HEATHER GOODCHILD AND JÉRÔME HAVRE at the Textile Museum of Canada (55 Centre) to April 13. $15, srs $10, stu $6, Wednesday 5-8 pm pwyc. 416-599-5321. Rating: NNNN
Fictions And Legends, a contemporary textile show curated by Sarah Quinton, pairs Toronto's Heather Goodchild and Montreal's Jérôme Havre, two artists who construct strange and wonderful imaginary worlds. They draw on a variety of themes and narratives - the Bible and Greek mythology, human-animal hybrids and the natural world, interpretations of gender, race and culture - but the heart of their work is the act of sewing.
In her installations and dioramas, Goodchild invents a 19th century of spiritualist cults and Shakeresque industriousness, a female-dominated realm of hard work and mysterious rites. It all comes to life through the artist's own busy seamstress hands as she practises the labour-intensive techniques of quilting, sewing and rug-hooking.
Her revival tent painted with churchy motifs and Biblical texts encloses a series of rooms: three small chapels house hooked rugs with surreal imagery of wings, flames and headless creatures; in others rooms, sculpted metre-high long-haired female acolytes with mask-like porcelain faces enact two scenes, one of a shared secret and another of a ritual in which a standing figure in ceremonial regalia threatens a kneeling one with a stick while others look on.
Havre, a Frenchman of Caribbean descent, suspends his amazing doll-sized sewn figures from the ceiling in a room painted with colourful swirling camo-like patterns. Pieced together from tiny bits of cloth, his grimacing miniature monsters - a centaur, a two-headed man, a woman without a torso - with thick lips and nappy hair twirl gracefully on their strings to a soothing audio track of birdsong.
Though their patchwork skin and tight, painful-looking stitching give them a straining, wounded quality, they're survivors, full of spirit and vitality. Blurry photos of zoo enclosures suggest our desire to confine and display scary creatures we see as other.
In both cases - Goodchild's dream-like historical recreations and Havre's magical soft sculptures - needlework takes on a depth of meaning and a heightened emotional intensity.