Dominique Rey has been interested in style since she was five, when she remembers suffering the indignity of posing for a class photo in shoes she didn’t think matched her dress. Art lured the Winnipeg-based 37-year-old from a potential fashion design career to photography, painting, sculpture, video and performance art. But her work often, on some level, still asks: How do people choose to present themselves, and what might it mean? There are the exotic dancers primping pre-show in her award-winning photo series Selling Venus, and the ink drawing and oil paintings in Pilgrims, whose subjects each wear items of finery, like Chewbacca’s bolero jacket, or a show- girl’s opal-studded feathered headdress.
Rey has exhibited across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, while juggling a day job as a University of Manitoba art professor and pulling her weight as half of a creative- class power couple—her husband, Lancelot Coar, is an architecture professor and artist (their joint project won the regionals in the prestigious Migrating Landscapes competition).
Despite her professional sure-footedness, she’s drawn to the misfit. For the self-portrait series that made up her 2012 show Erlking, Rey donned lumpy, colourful stuffed pantyhose to become both an evil German forest creature and the unsuspecting traveller he lures: “Pantyhose are supposed to constrict and shape a woman’s body to an ideal form,” she says. “But the way I use them distorts the body into grotesque shapes, speaking to the unconscious that refuses to be constrained, leading to all kinds of mishaps and follies.”
Rey, proudly francophone, is no stranger to feeling Other. Her upcoming solo show, Strangers to Ourselves, at the Langage Plus gallery in Alma, Que. (Nov. 29–Jan. 27), borrows its title and central ideas from the post-structuralist philosopher Julia Kristeva’s book of the same name. Each large-scale “photo assemblage” is formed from cut-up pieces of old colour photos that Rey rephotographed, then reprinted on a larger scale. Yellow roses, snowy mountaintops and fishnet-clad limbs form semi-human figures with an air of both otherworldly strangeness and elegance. The collaged creatures are almost at risk of being swallowed up by their bright white back- grounds, as though lost in a snowstorm—you can feel their loneliness.
“Ultimately, a stranger is a reflection of the unfathomable depths within you that are out of your reach,” says Rey. “And if you have the courage, life is about encountering those depths with open eyes and curiosity.”