On July 18, Kitchener Waterloo Art Gallery celebrated the opening of a new exhibition, The Brain is Wider than the Sky, part of a biannual tradition that features locally-based artists.

Pulling six different artists together in one exhibition was no simple task. It started when KWAG curator Crystal Mowry first approached the artists with a poetic image, inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson. The poem, which has the same title as the exhibition, appears in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.

“[The poem] got me thinking about correspondence and how correspondence might be at the root of what a lot of artists are trying to do,” Mowry explained. “They live in the world and try to translate that experience into some other form.”

Mowry explained that most of the exhibitions she’s curated come from “a little grain of an idea.”

 “As you have conversations around the idea, it becomes more interesting and develops into something meaningful,” she said. 

For some artists, projects were already in the making, and for others, the idea shaped a new one. In either case, it started a dialogue. The result of which is an eclectic six-part exhibition, sure to impact viewers in one way or another.

Žana Kozomora’s autobiographical installation is both stunning and uncanny. Red cinder bricks stacked incompletely foreground a film that depicts a decaying house, spliced and mirrored in vertical and horizontal halves. In the background, we hear a conversation with her father, telling of life before and during war.

“I have no memory of this home but I’ve created throughout my life these fantasies or nostalgias of what it would be like to have a homeland,” Kozomora explained.

At four-years-old, her family fled to Canada as refugees from Bosnia. In her teenage years, she had a chance to return to her homeland. There she confronted a “sleeping giant,” a derelict structure overgrown and occupied by an impoverished family. 

It was the opposite of her idyllic expectations. 

Tara Cooper, under the moniker Weather Girl, created a nautical collage of mixed media. Objects, sounds, and film, combine to form a dream of ocean imagery. The result is visceral and moving, more experienced than observed.

Cooper explained that many of the various artistic works are products of her time in artists’ residencies. She learned to punch-hook in Vermont; she fired ceramics in Maine; and she found a buoy washed up on the shores of Nova Scotia.

“I’m not one of those artists that plan,” she said. “With collage, you have to be a good editor.” 

Aislinn Thomas presents a thought-provoking, interactive installation that explores the human experience of a major celestial event, the solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017. Viewers can browse collections of photos and then view through a viewfinder various depictions of the social phenomena around a solar eclipse. The solar system meets the everyday in comical, bizarre, and beautiful ways. 

In a series of paintings, Amanda Rhodenizer captures, with chilly pink and blue hues, glimpses of a visit to Blue Rocks, Nova Scotia. 

“My vision for this was to examine the dynamics of host and guest in an AirBnb,” she said. 

It’s winter in a tourist town, the quiet and lonely off-season. Peering through doorways, windows, and camera lenses, Rhodenizer’s paintings capture anxiety and divisions in the home of an unknown host. Each painting spies on its surroundings: peering through windows and doorways, listening through walls, examining objects for clues about the owner.

When Hyang Cho received a letter meant for someone else and in a foreign language, the random event inspired an artistic study of letter-writing. Working from digital images from across time and the world, she re-wrote or traced various letters to bring them back to life. These mysterious messages pose all sorts of questions about the lives of the authors and (intended) recipients, as well as the act of writing in itself.

Meg Harder presents an epic illustration, stretching several metres in length and drawn in astonishing detail. Portrayed in the “fraktur” style of her Mennonite ancestors, dazzling elements and creatures tell an intricate story that spans both sides of a sprawling and spiraling serpentine river. 

The magnitude of Harder’s project is remarkable. As one absorbs its symbolic narrative, it becomes clear that this is no fairy tale. Local tributaries feed and shape this musical, and sometimes disturbing, myth.

The exhibit The Brain is Wider than the Sky is open until September 23 at KWAG. Admission is free.