A piece of cloth, held taut

If a work of art could speak in its own voice, what would it have to say? Kitchener artist Aislinn Thomas opens up this possibility in A piece of cloth, held taut – a new audio art project commissioned by KWAG in response to select works of art in our Permanent Collection exhibition, The Myth of Consensus.

Throughout February and early March, Thomas worked closely with a group of volunteers of many ages and backgrounds to record unconventional visual descriptions of selected artworks in The Myth of Consensus, which features works of Canadian abstraction dating from 1960-1980. While traditional visual description aims to deliver neutral observations of an object for visually impaired audiences, Thomas has orchestrated an imaginative approach to this accessibility practice by asking her participants to adopt a first-person voice that speaks for each painting as a living entity with its own thoughts and experiences.

With many community members of varying ages and backgrounds contributing to this project, the resulting recordings are vibrantly woven of multiple voices that hint at the complex and even self-contradictory ideas that can reside within a single person, or painting. A hint of this can be found in the first of three recordings now available for listening online, Optimist in five times:

Takao Tanabe's Optimist is a horizontal canvas painted in large fields of yellow and gold with a central red shape like a head surrounded by a dark gold halo with a diagonal rift splitting the red shape
Takao Tanabe, Optimist, 1964. Oil on canvas, 70.8cm x 123.6cm (framed). Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery Collection. Gift of Mr. Robert Williams, 1987. © Takao Tanabe. Photo: KWAG. 

I feel like my name kind of contradicts the bold and kind of fiery colours in me.

I think that just the yellow, yellow is a really…and red—these are…optimistic colours, I think.

My palette is more vibrant and red and fiery, and almost a little bit angry.

My name can be a burden to some extent.

It really suits me.

It kind of forces me…well, it encourages me on one hand but also forces me to live a way that seems to, you know, satisfy to my name.

It's a name…that…I can relate to. I like that name. I like to keep that name [laughs]. Yeah.

And I find it so burdensome because sometimes you just have to embrace, there are darker moments of your life.

And it's a sense of stability that comes through, so I think people will feel calmness…and sort of this balance.

Very calming, very peaceful. Even with that red.*


At a time when the paintings this project address remain out of reach during our COVID-19 shutdown, projects like A piece of cloth, held taut offer an engaging new way of connecting with art. Take some time to listen to the first three audio tracks of this unique commissioned artwork – a project that connects us to living intergenerational voices and tender insights into what art has to say to us.


*VOICES (as delineated in Aislinn Thomas' transcript):

Underlined text: A confident, mid-range voice with an Ontario accent

Bold text: A mid-range voice with a Polish accent

Italics: A higher pitched, very soft voice with an Ontario accent

Regular text:  A soft, mid-range voice with an Ontario accent

Bold italics: A strong, mid-range voice with an East Asian accent