Penelope Stewart is a site-sensitive installation artist working across the varied media of sculpture, installation, photography, printmaking and architectural interventions. Central to her practice is an engagement with space and place; its architecture, history, politics, ideology and environment. Whether it is her large scale beeswax architectures or her trompe l’oeil photographs Stewart brings a sensory intensification, a haptic quality to the encounter.

Stewart was born in Montréal, Québec. She received an MFA from the State University of New York and in 2010 she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts (RCA).  Stewart’s work has been exhibited at such notable institutions as Ganna Walska Lotusland, California; The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York; Musée d’Art de Joliette, Québec; Musée Barthétè, Boussan, France; Oakville Galleries, Ontario; Tom Thomson Art Gallery, Ontario; ACT Design Museum Canberra, Australia; Poimena Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania, Australia.  Stewart’s outdoor in situ installations have been showcased at the Tree Museum, Ontario; Kiwi Gardens, Ontairo and Musée d’art de Joliette, Québec.

 Upcoming projects include solo exhibitions at the Koffler Centre for the Arts,( 2014) Toronto followed by Dawson College, (2015) Montréal; Stewart has also been shortlisted for an exhibition curated by Robert Fleck at the Grand Palais, Paris, France addressing sensory architecture (2015). In the summer of 2014 two publications one a monograph exploring the work created while she was an Artist in Residence at Lotusland and the other an exhibition publication curated by Michele Stuart on encaustic projects.

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Penelope Stewart

Cloche is a large photographic sculpture installed in situ. It is part of an ongoing project entitled Genius Loci; the genius of the place or disorder of the picturesque. This project began in 2006 with research into futuristic architecture and more specifically that of the large glass conservatories or greenhouses of the 19th & 20th centuries, such as Allan Gardens, Toronto. These structures were the first modular architecture of the Industrial Revolution. They are romantic structures and now function with authority as museums, monument, and theatre, while nature under goes a process of displacement, diminution and transplantation, lodging the glass structures in our collective memories and imaginations as replacements and reminders of Eden.

Simultaneous to this research I had begun to collect glass bell jars common in the Victorian era as small miniature greenhouses. The function of these domestic domes was to nurture seedlings or to contain special rare miniature plantings.

While walking in the woods a couple of years ago I began to imagine what if there was a huge glass bell jar at architectural scale hidden amongst the trees. I decided at that moment to site and photograph my real 18”glass domes in the Northern Ontario boreal forest with the intention to enlarge the photograph to a scale that would transform it into a trompe l’œil. Further the process of photography made me aware of the re-fraction on the glass of the exterior world.  I knew then that I wanted the inside of the bell jar to be empty and the trees reflected on the outside, contrary to the function of the bell jar. Once the photograph was enlarged to architectural scale, and installed in the forest, Cloche became a blind, an illusion or a suggestion of an architectural folly. The inversion and the tension between the wild or seemingly disorder of the forest; the reflection of the forest on and through the glass jar; the transformation of the domestic object to architecture; the siting in the forest and the photographic process itself all suggested trace and apparition. The layers merge together and explore intrinsic paradox, metaphors and blurs which enhance the experience of this imaginary site or daydream of the garden.