Histoires de souche & other family stories

Alisa Arsenault, installation view, 2017

At Le Galerie d’art Louise-et-Reuben-Cohen of Université de Moncton, the current exhibition on view features the work of frencophone artists Marie Hélène Allain and Alisa Arsenault, entitled Histoires de souche & other family stories.

The works on view present ideas of idenity built from family histories, and the artifacts that are created, like family photo albumns, home videos, and other ephemera that captures moments, gestures and people. These relations occupy our past and present. Both artists are concerned with these connections to the past and how it shapes our identities in the present As a way of exploring notions of personal mythology through family archives.

I was especially interested in Arsenault’s installation and the mapping/archival systems she used to display the work. Personal items like family videos, photos and maps of important locations to the artist were layered with patterns of stars, florals and archiving pins. The created works and archived pieces became one and the hierarchy of art object and family memory was broken down. The artist’s interest in conservation is apparent, choosing to preserve her family’s memories, and the act of conserving becomes a part of the work, and her personal history.

Alisa Arsenault, 2017


Documentation Workshop

Struts Gallery and Faucet Media Arts Centre hosted a documentation workshop with Montreal based artist and professional photographer Paul Litherland. He has documented1 artworks for professional artists, galleries and museums across Canada. His clients include: Concordia University, Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal and artist-run centres (OBORO, Clark, M-A-I, Artexte).

He visited Sackville because his partner Karen Trask is currently the University de Moncton and Mount Allison University artist in residence. (I will have another pot on her work soon). Paul however, gave “how-to” workshops on photographing artworks, treating images and managing digital archives. I was interested in the documentation of artworks aspect for this program, especially because he has so much experience documenting projection, installation and performance. Since I feel like my undergraduate experience gave me an adequate idea of how to scan and photograph artworks, but also most never touched on other media.

He very generously shared his presentation on photographing artworks here.

I thought it might be of interest to the co-hort.



Sort of Site Specific

Three new exhibitions have opened in the Sackville/Moncton area in the last few weeks. Plaza presents new work by Maude Bernier Chabot, Montreal QC. The Closer Together Things Are explores the space between difference and similarity that arises from intense observation, featuring work by Kathleen Hearn, Ève K. Tremblay, Laura Letinsky, Micah Lexier & Dave Dyment, Micah Lexier & Roula Partheniou, Rhonda Weppler & Trevor Mahovsky, Luke Painter, Chris Kline, and Roula Partheniou. Finaly For Rona presents new work by Evan Furness, Sackville NB about building space through narrative.

In all of these exhibitions I felt a real connection to place. The series of sculptures in Plaza, resulted from Chabot’s research into the social and commercial space of Plaza St-Hubert in Montréal. This is a space I have visited with my parents, who both grew up in Montreal. This site of economic and cultural life took off in the 1950s and has undergone multiple transformations with changes of merchants and other socio-culturral changes in the neighborhood. Chabot writes that “The result is a cultural mix visible from the storefronts to the back of the shops: fabric stores, restaurants, wedding and ball gowns, beads, used clothing and objects, wigs, multi-ethnic hairdressing salons, and sex shops. The Plaza is a space of abundance where objects pile up, intermingle, and mix. The Plaza has been both as a source of material acquisitions and a source of conceptual inspiration.” The resulting exhibition transforms the white cube into a space with glow in the dark stalagmites and furry forms resting on tarred carpets, and sensual mix of home comfort and tarmacs. Through titles like ‘do not disturb’ you get a sense of the fur forms resting, and could spring to life at any moment, but the invisible barrier of the tarmack creates a separation of space and sense of safety, not unlike looking in a store window at an alien puppy.

The exhibition; The Closer Together Things Are, just opened at the gallery I have been working at, the Owens. The Co-curaters of the exhibiton Shannon Anderson and Jay Wilson note a focus on “the proximity of time, heredity, frottage, palette, concept and presentation.” Each of the works on display demand a double-take, often made from unusual materials, or methods of working that differ from traditional ways of making photographs, drawings, paintings. “Under close scrutiny, the most mundane objects and situations can compel us, drawing our full attention. The more we look, the more variations surface; differences arise from things that once seemed identical, and sameness arises from things that once seemed unrelated. This exploration of nearness guides how the artworks interact with one another through proximity, mirroring, repetition and reinterpretation. Strange bedfellows are made and unforeseen connections arise.” By looking again, or looking more closely, you can begin to notice the differences in the mundane or common, and how these works are slightly different from the objects they are inspired by, but how different that makes our understanding of them. I wonder from this exhibition if the goal is to look more closely at everything visual, both in and outside the gallery.

Many of the works included explore the notion of place through objects, and our relationship to those objects. By subverting that relationship in someway, the artists make us look at the banal again. Anderson explains this as very deliberately as a “mirroring that happens in the work. You see the same objects one way and the other … but it’s not until you spend the time studying [them] that you realize in what ways they’re different and what’s happening between one set of really simple objects and the next.”

One site specific work included was two pages of the Sackville Tribune Post, featuring the work of Micah Lexier and Dave Dyment. I the paper two advertisements show Sam Rockwell in the film Moon. Similar adds have and will be placed in the other venues of the exhibition while on tour, each “looking at doubles, doppelgangers or actors who have played themselves in a film of some kind.… It’s re-splitting something that was originally split and spliced together and separating it again just to underscore the artificiality of it and to emphasize the double-ness of it,” according to Anderson.

In Moncton, Evan Furness’ exhibition For Rona built a space through narrative. The works play with constructs in stories of fiction and truth. The text heavy exhibition teases out the relationship that memory builds with place, and the acts that have occurred there. Reading the stories you get a sense of the place they occurred even without necessarily seeing the whole space. Furness’ drawings and video play with this though large areas of negative space, and just hints of what could be happening in the darkness and ambiguity behind those stories.

Image gracieuseté de l'artiste / Image courtesy of the artist
For Rona, Video, Evan Furness, 2017

Through all of these exhibitions I am forced to consider my place in relation to the works I am encountering. Some familiar spaces become unfamiliar and alien, while spaces I have never visited become feel personal very quickly though story. Objects I think of as common have a secret life, and I feel forced to reconsider everything I at first thought was familiar.

Personal Monochrome

Stweart Geddes’ talk lead me to think more about how I am and am not using colour. How I way not be taking full advantage of the optical possibilities, but also how I have made decisions relating to me my desire to work in monochrome or duochrome. But should I ask myself again: Why am I working in monochrome?

  • reference utilitarianism of diagrams – print
  • highlight material differences
  • play with idea of absence/presence, matter/nothingness
  • simplifying to focus on form, shape, texture
  • simplify complex ideas
  • create visual unity

I have chosen to focus on working with blue and black. Initially because of its use in early scientific diagrams of the astrological starts, like these ones:

Image result for Drioux and Leroy
antique constellation map from 1886 by Drioux and Leroy
Related image
A Chart of the Heavens by John Emslie, c. 1850
Image result for 1855 Johnston Total Solar Eclipse Diagram
1855 Johnston Total Solar Eclipse Diagram

Image result for 1871 celestial constellation map

I was interested in this relationship between how the light blue represented both the night and day sky at the same time. The contrast between the white of the page, blue as often a flat area and the black line work as a standard. When these standards are inverted, what does it mean that the moon, a white circle, is actually just the absence of blue and black, or a star represented by a black dot, when we seem them as white points. These inversions of what we see, into a diagrammatic language fascinates me. How far away can a representation of a star get, but still read as a star in a sky?

I think my fascination with these two colours comes from less a formal exploration, than an exploration of what they have represented historically.

While I was thinking about the black and blue relationship, I remembered the blue/black or white gold dress phenomenon : THE DRESS. When I saw it the first time I saw blue and black, but another time I saw white and gold… This reminded me of just how complex our brains’ understanding of colour can be, even with ‘normal’ vision and how colour is read differently by every viewer.

Image result for the blue and black dress

Role of the artist in ‘Disability and Curatorial Activism’

Yesterday I was able to attend a lecture on ‘Disability and Curatorial Activism’ by the independent curator and critic, Amanda Cachia. It was a really great talk, and I particularly appreciated the way Cachia talked about the difficulties of curating accessible exhibitions frankly; what does and sometimes does not work and how she approaches working with artists who do and also do not identify as disabled. Much of her research focuses on disability, politics, choreography and the way disabled bodies move through space.

Cachia was visiting Sackville NB because in Fall, 2018, she will curate Automatisme Ambulatoire: Hysteria, Imitation, Performance, for the Owens Art Gallery at Mount Allison University. In this exhibition six international artists have been invited to consider how “hysterical” gestures can work to subvert, undo, transform and re-imagine the body and language in art. This project is being supported by a grant from the “New Chapter” fund at the Canada Council for the Arts and will feature work from Pauline and Renate, Emily Rosdon, Brendan Fernandez, My Barbarian, Claire Cunningham and Diane Borsato.

Christine Sun Kim, a noise without character, 2013, Statement drawing
Scary Boyle, Silent Dedication, 2013, Written, directed and art directed by Shary Boyle, Translated and performed by Beth

This latest project has come out as a product of four other projects Cachia worked on, and were the ones she focused on in her talk. Though the specific exhibitions were fascinating conceptually, it was exceptionally incredible to hear from her about how the public actually interacted with these works, something I don’t think curators often talk about, but is at the core of the success or failure of an exhibition.

Many of the exhibitions Cachia works on involve what she described as making accommodations for all visitors. This included braille and large format signage and print,  ASL interpretation, audio or written description, altered hanging highs and touchable work. I was interested in the way she asked artists to build accessibility into the work they were showing from the beginning of their working relationships. This included adding touchable pieces to accompany videos, works that were made to be touched or put on a body, and vibration works accompanied by the appropriate descriptions of sounds, smells, or visuals. She described these as layers of accessibility that she wanted the artists to be conscious of when making the work and thinking about their audience.

Sara Hendren, Unknown Armature: Body socks, 2012, Wearable

This notion of thinking about audience has been brought up so many times in the course already, and while my audience might be quite small and mostly able bodied now, would it be beneficial to be thinking about my ‘dream’ audience of public galleries, which includes people of all levels of ability? It is generally agreed that most institutions are not doing enough in terms of accommodation, so is it possible for the artists to begin thinking differently about making work, to change the way the institutions function? Even the really large, national and international organizations tend to focus on one area of expertise (and do it really well, ie. Met Touch Tours) but not all people can always have every need met right now. Is it the curators job to ask for accessibility, or should it be the artist’s role to ensure that is there from the very beginning, in the hopes of making the gallery more accessible from the artwork out.


Lindsay Fisher, (left) Peepshow, 2014, Video installation, 0:09 minutes; (right) How to paint your nails perfectly, 2014, Video installation, 3:09 minutes







Thoughts on VL4

Q: In what ways do artist’s biographies inform of distract from the viewers experiences of the work?

I  think the artist biography is mostly inseparable when looking at a body of work.  If I know something about the artist, that is essentially knowing something about the work or at least the background from which it was created, and that inherently has an impact on how I will read the work. Especially in the current world of oversharing information, and media allowing for behind the scenes access to artists and their private worlds and studios, going forward the lives of artists will always impact their work.

I do not this this is a negative thing, especially in the case of deciding what artists to support. Because of the #metoo movement, I don’t think it will be long before the actions of artists begin to have an impact on how their work is read and interpreted. There have been specific issues related to this in Atlantic Canada, and has lead to a rethinking about how that artist’s work is interpreted.


After watching this lecture and thinking about Ward’s assertion “that all art is a form of proposition and anything is possible” made me think about the Yayoi Kasuma exhibition that is about to open at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) in Toronto. Kasuma, to me, is an artist whose work in inseparable from her biography, and in everything I read about her work when it is show is linked to her legacy, more than the work itself. In the promotional material for the exhibition Yayoi Kasuma: Infinity Mirrors, the work’s history of exhibition is talked about more than the actual content of the work. In this instance, I would love to actually hear from the artist about her work, rather than why I should be excited it is traveling to Canada. It is no doubt exciting work, and a great opportunity to see it in person, but the hype is over shadowing content.

Yayoi Kasuma, Infinity Mirrored Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away

I just looked into the exhibition and visited the AGO main web page I was met with an uninviting, uninspired corporate web page that informed me that I am in the queue, but 52323 people are ahead of me for tickets. I had to click a tiny hyperlink to get to the regular home page, which was also 90% Kasuma.  This page also contained a list of rules and regulations for the tickets. Even for someone comfortable with the gallery going experience, this seems a bit extreme to me, and makes me think that it will be a mess of people when I actually get to the exhibition. Nothing about this initial online experience is welcoming, incomplete contrast to PR campaign launched for the exhibition which features Kasuma’s dots on the public transportation and every-poster able surface imaginable in downtown Toronto.


In trying to find any critical writing about the exhibition in Toronto, all of the media/critical coverage is about this ticket scramble – why is the work not the focus? What is the financial gain of the gallery by taking this show, and putting basically all other programming on hold to accommodate this media frenzy? This work has also been shown many times before, but the infrastructural breakdown in this case is eclipsing the critical value of the exhibition.

This was a bit of a ramble, but I think it is important to look at the lives of artists as well as the content of their work. The two can be separated, but I don’t always think that is beneficial to the art world as a whole.


Record Hounding

Expanded Pecha Kucha from January 8 

Images here

My break was filled with driving and hospital trips, but also music, books, and family. I am now cast free, and actually able to type, and get back to making like normal. Though  during the break there wasn’t much time for visiting galleries, due to poor hours around here and snowstorms that made driving too unsafe, I was able to consume a lot of art through music, zines, books and the internet.

forjane square with text
enemy for Jane, by me

I took a bit of a break from making, but did work on this album cover for Jane Blanchard’s new EP. The image is of Patti Smith, which sparked my interested in how when we look at some words we have an auditory response and how the worlds of visual art and music are intrinsically connected.

In Smith’s work, I find there is little need to differentiate between lyrics, poetry and drawings. They all exist at the same time in their unique mediums. The intensity of her lyrics come through the drawings as much as when they are performed. Both document time in some way, on paper or in the history of music. As someone who originally started out to be an artist, but ended up most well known as a musician, her definitions became loose, and the two words work to feed her end goal of sharing her poetry with an audience.

That same sense of passion in words also comes through in the Fiver album, Audible Songs from Rockwood, which listens as 11 fictional field recordings. These folk songs were developed by Simone Schmidt through research of public archives about the Rockwood Asylum for the Criminally Insane in Kingston, Ontario. Through patient files, superintendent diaries and architectural diagrams she pieced together the lives of the women who were institutionalized under deplorable living conditions. This record is accompanied by a book, with artwork by many different artists and the lyrics and research notes about the inmates by a fictional ethnomusicologist; Simone Carver, performing under this alter ego. Through these songs Fiver brings the women’s reality to life, in a haunting way, but also raises questions about the patriarchal systems which lead to these women’s mistreatment and archives as an apparatus for colonial power.

In a parcel I received from Laura Watson of Georgetown Ontario as a part of her Mail Exchange project, was a zine and print about the folk ballad ‘Two/Twa Sisters’. The lyrics rest between a poem and a song, describing the story of a young girl murdered by her older sister. This ballad has been reinterpreted over 500 times, dating back to 1806, but also continues to be retold by contemporary artists like Bob Dylan, the Kinks, and Tom Petty. This parcel included a link to a playlist of songs about the two sisters. The story of incomprehensible dark human behavior has also been told through painting and like will be told in whatever new media are developed in the future, but the text of the story is inseparable from the imagery.

Another book I received over the break was Take my Breath Away, a collection of watercolour drawings by Sackville, NB artist Jon Claytor. I was really struck by these drawings, because many of them were recognizable faces and friends. These images, accompanied by the text of pop song gave me such an intense emotional response. Some words hearken such immediate audible responses, that it is hard for me to read “I want to dance with somebody” without hearing Whitney Houston belt that verse out in my head. So the text has a real effect on how I feel when looking at the images.

I get a similar emotional response when I re-read the graphic novel Record Hunting, by Patrick Allaby over the break. This story focuses on the relationship between a father and son bonding over looking for and collecting records in New Brunswick, until their relationship eventually becomes more strained. The novel features many hand drawn record covers, some obscure and some more iconic. The ones I recognize and have heard before, immediately start to play in my head. For many record hunters, a reason to collect an out of date technology is the album art. With such a large surface area to consider, the art work is such an important part of the record as a whole, and the liner notes or inside leaflets contain images, notes and information that is so important to the music. Something that you cannot get the same feelings from through digital downloads.

While I was thinking about all of these iterations of art and music, there was a large exhibition on at the Musee D’Art Contemporain in Montreal which pays homage to Leonard Cohen. This extensive exhibition included art by the late artist and works inspired by his legacy. Since I couldn’t make it to the physical exhibition I read The Book of Longing by Cohen. This was his first published book of poetry, which was released quite late in his life in 2008. The poetry is standard Cohen, with rich imagery of being n love, but I was curious about how the illustrations were used throughout the book. They used some cheesy computer programs to add artificial shading to his ink drawings of women, self-portraits, guitars and iconic hummingbird. The more compelling images were those that included language and shifted the mood of the drawings. In this case he language seems inseparable from the images.

Of the same era as Cohen, Joni Mitchell has always affirmed herself as an artist first, and a musician by happenstance, and has painted all through her life. I have always loved her album covers and self-portraits for their folk art influence, and likely because I love the music as well. I was curious what work she continued to do later in her life. Before her stoke last summer, she painted every day.  I discovered these Green Flag Song works, from 2006, which I was surprised to see as they are so drastically different than her more illustrative work. These mixed media works are a part of a series of 60 triptychs, which present worried visions of war, revolution and torture. The distortion makes then ghostly and mysterious, and clearly reference video in someway, suggesting that sound is related even without it explicitly being present.

Through all of these works the text is inseparable from the overall image. The presence of sound or music is implied through content or association, making for a more rich reading of the work, or a more intense emotional connection.