Carol Wainio
19 November – 20 December 20 1998 / 4 – 24 January 1999
Guest curated by Nancy Tousley

Carol Wainio's Baby Books series concerns an intense passage in her recent personal history. This is a departure for an artist whose interests have focused on history, narrative, technology and the social implications of how technology has changed the way we experience the world. The Baby Books, whose series title might refer to books for babies or to the baby book in which parents record an infant's vital statistics and anecdotal history, introduce the discourses of the body, the feminine, and childhood to Wainio's work. The series deals with events surrounding the artist's attempts to conceive a child, which began in 1990. Wainio is the mother of two young sons, but before their births she suffered a miscarriage and four life-threatening ectopic pregnancies. The Baby Books treat the cognitive, emotive and medical sides of these traumatic events.

Each of the five books in the series, one to commemorate each child lost, consists of facing pages of unprimed, unstretched canvas, with a text lettered in black on the left-hand side and an image or "illustration" painted on the right. The simple physical construction of the works belies their complex narrative structure.

"A specific body, my own, began to speak to me," Wainio writes of this time of crisis. "Interestingly, I found that in response to serious physical and emotional threat, narrative appeared. Visual metaphors, waking dreams, persistent images overtook my previous reality. Mundane occurrences became potentially symbolic. The world seemed strangely animated. This ferment of interior images and stories [was] a kind of life line. [It] accompanied and directed and acted as a counterpoint to the other story which was being written in hospital records and surgery reports."

The illustrations for the Baby Books range from anthropomorphic bunnies, modelled after the illustrations in children's books, to the indistinct forms of an ultra-sound image, all shadow and light, to the vivid dream image of a tree growing out from under a deserted house. The accompanying texts present dispassionate medical reports ("...bleeding into the abdominal cavity...") or visually precise descriptions of ominous dreams.

Wainio's first son was born in 1995, and as he grew and began to acquire language, Wainio read to him from children's books, moving back and forth between text and images. This traverse of pages, observing the many levels on which images can be framed by even simple texts, suggested a model for the Baby Books, as did Wainio's own journal in which she had written descriptions of what she refers to as "prognostic" dream images.

The written texts in the Baby Books are the first to appear in Wainio's painting. Throughout her early career in the second half of the 1970s and in the 1980s, while text increasingly became a fixture of contemporary art, Wainio privileged the visual and the materiality of the sign. She has characterized her practice as "visual thinking" and as a "structure for wondering." This suggests that for her painting can be understood as a medium or language in which actions, conditions and information made concrete and perceptible in paint have the ability to signify through their internal relations within a field, and to speak, as it were, in the active voice. During the two years before she made the Baby Books, however, a period in which she produced very little work, Wainio began to question artmaking: Why was it that some kinds of experiences can be better dealt with in literature than in art?

-- Nancy Tousley, Guest Curator

Carol Wainio's exhibition at the AGYU includes the Baby Books and other recent works produced between 1995 and the present. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue which features an essay by Nancy Tousley. In 1999 the Musée d'Art de Joliette (Québec) will present a survey exhibition of Wainio's work, curated by Michèle Thériault. We gratefully acknowledge the support of The Canada Council for the Arts.
Art Gallery of York University | Accolade East Building, 4700 Keele Street | Toronto ON M3J 1P3 | agyu [at]