Published in Fertile Window,  Independant publication, Toronto, February 2018.

My lifelong friend Erica and I are sitting beside the Atlantic Ocean, toes touching, recounting the lengths we went to not to appear “witchy” as teens. Today, we let our intuitive selves lead, put our crystals on display, and play our part in taking down the patriarchy. Raised by strong clusters of women, it seems strange—given how much we have gained through our crafty closeness—that we were ever shy to let our witch flags fly. Many of us feel a latent hesitation when we tune into powers and talents that were once (and still are) used as a weapon against women, whether divination, spellbinding, healing, gossip, community building, or even love. Perhaps, years later, the witch-hunts that peaked between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries continue to loom over us. The recent call to witches and all things witchy is part of a feminist reclaiming of power both personally and politically, a choice that requires bravery and intention. We have entered the season of the witch, and as astrologist Chani Nichols recently wrote, we practice magic so we can move closer to the things and people we wish to join forces with. The group of women in #Craftof2018 are, both individually and collectively, forces to be reckoned with. They seem almost perfectly balanced in their strengths and talents, and have formed a community that has made space for magical manifestations.

Sabrina the (infamous) Teenage Witch is able to create change with a seemingly effortless flick of her finger. Although very satisfying, it seems like false-sorcery-advertising; after all, creating change is a daily practice. We often see progress in barely perceptible increments, until something suddenly shifts and creates more meaningful—or simply unintended—results. Imagining this tipping point pervades Tiffany Schofield’s work. Her fictional vignettes are embedded in the history and future of suburban Scarborough. She has invented archetypal young activist groups that have come together after a fire. They are shown in fragments performing everyday tasks, often misguided in their intentions. Through watching their small actions closely, we witness them slowly uniting and finding a logic to their shared investment in the outlying landscape. To me, these seemingly uneventful sketches speak to the hard-earned and slow-moving magic of community building. Through moving away from documentary toward fiction, Schofield is able to narrow in on some of the most beautiful and banal moments of organizing, investing, and place-making in the far corners of an urban centre.

While Schofield works to increase our understanding of suburban life, Sara Kay Maston’s paintings focus on how to change our perspective on animal life. In Shamanistic practices, the Animal Familiar travels alongside, and acts as a psychic protector. It can see things that a human cannot. Similarly, Maston makes paintings that attempt to capture the perspective of an animal, not through the eye of a tiger, but rather the eyes of small and often barely considered animals: the view of a fly caught in a web, the low-lying perspective of an ant, or the poor eyesight of a spider. They challenge us to see beyond the limitations of our own senses and, more importantly, inspire empathy for tiny creatures we might readily squash. Her studio has been transformed into a space that feels very much alive. In her paintings, the dichotomy between the natural and man-made world begins to blur, so that we—and all the things we have built—re-enter a new wilderness. To provide us with such an expansive perspective she must restrict herself, abandoning a (potentially) preferred colour scheme and working within the confines of the sensorial landscape of another species. When asked how she lets go of her own aesthetic preferences in order to really see things as one of her animal subjects might, she responds quietly but confidently, “I have my bag of tricks.”

When entering Zahra Khan’s studio one is immediately dazzled (almost blinded) by a large sheet of gold. According to Witchipedia, the colour gold can be used to enhance spells associated with the sun’s energy. This may seem straightforward, but harnessing the sun’s energy in a work of art is not easy. No painting of the sun or photograph of a vacation sunset has ever really replicated the happy warmth of its rays. Although I visited Khan in a windowless, south-facing room during the darkest days of winter, I was enveloped by warmth. I felt a certain bliss that I once believed only the sun could grant me and became briefly convinced that I was absorbing Vitamin D. She speaks about her work with energy almost equal to the warmth emanating from the gold, with a focus on the materiality of her work - a feeling that she will recreate in the gallery for her thesis show.

Xuan Ye’s work possesses a much more chaotic energy. As a programmer and noise performer, her projects are comprised of sophisticated patterning and codes. Her work is poetic, improvisational and glitchy. When you visit her website (a.pureapparat.us) she tells us that it is just “one of the many objects that inherit the prototype of xuan ye.” Although her music, web design, and online and offline identities are disentangled, when she gives you a window into her world of concrete poetry, hacker-culture, mapping, and cybernetic feedback, a complex and cohesive web begins to form. It cannot be handed to you. As it is configured and reconfigured in front of you, you are forced to find your own patterns; as with a good crystal ball, you can (if you choose) follow it to the future.

Nedda Babba works to preserve and to honour the stories and traditions passed on to her through her Assyrian family, especially her grandmother. For Baba, this process requires exchange—the weaving together of one person’s experience with another. While some work their magic in the home or studio, they are complemented by those who cast a wide net, whose energy projects outward into the world of grand histories and age-old trade routes. For the past year, Baba has been locating this exchange in the performative act of peeling and sharing pomegranates, as she used to do as a child with her grandmother. With this process-based work, she is interested in the overall sensorial experience, its memory and its decay. The smell of the pomegranate, the feel of it between her fingers and the way the peel fades and hardens over time. Do we experience this the same way? Did her grandmother?  She is also interested in its passage. In her studio, you will find small, clear bags with hardened pomegranate peel—the evidence of past performances. You will also find photo documentation, drawings of routes, letters from family members, and colourful laser-cuts of morphed architectural tools passed down from her grandparents. For Baba, the artistic and personal journey of locating oneself in a family history is complicated and multifaceted.

Véronique Sunatori is also invested in exploring genealogies of place. Specifically, she has been researching her Japanese heritage through her paternal lineage. Sunatori’s objects occupy a peaceful place. Influenced by the Wabi-Sabi worldview, her sculptures possess a phenomenological quality and a quiet, mystical confidence which often integrates small voids and unexpected corners. Sunatori’s process requires experimenting with materials to contemplate how we move through spaces. This is both a physical and a psychological exercise. In her installation Cry Myself to Sleep, a green welcome mat invites us to step onto a raised platform. As we move toward the elevated wooden squares, we begin to notice small details shining back at us in the reflective pools; a branch here, a small rock over there… like Lewis Carroll’s looking glass, her installations ask us to see beyond, to the other side of the mirror.

Perched in a sun-filled room at the very top of the York Fine Arts building, Heather Frise’s work is also attached to experiments in the studio. Her drawing practice persistently carves out space for itself. Her figurative work appears to be in constant motion, occupying uncomfortable—and sometimes violent—spaces. “I could spend hours just arranging and rearranging those figures,” she says, pointing to three small, square drawings alone on a white wall. She relies on an intuitive process that allows her to place something somewhere, take it away, enlarge it, shrink it, animate it, and, if it feels right, place it back in its original spot. For me, the power of her work lies in letting something evolve, no matter how dark or messy. There is something about the progression of her work that channels a healer. It comes as no surprise that in her interview she says that she would have been a midwife or paramedic, if she had not become an artist. She jokes that she couldn’t hack such visceral careers, but her work has a raw immediacy that allows her audience to feel as if we are following her to the front line.

The first time I saw Chloe Lum’s work hanging in the gallery, she casually took it off, handed it to me, and encouraged me to swing it around. Informed by her experience with chronic pain, the affective pastel-coloured, lumpy shapes she produces are meant to carry a haptic logic. When you hold them, they quickly become an extension of your own body, telling you how they should be used and how they can assist you in your movements. They are also temporary—degrading and changing over time, as the body does. Lum has collaborated with her partner Yannick Desranleau for over ten years, and their videos and installations make use of these tactile objects in a collective effort that involves many actors, including cinematographers, singers, and dancers. This is an integral part of their practice, as their tools are enriched by more bodies moving, interpreting, and weighing in.

Sonya Filman is also interested in objects that assist us. Her work explores the instruments we use to try and make the intangible, tangible. Initially, I interpreted her uncanny metal objects—and the amorphous shapes in her photographs and prints—as work intended to suspend disbelief in the paranormal. It reminds one of the clever instruments at the Museum of Jurassic Technology. However, Filman is much more interested in the human motivation behind such tools—the ways in which our desire for proof lead to innovations in art and science. During our studio visit, I learn that Filman is not a believer in the paranormal. Instead, she works closely with the alien aspects of the processes themselves, allowing apparitions to take form through open experimentation with materials.

Those fearing female collective power saw the witch as a destroyer of worlds and a hindrance to the future, but my future as a woman and an artist relies on the strength of my female community. Back home for Christmas, I find myself visiting with eight friends (including Erica). Although we have all remained in each other’s lives, we have not been together since our early teens. When we met, we collectively vibrated with the anticipation of what we would become. The way we think and work—and many of our strengths—were formed in tandem over fifteen years ago. How powerful I feel in the company of my coven. Sometimes the stars align, and you meet a group of strong, creative women, and you band together and are changed by one another, and it is magic.