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Finding freedom in her art

Posted on April 14, 2022 by Maple Creek
Work in progress: Savannah Mass focuses on a plaster-cast sculpture.

Savannah Mass’s first solo show describes a psychological journey to free herself from oppression.
“Disparity” features three decorated plaster-cast sculptures, which need to be seen sequentially.
The first one reflects a period of intense darkness, when she felt cold and numb, as if drowning.
There are dense, foreboding images on the cast: a jellyfish, underwater plant-life and a woman, with bubbles coming from her mouth, seemingly caught forever in the calm that follows panic.
Powerlessness is suggested, a sense of being tyrannized on all sides by water. What led her to this state is not specified. Nor is it necessary.
The suffering evident in the exhibition goes beyond mental – it was also physical, caused by the realization of Savannah’s unique art.
While creating casts from parts of her body, she was badly burned by the reaction of water with paste hardening on her skin; heat was released through a process called crystallization.
Photos that accompany the exhibition to explain the casting procedure show how red her body was after the moulds were removed.
“At first, it feels like a warm, heated blanket draped over you, but it keeps heating up,” she says. “Towards the end, the heat was almost unbearable.”
On another occasion she was in danger of blacking out when a plaster mould became stuck to her throat.
“The entire weight of the mould was hanging from my neck, cutting off my air,” she says. Thankfully, the mould was removed before she completely fell unconscious.
While burns and near-choking can be seen as incidental to Savannah’s creative process, the darkness underlying it, captured in the disturbing charcoal-and-eraser images drawn on a leg cast, is not.
However, it is only one part of the three-part story related in Savannah’s show.
The second sculptural form is of her chest/torso. The imagery, containing a lantern at its centre, represents mixed feelings and hope after Savannah decided to turn on the light and wash away the darkness.
Exposed in the glare of light, she felt bare … which explains why she left her stomach blank. It is the part of her body that makes her most self-conscious, she says.
The third and final piece is of her back.
“I find it ironic that I drew on my back for a piece themed ‘looking back’,” she says.
The imagery, including a woman facing the open jaws of a tiger, suggests someone who has rebuilt her life after staring down tyranny.
“Today, I stand defiant and strong in the face of hardships,” she says in an explanatory note attached to a sketch of the mould drawing. “I can look my past in the eye and say, “I made it’.”
Exhibition viewers are advised to read the notes that explain the processes Savannah employed – body casting, plaster moulds, chest mould, mould preparation, and casting – and the meaning behind the art.
Such an understanding enriches the experience, going beyond the aesthetic appeal of Savannah’s drawings. It helps the viewer travel with Savannah on a journey through a transformative period in her life.
Her drawing style, she says, is realism, almost always in black and grey tones, covering a full range, from blackest black to crispiest white.
“Much like a tattoo artist stencils a drawing onto your skin, I transferred my reference images to the casts using carbon paper,” she says. “Once the image was transferred onto the plaster, I could add additional elements using lead pencil.”
Savannah told the News-Times that the exhibition made her feel vulnerable, as she was offering a part of herself to Maple Creek.
She was glad, however, of the chance to exhibit pieces created during her time at college and which had been lying in her garage.
Last year, they had been displayed at TREX Space art gallery in Medicine Hat as part of a joint exhibition with her graduating class, but this was the first time they were featured in a solo show.
Donny White, Jasper board chair, encouraged people to view the exhibition with an open mind.
“It is an opportunity to educate the community that art takes many forms,” he said.
Why did Savannah title her show “Disparity”?
“It took me a long time to decide on a name for this collection,” she says. “When I came across the word ‘disparity’ I immediately thought it was related to despair. However, it is not. Disparity means ‘a great difference’. There is a ‘great difference’ in emotion, theme, and imagery between each piece. There is also a ‘great difference’ in how I feel today compared to when these pieces were created. Positive change, steps forward, a difference in who I was and who I’ve become.”

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