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DAUNTLESS: a Catherine Toth retrospective

Saturday December 8th 2012 to Saturday January 12th 2013


Reception: Friday December 14th, 2012 6-9pm

The works in this show were all created in recent years by Catherine Toth (April 12, 1984 – September 24, 2010): a vital, dynamic young artist and a good friend of many.  Having worked as a dancer and dance instructor, Inuit art curator and restorer, organic farm worker, exterior decorator, studio technician, many different roles in photography and as an artist – her experiences and references were diverse and demanding.  With a strong mind for research and careful observation, and a gleeful, inexhaustible resourcefulness, she founded her work in community and sought intersections between individuals’ perceptions and values.  Her art consistently reflects a socially- and historically-charged devotion to learning.

Many of Catherine`s works are rooted in her love of the natural world.  Incredible summers passed at her family`s cottages at Aylen Lake, where she would often be found swimming, fishing, canoeing and absorbing the world.  With great fondness for the flora and fauna, she examined, documented and collected inspirations she encountered.  The more she developed as an artist, the greater her need to make works from found and repurposed materials in a way that responded honestly to our habits of waste and consumption.  She often sourced things directly from the land: birch bark, ice, bones, leaves, shells, vines, branches. Constantly adapting and learning as she went, we would find her designs stamped into the snow or assembled from bits of bark.  For instance, her Webs grew out of observations of spiders and their web-spinning; Webs celebrate the imperative in many life forms to build and modify their own spaces.  As such her works often draw upon the power and beauty of the regions she inhabited, and instill a respect for the biosphere.  She was excited by the seasons and all they bring; she reveled in the growth of each summer, harvested in the fall, built fires in winter and collected seeds to replant in spring.  She was enchanted by the plants` myriad ways to grow, and endeavoured to begin gardens wherever she lived.

Born with Cystic Fibrosis, her experiences inside disability discourse and the politics and structure of healthcare institutions were perennial.  She received a double-lung transplant on November 15, 2007 and this event radically re-defined her life.  During and after recovery she returned to her work with even greater vigor and zeal.  Beyond Cystic Fibrosis she learned some of the realities faced by people with other disabilities, and this understanding helped contribute to her outstanding patience, kindness, and openness.

After earning a BFA from York University, she studied at the Toronto School of Business and enrolled in several night classes with the Toronto School Board.  She knitted, sewed, and worked a bead loom, inspired by clever attire and costume design.  She took up loom weaving, tried her hand at basket weaving, and studied yurt construction.  She studied phenomena such as nuclear weapons testing and the effects of pharmaceutical residues and persistent organic pollutants in the food chain.  She longed to grow the plants and make the compounds to create the drugs she needed.  She dreamed of travels to Antarctica. She was inspired by the Arctic and the Inuit, and the complicated legacy of trade and colonialism they experience, and this led to her continued studies into the lives and histories of different indigenous peoples.  She marveled at relations between humans and our actions, questioning the sources and justifications of exclusion and oppression and brutality.

Unlike many people her age she was drawn to the stories and advice provided her by older generations.  She always had a healthy respect for our elders, enamoured with traditional knowledge and skills lost to time.  In her art she forged links to the continuity with history she sought in life.  For instance, after finding a collection of family photographs and uncovering the stories behind them dating back to the 1900s, she let loose a host of photographs, videos and installations.  In The Nesting Habit (July 2010 at the South of 60 Arts Centre), she designed and built an installation at the site of the former railway station to resemble a section of the train which once regularly brought workers and their supplies to Barry’s Bay.

This exhibition is a glimpse into the story of a tremendously spirited, generous, bright young artist by which we may celebrate her loving energy and perspectives.  There remain many unfinished projects, as befits the life of such a candid, earnest, creative woman.  We hope you can depart from this place with a sense of peace and renewal, having seen through the eyes of a dauntless lover of life.

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