Away

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“By the time I finish this story you will have decided to hug the land – the real earth – the trees in the orchard, the timbers of this house. You will have decided never to go away.”

Jane Urquhart’s 1993 novel Away is the seventh book that Open Book Art Collective has created original artworks for. Away traces the lives of four generations of women across landscapes: from the rocky coasts of 19th century Northern Ireland to the slums of Montreal, to the present-day shores of Lake Ontario — emotive, political and literal landscapes that both enchant and devastate the characters. Themes of displacement and connection to land resonate with our contemporary realities of the refugee crisis, colonial legacy, and industrial development pushing the earth to the brink of environmental collapse. These broader themes of identity and place are echoed alongside the intimate details of four women’s lives whose stories form the heartbeat of the narrative.

The artists of Open Book Art Collective have created a diverse body of work that responds to the poetic and cyclical storytelling found in the novel, intending to honour the richness of the literature. Threads of Irish mythology and spirituality weave throughout the corporeal, earthy, and material-focused imagery found in the exhibit. We invite the viewers to contemplate bodily responsiveness to one’s unseen inner forces, the symbols we cling to in order to tell our life stories, the often unknown but intimate ties to one’s matrilineal heritage, and the ever-evolving understanding of our relationship to the non-human world. Whether their subject matter is water, permeable bodies, or personal articles essential for survival, each artist has interpreted themes from the novel according to their various art practices and the way the writing impacted them personally.

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Away

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Jane Urquhart’s 1993 novel Away is the seventh book that the artists of the Open Book Art Collective have read together. Away traces the lives of four generations of women across landscapes: from the rocky coasts of mid-19th century Ireland, devastated by potato blight, to the slums of Montreal,  to present-day shores of Lake Ontario. While traversing lands and histories, Away lyrically explores the complexities of our relationship to the land.

Urquhart’s characters navigate landscapes that both enchant them and prove devastatingly harsh. Away’s themes of displacement, industry and connection to the land resonate with contemporary realities of refugee crises, indigenous rights and the unfettered development that is pushing the earth to the brink of environmental collapse. As an elderly woman tells her granddaughter at the beginning of the novel, “By the time I finish this story you will have decided to hug the land — the real earth — the trees in the orchard, the timbers of this house. You will have decided never to go away.”

The broad themes of place are set alongside the intimate details of women’s lives whose stories form the heart of this narrative. These characters navigate landscapes of family, politics, race, and nation while always seeking to realize their identities as women.  “Away,” writes reviewer Tania Glyde, “is a ravishing evocation of the lives of those whose souls are irrevocably touched by nature. It is also, subtly and cunningly, about female independence.”