SOLO Studio Visit: Meryl McMaster

Meryl McMaster
Ancestral 8, 2008
Chromogenic print
40 x 30 Inches

Meryl McMaster

Booth S1

Stephen Bulger Gallery (Toronto) & Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain (Montreal, Toronto)

Describe your studio/place of work. What is important to you about your workspace?

I currently work out of our home in Ottawa. My studio space is in the back of our house and looks out into the garden. My studio space is a multi-purpose place. I have a wall dedicated to my ideas where I can pin up my sketches and notes for my work. In the middle of the room I have a large table where I am able to layout and build all the different props and element that I use within my photographs. I have lots of bins for storage and organization of all the materials I need to create my sculptural works as well as my camera equipment. Then I have a large desk where sit the computers that I use for photo editing and administrative work and of course bookshelves filled mostly with of artist's books that I have collected over the years in addition to various research materials.

There are many things that are important about my workspace. It’s important that I have the space to create. For many years I worked in different undedicated rooms in the places I lived, and it overwhelmed the other living spaces, so it is really nice now to have a dedicated space where I don’t have to worry about clearing away my work. Having more space also allows me to more fully realize my ideas as the size and scope of my projects is a bit less limited.

How would you describe your practice?

My practice is photography based and follows the genres of portraiture and self-portraiture. The different bodies of work I have created over the last several years have usually begun with personal contemplations about who I am and my place in the world. I have two heritages I am Plains Cree of Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan and a member of the Sikiska Nation in Alberta on my father’s side and British & Dutch on my mother’s side. I am interested in exploring the complex questions of an intercultural experience, how being from two distinct heritages can mix creatively and how one’s life experience can help guide one’s self-discovery and understanding of personal identity.

Recently I have chosen to incorporate different media within my images in the form of objects or sculptural garments that I create in my studio. These accompanied by the spontaneity of photography, the natural landscape as my backdrop and performance are brought together to create dream-like images where myself and the viewer are free to step outside of the narratives that have informed our identities in challenging or problematic ways and to view ourselves from alternate perspectives.

How has your practice evolved over time?

I started out photographing in a studio setting trying to experiment with different techniques of taking a portrait. I challenged myself to reconsider how to take a portrait by deconstructing the more traditional aesthetics of portraiture by introducing drawing, sculpture and digital projection to evoke a world not normally seen by the naked eye.

After a couple of series working with these ideas I made a bit of a leap in terms of the look of my images and execution. My images evolved, moving outside the studio walls and photographing myself within the natural landscape and representing quasi-fictional experiences that reflect my thoughts and feelings. I now create theatrical embodiments through sculpture and performance that speak to different aspects of myself, which I hope extend the boundaries of identity beyond what is known and understood.

What works can we expect to see at Art Toronto 2018?

I will be showing select works from three early series of mine Ancestral, Second Self and In-Between Worlds. The series Ancestral engages in a critical conversation of the past exploring the historical representation of Indigenous peoples through photography and painting. In Second Self I reconsider identity within traditional portraiture and self-portraiture by incorporating drawing and sculpture to evoke a world not normally seen by the naked eye. Through experimentation with strange and artificial representations of the body, Second Self helped me to develop a stronger understanding of identity while providing me with an opportunity to comment on the challenges of accurately representing identity through portraiture. Most recently, the work from In-Between Worlds explores my experience of belonging to mixed-cultural heritages (Plains Cree, British, and Dutch). Within this body of work I intended to transform the way I view the past from the perspective of the present in hopes of creating a new, liminal narrative that, while quite specific to my personal heritage, could also be of relevance and meaning to everyone.

What do you want people to take away from your work?

I would like to bring the viewer on a journey to explore these most personal and intimate themes alongside me in the hope that they are moved emotionally and are able to recall memories of their own as reflected within the works, allowing them to further contemplate who they are and allow them to get lost in their imagination.