Monday, December 1, 2014

The Threads in Our Life

Went  to an exhibit last summer of the 6th biennial of contemporary sculpture where the artists all focused on the same theme--perdrePied  ("losing one's footing")

"Losing one's footing, to no longer be in control,
being disoriented, being overwhelmed,
no longer knowing where you are"

This was one of the presentations highlighting that theme.  The artist exhibited a model church sculpted entirely of thin, fragile, translucent fabric, held together with thread and suspended from the ceiling in a stark, bare, otherwise empty white room.    At its base, cloud-like tulle hugs at its foundations, as if trying to anchor it.  It seems to move, and breathe, or tremble, as you walk past.  The effect was ghostly.

Nearby, a crane ominously awaits.

Side View.  These photos don't do it justice.  The whole thing  was absolutely exquisite.

"I decided to approach this theme in a figurative sense," says the artist, "exploiting the topic of the disappearance of the heritage built up in Québec, and more specifically, the religious heritage." 


What interests this artist is "the gradual removal of these monuments of the past that allow us to identify with our history, and to position ourselves in relation to it."  

"The church is in some way the physical incarnation that endures through time of a system of values and of an ideology that were formative of Québec society.  Our culture results from key events in our history and is as much coloured by the Great Darkness as by the Quiet RevolutionOn this point, I wonder about the impact of the vacuum produced by a certain rejection of our past.  Won't this loss lead to a search for meaning, a search for identity, a loss of balance?"

"I raise this questioning through the production of a textile installation that notably presents a church where demolition is imminent."

The demolition crane (detail)

"This architectural structure was built by a work of sewing, using sheer fabrics, giving the impression of lightness and fragility to an item that is normally solid, which seems to us indestructible, immutable."

Jannick Deslauriers was born in 1983 in Joliette, Québec.
She lives and works in Montréal and teaches art at the Cégep Marie-Victorin.

To see more of this artist's work, click here.

Her web site is here.

I particularly liked this earlier piece (not part of the above exhibition):

lethe (from series battlefield series) 2009
Artist: Jannick Deslauriers

A poem I encountered around the time I'd gone to this exhibit seemed to speak directly to related thoughts on  the disappearance of familiar traditions, objects or landscapes that are part of one's past.

Of Things Past

                                                                Draw as you will you cannot
                                                                Hold on to them as they slip

                                                                Like water through fingers
                                                                Frozen in marble round

                                                               The ring of a well.

                                                                    ~ ~ Vassilis Zambaras

The artist Jannick Deslauriers wonders "about the impact of the vacuum produced by a certain rejection of our past,"   asking:

"Won't this loss lead to a search for meaning, a search for identity, a loss of balance?"

One's identity--how one defines oneself with respect to one's culture, heritage, country--is subjective.   While loss of a tradition or native language can indeed be unsettling, the loss of the meaning one attaches to them can be even more of a disconnect - because it positions you outside, so to speak  (standing away, apart from, not experienced as "one with" it anymore).  Loss of  meaning in something does not always result in disorientation, however, if one fills the void left by its loss with something more meaningful.  It may actually ground or stabilize, rather than serve to dislodge, one's future life "footing," so to speak  But that's a whole other topic.

A  fragile, soft sculpture that cannot stand on its own and needs support from above, this church floats and  "breathes",  as clouds of tulle gather at its base, attempting  to anchor it.  Take away the strings holding it up and it collapses in on itself. 

What does it mean to think of something as indestructible, a kind of "given" - only to discover that it  perhaps . . . . isn't? 

That beautiful old churches get razed to become trendy new condos saddens me.  When in 2001 the Taliban destroyed two giant  6th-century carved Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan it sickened me, a loss felt even by those outside these cultures, as a universal reminder of the impermanence of 'things'.

There's a big difference, of course, between changes wrought slowly by time or inevitability, and those deliberately  and systematically engineered to erode or eradicate a people's identity. Native American Indian children taken from their families by early religious groups, renamed and forbade  to speak their own language;  and Tibetans today, having had thousands of their monasteries burnt down, their way of life now tightly controlled by the Chinese, are two examples that come to mind.  When your land is no longer yours, your language no longer spoken, your culture not something succeeding generations find easy to "identify with", except as a handed-down story or inherited label, then not the where you are but the who you are may cause you to examine what this all means to you personally.  Parallels flooded my brain as I was drawn back to the scene before me.

 I marveled at the sheer craft involved in the creation of this floating church.  Anybody who's ever worked with certain fabric, trying to get needle and thread to cooperate, will appreciate the enormous amount of time and effort it took to design and produce this magnificently constructed artpiece.  (I understand  that it was still being worked on up to 40 minutes before the exhibit opened.)

I peeked inside (or tried to) but saw only complete white space.  A gently held Emptiness.  I became fascinated with the black threads holding it all together--their intricacy and sometimes whimsical randomness.  For example, on the crane boom, they appear to be both clinging to and escaping from that which they are tasked with holding together.  I like that the artist allowed for this threadly ambiguity, the visual play of being both attached to and moving away from -- even the church's front bannisters and steps seemed to undulate to this rhythm.

Lost footing with respect to identity--what we identify with, or as--like the meanings we attach to ideas and things--is mutable.  What we accept or reject (or are simply indifferent to), how we respond to their loss, and who we become (or remain) as a result,  largely depends on their meaning to us not just collectively, but individually. Does this loss to "us" (the culture as a whole) make you feel more--or less--connected?  The answer to this question perhaps holds the clue to the nature of the connection, where we stand in relation to its absence, and whether that makes a difference or not.

This particular artist focused on the loss of religious heritage.  Wider considerations presented themselves in the overall theme as well:

  lostFOOTING, is to lose one's physical support, one's usual perspectives, one's aesthetic values, one's physical anchors, whether in a corporal manner, metaphorical, emotional, mental, or creative. It is also a rupture in equilibrium, a change of scenery, a rout, a stumble in the rhythm of walking, in the momentum of a journey, in the thread of life… All artists participating in the various exhibitions, events, and other activities will explore the proposed theme.

 Loss of one's physical, emotional, or metaphorical anchors, stumbles in 'rhythm' (who of us hasn't?!), lost momentum, ruptured equilibrium, loss of creativity (or in interest thereof) - whole pages could be written on any one of these 'threads'.

This all gets so murky.  But the subject is fascinating.  Utterly.  I like art that makes you think.  And this artist's work certainly did that. . . and then some! 

Thank youJannick Deslauriers, for  this visual and reflective adventure.  The exhibit was outstanding.