How we grieve the loss of a loved one is a unique and deeply personal experience. For Winnipeg poet Jennifer Still, the grief of losing her mother first materialized as words on a page in her poem legs. But those words on paper were just a beginning.
Our piece represents the poem completely off the page, so in our voices, in our bodies, and in the landscapes that we’re in.
Her words wanted to walk off the paper, to swim the shores of Lake Winnipeg, to roller-skate in an empty pool, and to be stuffed into nylon stockings and hung on the clothesline. Her words also seemed to call out for community.
Still’s grief transformed from deeply personal to profoundly collaborative when visual artist Chantel Mierau, and musician Christine Fellows were each moved by Still’s words. Together, the three artists worked to create an audio-visual interpretation of Still’s poem that reflects on the banal, unpredictable, and absurd ways grief manifests in the physical world.
legs: A collaborative exhibition by Christine Fellows, Chantel Mierau, and Jennifer Still is a film and sculptural exhibition at Gallery 1C03 from November 23, 2023 to February 16, 2024. An opening reception will take place Thursday, November 23 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“This piece is based on a poem that I wrote for my mom in reflecting on her life and our lives together, and on mothers and daughters,” said Still. “Our piece represents the poem completely off the page, so in our voices, in our bodies, and in the landscapes that we’re in.”
Still said creating the film allowed her and her co-artists to experience grief in a very physical way. Using their senses and intuition, they approached the project with an open, fluid mindset.
“It’s liberating, it’s freeing, it’s also informative,” said Still. “It’s wonderful what you learn from your words when you’re saying them out loud and paying attention to where they register in your body.”
Mierau said sharing this work publicly was the natural next step in the legs journey–the words moving from personal, to collaborative, to community.
“The time that the three of us spent together creating this film is very special to me,” Mierau said. “This exhibit feels like we are now sharing that experience outward. Even though the piece is a work of art that stands on its own, I feel like it is infused with the time we spent together, and for that to spill outward is a nice thing.”
This is the first time legs will be publicly exhibited in Canada. Still says there’s a reason Gallery 1C03 was the right fit for the film’s local debut. In 2015, Still was the Carol Shields Writer-in-Residence at UWinnipeg, and one particular moment from her residency made its way into her poem.
“It was the last time my mom came to listen to me read,” said Still. “The last reading she ever attended was here at UWinnipeg. This was a place where she saw me as an artist. I loved being the writer-in-residence here, so just to bring this work back here is special to me personally.”
Although everyone is invited to visit the exhibition, Gallery Director/Curator Jennifer Gibson said she hopes legs will be especially inspiring to students of creative writing, film, and movement.
“I thought it could prompt some really great discussions in classes,” Gibson said. “It’s a surprising film, because it’s an elegy but it’s very exuberant. It’s sad, but it’s also lighthearted and ridiculous, and takes the viewer in many different directions, which I think is challenging and engaging.”
Gibson and Still both said legs serves as a reminder that grief is a universal and meaningful experience. Grieving happens both in our private personal worlds and in community with others.
“I think we can recast our grief with so much more joy,” Still said. “There is a strength and a beauty in healing, however we do that in our lives.”
Gallery 1C03 will host two additional community events in the Winter term in conjunction with the legs exhibition. For more information, visit Gallery 1C03’s programming homepage.
Gallery 1C03 is the campus art gallery of The University of Winnipeg. The Gallery opened in September of 1986. The Gallery’s mission is to engage diverse communities through the development and presentation of contemporary and historical art exhibitions and related programming initiatives.
The Gallery is also responsible for the development, preservation, and presentation of the University’s art collection. Since its inception, Gallery 1C03 has hosted more than 160 exhibitions and welcomed more than 170,000 visitors.