Lost in Strange Beauty
Real Cold Series, Amy Stewart’s series Real Cold emerges from her interest in experiences of embodiment. When Stewart was a teenager, her body began to behave strangely. At times, her feet turned painfully cold and blue. An athlete and a child of the outdoors, she gradually noticed that her body’s reactions had changed from the “normal” she had always known. After multiple medical consultations and months of confusion, she finally got a few answers, as well as a decision: doctors said that because of Stewart’s extreme reaction to the cold, only surgery would prevent her from losing her feet.
While surgery restored Stewart’s feet, it did not stop her body’s dramatic shifts in temperature. Years later, she has adapted to the strangeness—to sudden bouts of heat swinging to intense drops to cold. She knows how to cope with these responses by giving her body what it needs, but she still doesn’t understand why her body does what it does.
The paintings in Real Cold trace the fluctuations from heat to cold, and the idea that a single body can contain such opposing forces. The series pairs paintings of contrasting colours; the cool shades of intense cold against the subtle warmth of more temperate weather suggest the uncertainty of bodily responses. Sharp lines cut across her canvases in angular breaking points—the body’s sudden collapse from accumulated tension—or in straight, vertical strokes from one extreme to another.
At a time when we are all impacted by a global health pandemic, we are more acutely aware of the body’s vulnerability. The crisis has forced us to watch people swing suddenly from good health to incapacitating sickness. Even for those who stay healthy, an uncertainty remains about the body’s potential for infection. Stewart’s personal history of bodily oppositions connects in Real Cold to a broader, shared experience of embodiment and our growing awareness of the fundamental ways in which our bodies enclose the uncertain potential for sudden change.