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The archive begins with Brettschneider’s childhood in British Columbia, follows her participation in the Parisian interwar avant-garde, and records her unconventional art practice after she returns to Canada in the late 1930s. Sawyer pieces together Brettschneider’s biography to (re)construct a believable artistic forebear, while at the same time creating a device that brings to light buried historical accounts of women’s creative achievements.
Selectively consolidating a monolithic narrative, the Western art history canon has been shaped by ideological, political, and psychological motivations. Organizing its version of art’s progress into neat categories and clear connections, this framework omits voices and trajectories that complicate or elude patriarchal and Eurocentric assumptions. Unfixed and ever-growing, the Natalie Brettschneider archive is a feminist intervention that ruptures the hegemonic art historical record, uncovering sidelined stories and perspectives. Tackling a different angle with each iteration, the project continuously shifts focus to research local contexts, enrich perceptions of the past, and unlock a spectrum of divergent futures.
At the Koffler Gallery, Sawyer deepens her examination of Natalie Brettschneider – an imperfect character who sometimes subverts, sometimes reinforces prejudicial historical tropes – providing an opportunity to critically examine persistent colonial and patriarchal attitudes. Including both authentic and fabricated archival documents linking Brettschneider’s explorations to actual events, people, and places, the project examines photography’s use in sustaining art historical conventions and cultural assumptions about identity, authorship and artmaking.
Placing Brettschneider in Toronto at various dates between the mid-1940s and the late 1970s, Sawyer investigates beyond Brettschneider’s struggles and privileges as a 20th-century white woman to foreground some of the queer and racialized women who contributed to the local cultural milieu, such as opera singers Aiko Saita and Lily Washimoto, Cantonese opera performers Tuey Ping Lee-Hum and Gar Yin Hune, actor Jan Chamberlain, visual artist Sarindar Dhaliwal, photographer Sylvia Schwartz, milliner Peggy Anne Jaffey, Jazz performer Phyllis Marshall, singer Portia White and many others. Through a contemporary intervention that prods the foundations of dogmatic narratives, Sawyer exposes a more nuanced array of art histories and disrupts mythologizing views of art and artists. Her acts of subversion aim to enable a fuller engagement with our living culture, nurturing hope for unfettered futures.
Carol Sawyer is a Vancouver-based visual artist and singer working primarily with photography, installation, video, and improvised music. Since the early 1990’s her visual art work has been concerned with the connections between photography and fiction, performance, memory, and history. Many of her photographs and videos use montage techniques to build fictional architectural spaces or objects, or like The Natalie Brettschneider Archive, piece together a plausible world through an accumulation of images and documents. Her work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions, including at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa. She performs regularly with her improvising ensemble ion Zoo (with whom she has released three CDs) and in other ad hoc improvising ensembles. Her work is represented by Republic Gallery, Vancouver. To learn more about Sawyer’s practice, visit her website: http://www.carolsawyer.net/