. This disconnection has resulted in a disassociation from our natural selves, and as a result we have lost the most primal and potent aspects of human experience, inhibiting our ability to survive emotionally and physically in a shifting environment.
"Both artists, Mary Anne Barkhouse and Anna Williams spoke with me at the close of 2015 of a hunger to apply themselves to sculptural work that is on a more intimate scale than the outdoor public commissions that had taken them over in the previous few years. In a coincidence I could not overlook, each artist independently mentioned a desire to work with the other. The result, a body of work created in dialogue, is a new departure for each. The resonance between the two artists hovers over the animal image as entwined in the human imaginary.
Time spent with the artists yields wide-ranging and illuminating stories about animals. Mary Anne can't get down to work because she's busy rescuing butterflies, certain generations of which travel vast distances.... Anna has just saved a baby chipmunk cornered by her dogs, reviving it with honey and milk. Hospitality and courtesy rather than custom and order prove strong drives in these artists' lives and work. These are story-telling beads with historical reach that fashion together one's sense of situation in the world, one's worldview and one's sense of self governance.
The title Beneath the Tame hints at subversion or revelation. The tame has already been tamed. And yet, life lived and observed, remembered and considered empowers these artists to burrow in, under, below, beneath. Beneath, a preposition, not a noun, is a close extension that doesn't supplant the banner of the current noun, rule or system with another but engages it otherwise. Experience shared by the hospitable joining of forces such as the congregation of the many under pink Pussyhat ears, among other kinds of ears both furry and bald we meet in this exhibition, helps us usher in, strategically, tactically and otherwise, e.e.cummings' "the gay great happening illimitably earth."
- Lisa A. Pai