Guest Curators' Pick

Catherine Mellinger | Whips

Special guest curator Brontë Behling gives us her personal thoughts on the work of Catherine Mellinger as part of our Femme Visual Art Projections for Femme Folks Fest 2023.

Catherine Mellinger | Whips

Originally from Saskatoon, mixed media collage artist Catherine Mellinger is a valued contributor to the Kitchener-Waterloo Region art scene. A graduate of the CREATE Institute in Toronto, Mellinger states that her work has always centered on her “own personal experience of being a human being.” While stating that she was originally shy and would not “blatantly state things” when it came to her work, Mellinger’s work developed after having children. As her life “exploded and imploded at the same time”, Mellinger explains how her art evolved as she “realized and connected to other feminist artists, other contemporary artists who were not having to hide. They were talking about trauma, mental illness and their personal lives as inspiration.” Today, Mellinger works with the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery and other community organizations and initiatives.

When looking at Mellinger’s works in “Deep Salt Water”, the first word that comes to mind for me is “restlessness.” Each piece links together perfectly, creating a narrative that tells the story of not only what Mellinger went through while creating the pieces of art (an “emotional roller coaster”), but the experience that many women have when they are pregnant and experiencing mental illness. With the guilt that often surrounds mothers who experience struggles with their mental health, “Deep Salt Water” as a collection showcases why they should not feel this inner guilt. The shapes present in “Rose Worms” mimic the female anatomy, snail-like creatures interlinking. Present at the bottom of the work is a hand and a spot I imagine as blood, demonstrating the results of an abortion – the loss of what could be a life, but a reinvigoration of a woman’s right to choose. “Tide” tells a similar story, a boat lost in a sea of blood and what I picture to be eggs – demonstrating the result of an individual’s menstrual cycle where there is a “shedding” of a former way of existence in order for something new to grow (the menstrual cycle starting over and repeating). “Muscle” and “Whips” show a girl who is lost, unsure of where she stands within the living system of the Earth. “Whips” shows how she sees herself as something fragmented and incomplete while “Muscle” incorporates the Earth as a living ecosystem where she resides – the details of the piece mimicking coral reefs and the ocean. “Shards” show the hands of a mother and a child, merging with the following piece “Lungs” to highlight two examples of mothers and their children. The hands in “Shards” surround a circular object I imagine to be the Earth, while the whales in “Lungs” are inside of the circle – a concrete part of the Earth’s ecosystem rather than seeing themselves as having a physical “footprint” on the Earth. Lastly, “Scuba” shows a child at rest – unmarred by biases faced by adults. However, surrounding the child are other figures, aspects of life that will eventually “catch up” with them as they grow. Will they grow up to be impacted by mental illness themselves? How do they fit in as a being of the Earth? Mellinger’s work in “Deep Salt Water” provides questions, not concrete answers. This leads to an open narrative – one that can be interpreted by each person individually as they navigate their own relationship with the Earth, mental health and parenting. As you look at these multi-layered works, I encourage you to analyze each element and reflect on the narrative you see within them. By unpacking the messages in these works, we may begin to unpack the questions we wish to answer in ourselves.

~ Brontë Behling

Bronte Behling is a student from Wilfrid Laurier University with a major in Cultural Studies and Film Studies. After working during her entire university career with Laurier’s student paper ‘The Cord’ alongside her studies with Laurier’s Department of Arts, she is honoured to have been given an opportunity to write for The COVERT Collective.

Catherine Mellinger (she/they) is a certified Expressive Arts Therapist (EXAT – CREATE Institute, Toronto), Perinatal Mental Health Therapist (PMH – CPMHT, PSI) and mixed media collage artist who’s works have been exhibited across North America and published Internationally. Originally from land belonging to Treaty 6 (Colonially named Saskatoon, Saskatchewan) she currently lives and works in what is colonially named Waterloo, land included in the Haldimand Tract and belonging to the Neutral, Hardenosaunee and Anishnaabe peoples.

Catherine is also the co-founder of Together: For Perinatal Mental Health Waterloo Region.

curated. and The COVERT Collective are pleased to be presenting Femme Visual Art Projection during Femme Folks Fest in Waterloo, Ontario. If you’re in the area, please join us Friday March 17 and Saturday March 18 at 8:00 on the corner of Erb and Carline Streets where we will be showcasing the work of 8 artists, including Catherine Mellinger.