MAIN SPACE EXHIBITION
APRIL 17 – MAY 22, 2015
RECEPTION: FRIDAY, APRIL 17 AT 8 PM
THE WAITING ROOM is an exhibition exploring the position of the artist, living in a physical body and moving around and creating fictions on paper – but also feeling formless, artless, sickening sensations at the same time, because of illness, or colonialism, or art history, or herbal supplements. With the comic series, Wendy, the fictional alter-egos of the artist are a way to embody and shape-shift through fictional narratives. Sculpture does this differently – the materials, like human hair, torn denim, hand-made rips and holes reflect a desire for embodiment and transformation.
WALTER SCOTT is a Toronto/Montréal based artist working in writing, illustration, performance and sculpture. His ongoing comic book series, Wendy, follows the fictional narrative of a young woman living in an urban centre, whose dreams of contemporary art stardom are perpetually derailed. Recent exhibitions include Joan Dark at Western Front, Vancouver, 2014, Pre-Existing Work at Macaulay and Co. Fine Art, Vancouver, 2015, and Habitual Present at 8-11 Gallery in Toronto, 2015. In 2014, Scott was Artist-in-Residence at the Koganecho Bazaar in Yokohama, Japan.
As the bearer of a racilialized, female body in a country that privileges and centers the straight, white male experience, depending on where I am, and what kind of social situation, I am navigating, I feel either the slightest twinge of anxiety or an enveloping tranquility. I am a different version of myself when I feel naturally understood, or sharply alien; I’ll laugh in one way with a close friend and in another way around people I barely know. For me, Walter Scott’s work, on the pages of a zine or displayed in a gallery, embodies both that dis-ease and that metamorphosis at once.
I fell in love with Wendy before I knew anything about Walter’s practice. The comic started as an anecdotal strip about his post-art school life, told through the lovable white-girl avatar of Wendy, and then developed into a complex fictional world. Wendy chronicles the difficulty of having to manifest oneself in the face of constant temptation, fear, apathy and self-doubt. The lines of the eponymous character’s eyes are her most telling and distinct trait, whether as scraggly, angry egg shapes, big black circles, or white discs with worried, pinprick pupils, they always vibrate with the perfect alchemy of strength and vulnerability.
Walter uses many lines to make his work. On paper, drawn in lead or ink, his line unfolds frame by frame as a comic. In his sculptures, the line is transformed. In distinct colour pallets they are elegant constructions of hair and wood and cloth that hang on the wall or rise precariously from the ground. Walter stretches his materials and cuts them open. The forms he creates lean and fall, almost of their own accord. For example, the neon underside of a white piece of vinyl, trailing a bit of hair, might fold over itself and droop into a casual expression. The taught lines that shape the floor sculptures, in string and wood or strands of falling hair, resolve into delicate compositions of vaguely opaque satire. Their lopsided geometries overlap into dimensional configurations whose narrative, without being explicit, invariably brings forth its very own atmosphere. I’m drawn in by their air of mutability, the space of tension they occupy between actualization and unraveling.
In many of the wall hangings I see faces looking out. They elicit the combination of suspicion and attraction I sometimes get from seeing unfamiliar or interesting people. In a way these sculptures demand the oddly risky and vulnerable work of engagement, of laying oneself emotionally bare enough to encounter an unknown. The sculptures tell a story, but you have to stick around and listen to figure out, for yourself, exactly what it might be.
One idea stays with me from the conversations I’ve had with Walter about his work. It is from an article in which Sherman Alexie, a Spokane poet and novelist from Coeur d’Alene, described his concept of “the prison of the mind.” This is his metaphor for the ways in which Indians can feel stuck in the Reservation of the mind, no matter where they go or what they do. Alexie found that writing poetry and fiction are ways of moving in and out of that prison. Though it didn’t always feel good, it was a lifeline. “The very act of storytelling is a return to the prison of what torments and keeps us captive,”1 he wrote, “I get to pick and choose what the prison means to me, float in between prison bars, return in my mind when and how I want to.”1
As an artist, Walter has formed the narratives of his comics and sculpture as a line of escape from the contradictions of his lived reality. Being queer separated him from his community in Kahnawake, and being Indigenous often alienates him in his life off the Rez. Either his sexuality or his Indigenousness seems to systematically bar him from a total sense of belonging, keeping him alienated, some way or another, in every space. “I feel like I’ve grown up in a cognitive dissonance of feeling both Indigenous and not Indigenous at the same time,”2 he says, “depending on where I am and how I’m treated and what people perceive of me.” 2
Though it may be impossible to permanently escape spaces inherited psychologically, as Alexie explains, narrative is a strategy for moving in and out them. His metaphor is an apt one to describe Walter’s work. Wendy has been a Trojan horse through which Walter can play out various forms of drag, creating stories and characters related to specific aspects of his own life. Through the narrative filter of a white girl protagonist, he transforms the unique experiences of being both inside and outside queer, Mohawk and artist communities into relatable stories. Walter’s sculpture is as an extended drawing practice. In a similar way as with the comic, he has been able to use narrative as a point from which to make the cuts and juxtapositions of his floor sculptures and wall hangings, peripherally addressing aspects of his various states of alienation.
THE WAITING ROOM exhibition ends a 3-year cycle of art making for Walter, and brings to a halt his nomadic journey between Montreal, Banff, Vancouver, Japan and Toronto. Together, the pieces wait in expectancy and anticipation of what comes next, as though each one is an individual person or feeling or situation, hoping, from a different vantage point, for some kind of resolution. Born of Walter’s disruptive narrative line, the work signals just some of the changes that need to be made.
 Sherman Alexie, “The Poem That Made Sherman Alexie Want to ‘Drop Everything and Be a Poet,” The Atlantic By Heart series, edited by Joe Fassler. October 16, 2003.
 Conversation with Walter Scott, March 16, 2015.
YANIYA LEE is a writer and interviewer based in Toronto.