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Anna Frlan’s Interbellum: wartime steel

By Alejandro Bustos on January 22, 2013

Anna Frlan’s current exhibit at the Ottawa School of Art is the best show that I have seen by a local artist. Comprising five steel sculptures, the exhibit Interbellum at the schools’ main gallery at 35 George Street is simply brilliant.

An Ottawa-native whose parents came to Canada from Croatia following World War II, Frlan heard numerous stories about war while growing up. This background forms the seed of Interbellum, a word which describes the period between the First and Second World Wars.

The spark that led her to create war-themed sculptures, however, came from her long history of using steel to make art. After spending significant time with steel, she decided to research its history and discovered the longstanding link between the steel industry and weapons manufacturers.

“As I had worked with steel I decided to understand the entire history of steel,” explains Frlan. “(For instance), the word for grenade comes from the French word for pomegranate…. Then I found that some grenades are called pineapples. That is why I made the pineapple piece.”

The work she is referring to is a sculpture of a grenade in the shape of a pineapple. At first glance, the steel statute looks almost playful, even silly. However, when inspected more closely, the pineapple reveals itself to be anything but—its curved stems look sharp enough to be knives.

This sense of duality that exists in all five sculptures is akin to the famous half-full/half-empty glass of water. For those who see a glass half-full, Interbellum is a period of peace between two horrific wars. With this perspective, one can see such things in Frlan’s work as the humorous watermelon-shaped bomb that hangs from the mouth The Stork, which is one of her most imposing statues.

If you are a half-empty glass kind of person, then Interbellum refers to the period of shock following World War I, and the feeling of dread about the coming of World War II. With this viewpoint, one can see that Frlan has converted the innocent stork of childhood stories into a metallic weapon that is delivering death rather than life.

“Even though there may be peace, there may not be peace inside the individual,” she tells me. “There might also be anxiety of war to come.”

This sense of anxiety is evident in Post-Bellum Support, arguably her best piece. Comprised of a large ribcage supported by numerous crutches, the statue is a meditation on the price of war.

When I saw the statue, I couldn’t help but think that even in “peace” the interbellum was a scar-filled epoch, and that the urgent desire to heal was intertwined with still fresh wounds.

Interbellum runs until February 21, is free of charge and is absolutely worth a visit.