If You Can't Find Branches, Make Your Own

Michel Gervais (Jenna Seppa) and Ashley Guenette

Curated by lea rose sebastianis

Exhibition essay

Written by lea rose sebastianis 

If You Can’t Find Branches, Make Your Own brings together two artists from so-called “Sturgeon Falls” in “Northern Ontario'' for an exhibition featuring video performance and installation work. Ashley Guenette and Michel Gervais (Jenna Seppa) explore adaptation during the ongoing global pandemic and ask: How do we creatively adjust, evolve, and survive in the new and ever-changing conditions of our respective environments? By way of textiles and solitary performance recorded in a vlog parody style, the artists encourage contemplation of artistic and creative practices that are hyper-responsive to their respective contexts of Sturgeon Falls. Michel Gervais  -- in full drag as Jenna Seppa -- navigates the Northern Ontario woods in a post-apocalyptic parodic quest for survival, meanwhile Ashley Guenette adapts Northern sensibilities of craftswomanship to expand the practice of painting to respond to new surroundings in a local pheasant coop.

Ashley Guenette’s Padded Room (2020) consists of long strands of rope, tethering many multi-patterned padded squares that adapt, morph, and change in response to the environment they inhabit. Determined by gravity, structure, and changing needs of bodies moving through shared space, Guenette’s artwork gestures towards -- and encourages -- the inevitability of ongoing change during a time of necessary seclusion. While dwellings, either our homes or the gallery, remain fixed, the contents inside must find innovative ways to persist as new needs and relationships to domestic space are formed. 

Surviving with Jenna (2020), by Michel Gervais (Jenna Seppa) -- a Francophone drag performer hailing from Sturgeon Falls -- follows the glamorous queen attempting to survive in the wilderness for what is believed to be the rest of her life post COVID-19 induced apocalypse. Using a familiar vlogging format, she quips, “some moments you might think: I’m losing my mind, I’m losing control… and to that I say, probably!”. Similar to Guenette, Seppa’s work reacts to the agentic forces of the world around her. She leaves traces of herself in the natural environment through her attempts at foraging and hunting in a playful take on survival shows popular in the area. Like Guenette, Gervais also uses colourful textiles to stitch together a campy narrative emerging in response to our mutability in navigating unstable environments. 

Together, Ashley Guenette and the radiant queen of the Northeast, Jenna Seppa, evoke adaptation as a necessary form of survival. Additionally, adaptation is evidenced as Guenette and Seppa expand practices of craftswomanship through textile art and drag performance as they self-reflexively find ways to exist anew. We see their works change in time, reacting to their respective environments: the coop is a site of active movement; Seppa’s hat and glue-on lashes leave remnants of the artist’s time living in the woods; and Guenette’s Padded Room constantly iterates and adapts as the show continues. Here, failure is embraced: Padded Room never truly finds itself at ease, and Surviving With Jenna imparts a lack of any semblance of survival. Living under new realities means that we have all learned different methods of adapting, whether that means, crying, smiling, or laughing (sometimes all at once), and desperately trying to make branches when we can’t find our own.


Michel Gervais (Jenna Seppa)

Surviving with Jenna (2020)

Jenna Seppa is a 21 year-old drag queen from the small Northern Ontario town of Sturgeon Falls, who made her drag debut over 2 and a half years ago in Toronto, ON. Franco-Ontarian and proud, her drag reflects her pride for her French-Canadian culture mixed with her love for arts and crafts, comedy, filmmaking, as well as bright analog and digital technology inspired aesthetics. Co-founder of the West Nipissing Pride Committee, fighting for queer rights in her small Northern community stays close to her heart.

Ashley Guenette
Padded Room (December 2020)

Ashley Guenette is a Franco Ontarian interdisciplinary artist born and raised in rural Northern Ontario. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Art (Baccalauréat en arts visuels) at the University of Ottawa in 2019 and is a current Master of Fine Arts candidate at the University of Waterloo. Grounded in feminist theory, Guenette’s studio research is positioned within the trajectory of painting on canvas, exploring performance (the act of painting) and textiles as a gendered activity. Her interest in textiles and its relationship to abstraction are familial, interrogating function versus non-function, the handmade, craft, and the materials' relation to memory and agency. She is particularly interested in the concept of adaptation— such as her ability to adapt to forces such as the pandemic that have relegated her life to a one-bedroom apartment in Waterloo, as well as the adaptability of her paintings to conform to new surroundings. 

lea rose sebastianis

If You Can't Find Branches, Make Your Own (May 2021)

lea rose sebastianis (she/they) is in the first year of her MFA in the Criticism and Curatorial Practice program at OCAD University. As an emerging artist and curator she is interested in porous bodies and the relationship between spiritual and material worlds. In her work, she is dedicated to cultivating more expansive creative communities.

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