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Unveiling the intricate layers of Beautiful Parasites

The Art Gallery of St. Albert offers an immersive dive into the rich, evocative world of Tammy Salzl.
University of Alberta-trained multimedia artist Tammy Salzl's Beautiful Parasites will be showing at the Art Gallery of St. Albert until August 19th. TAMMY SALZL/ Photo

The Art Gallery of St. Albert has an offering this summer that simply cannot be missed.

Tammy Salzl, an acclaimed multimedia artist with an impressive track record, has transformed the city’s premier display room into a realm of evocative stories and powerful connections. The exhibition, Beautiful Parasites, is an embodiment of Salzl's passion for exploring the human psyche and its intricate bond with the natural world. 

Salzl's artwork, showcased in countries like Germany, Mexico, and the U.S.A., offers a fresh lens into the world of myths and tales, from Aesop’s Fables to the Brothers Grimm.

"Drawing from the histories of myth and folklore is a way for me to connect our current realities to legacies of the past," said Salzl.

"The ceramic and mixed-media sculptures Medusa’s Bestowal, A Gorgon's Legacy, and Tidal Gifts are all inspired by the Greek legend of Medusa, a famous villainess and monster of Greek mythology who has come to symbolize feminine power in modern times." 

In these pieces, the ancient legend of Medusa is linked to our very real current crises facing coral reefs, presenting a vivid connection between mythology and the environment.

“The three daughters of the primordial sea goddess Ceto (Euryale, Medusa and Stheno), are known as the Gorgons, whose petrifying gaze is believed to have created the rocks and reefs in the sea,” Salzl said.

“When Perseus cut off Medusa's head, thrust it into a bag and laid it on the beach, her blood dripped from the bag and leaked into the ocean, creating the corals. Coral reefs take thousands of years to form (and) occupy less than one per cent of the ocean floor, yet are home to more than 25 per cent of marine life, and are globally in serious peril. These sculptures illuminate what has become of Medusa's legacy.”

Viewed in its totality, the theme of interconnection is at the heart of Beautiful Parasites.

"My goal as an artist is to have my work enter the viewers' eye through crafted beauty, descend to the gut as meaning sinks in, then rise to the brain to unfold and fester over time — like a beautiful parasite," Salzl said.

The richness of Salzl’s art is in many ways a reflection of the institutions where she honed her craft; she has a Master of Fine Arts from Concordia University and a BFA from the University of Alberta.

Her work isn’t merely a series of beautiful images but rather it's a deeply felt dialogue between the old and the new.

The painting The Hunt, for instance, inspired by the Grimm's tale "Little Brother and Little Sister" is Salzl’s take on humanizing the classic fable, reflecting themes of codependency and the existential struggles of being human.

Central to Salzl's body of work is the notion of transformation. In Beautiful Parasites, there is a tangible essence of metamorphosis, not just of the characters within the tales she draws inspiration from but of the viewer as well. With each piece, she invites onlookers to experience change: from passive observers to engaged participants in a narrative that bridges the past with the present. As viewers traverse the gallery, there's a sense of evolution in perception, echoing the very transformation of the myths she reinterprets.

The artistry isn't just in the visual. Greg Mulyk, a longstanding collaborator of Salzl, crafts the soundscapes that augment her pieces. Their partnership offers another layer to the multimedia experience, pulling audiences into a deeper realm of emotion and interpretation.

"I will stand in the middle of my studio surrounded by my work and listen to the music he made in response to it, and when I feel overwhelmed, I know we’re on the right track," she says.

Salzl said her art has been influenced by a variety of cultures, including that of her own heritage. 

"The myths and fables I draw from are from my Scandinavian and European ancestry, and examining them is an attempt to better understand myself and the North American psyche."

In Beautiful Parasites, Salzl effortlessly weaves stories from her personal experiences with age-old tales, re-imagining them through a modern lens, striving for deeper self-understanding and connectivity.

"I see my works as psychological portraits, reflecting our shifting sense of self in these complex times," she explains.

"My own experiences and unease about my role and place in this complicated world are embedded in this work. Crucially, I want to acknowledge the emotional and psychological toll so many are feeling right now while proposing space for hope and optimism."

Salzl's Beautiful Parasites is not just an exhibition but an experience, a journey through time, tales, and self-reflection. As visitors navigate the Art Gallery of St. Albert, one thing is clear: Salzl’s art is a poignant reminder of the intricate tapestry of our shared histories and the collective psyche that binds us all.

Beautiful Parasites will be on display until Aug. 19. Additional information regarding hours and artist speaking events can be found on the gallery’s website.

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