Where do I begin and end? And where.
As I strum the thing, do I pick up
That which momentarily declares
Itself not to be I and yet
Must be. It could be nothing else.
(Wallace Stevens, “The Man with the Blue Guitar”)
Cento: a patchwork, a poem created entirely from lines quoted from other poets.
The other day in conversation with a group of women friends, I brought up the question of identity and the role that appropriation plays in the construction of self. My view was that we quite literally produce an every-changing sense of self through and in the work of others (books, the arts, conversation, etc.). In my case, I feel there is nothing of my own in this ‘self’, (ie. original) but that all of it, all of it comes from others. To me this is clear from the way I create my drawings. They are quite literally drawn from the writing of other authors and the image making of previous artists. That is, the production of self, both individual and shared, is a becoming, through and with interactions with others – choosing, acting, living—composing a life within a social context, an inextricably social context. Even if most of my work is produced in isolation, its source is always dialogic.
I’ve been reading Nancy’s Being Singular Plural these past weeks and was struck by his argument for understanding ourselves as beings together, always beings—that before anything else, before individuality, before being in the world, there is plurality. The very essence of existence is plurality. There is no such thing as one, alone, existing in the world, in any form of life. I am of course, reducing Nancy’s complex ideas of relationality and ontology into a form that I can grasp, so my apologies here, but, this fundamental concept of our existence gets to the very ground of relationships. We view ourselves as separate individuals, and so we are, but at the same time, we are inextricably bound to one another through the very fact that life is always already together, and without that, there would be nothing, no world, no life. We try so hard to remain separate, I and you, we and they, one and others, my country, your religion, their class, her gender, his appearance, etc., the list is long. And at the same time, we try to negotiate togetherness within the perceived separations. A tricky balance.
I’ve been working on a new series recently. It’s going through various permutations, so basically I am at the exploration stage. Here are 4 images from the first permutation. Still rose petals, still Nancy texts, but dark petals arranged in doubles. They remind me of leaky lungs. (The petals have always alluded to body parts). The Nancy text fragments speak about existence and time – well, to me they do.
Last week I did a workshop at the Roundhouse Community Centre as part of the Memory Festival. We worked with the red rose petals, and participants were asked to inscribe a memory, draw a design of their choice, or use a piece of text from the exhibition as the starting point for their own idea. All the inscribed petals were then placed into a labyrinth made of rose stems and leaves, on the floor of the exhibition hall. It was a fun afternoon with participants of all ages. Some amazing work was created on the petals, including text inscribed in various languages. I heard some wonderful stories and memories too! Here’s a sampling of the beautifully inscribed petals.
What a fantastic opportunity it was to be part of the Memory Festival program, and to be able to show some of the work from the Withdrawn: scribing Nancy series. My friend Elizabeth MacKenzie (artist and Festival participant) asked me what I considered the best aspect of the Festival week, and I said that being part of an exhibition with her and fellow artist, Cindy Mochizuki was definitely the most incredible part. Elizabeth and Cindy’s projects are incredibly beautiful, profound and unique explorations into memory, each investigation approaching memory from a private viewpoint—one that, at the same time, becomes greater than itself, expanding to relate to the larger public and a larger audience.
With Geist’s, (the founders of the Memory Festival), One-Sentence Memories of Vancouver, Theatre Replacement’s Movie Group performance, and my Inscribing Memory workshop, it was an an engaging and varied week-long exploration into memory!
Here are some shots from the Memory Festival installation of my work:
The festivities at Sunset Community Centre were fantastic, and despite the iffy weather, the day was very well attended. From face painting, to jungle gyms, to performances, to food, to a fantastic mapping project by “Something Collective,” there was something fun to do and see for everyone in the family.
Our ephemeral maple leaf project went very well. We had lots of interested participants, and it was a pleasure to engage our visitors in this drawing project.The tiny drawings and messages are absolutely stunning! I’m posting a few of rose petals here and some images of our participants working intently on their designs.
By the end of the day, our fantastic assistants, Bal and Gourvir, had placed well over a thousand inscribed rose petals into our giant maple leaf (10′ x 10′ without the stem).
Many thanks go to the incredible Arts and Culture Programmer, Cyndy Chwelos for her unfailing support and amazing willingness to try different things. Thanks are due also to my partner, Victor Guy for being so helpful and welcoming to everyone who passed by our tables. Thanks also to our young volunteers for giving their time. And last of all, thank you to everyone of our participants who helped in creating this maple leaf.
I will be participating at Sunset Community Centre on July 1. Thanks to the fantastic Program Director, Cyndy Chwelos, we will be creating a giant, collaborative, maple leaf sculpture outside on the grounds of the community centre, with the help of community members and visitors to the Canada Day Celebrations. That’s Sunday, July 1, 12:00 – 4:00pm. The maple leaf will be made entirely out of incribed rose petals. Each participant will be asked to incribe his/her first name or initials and birthdate on a rose petal. Or, just a pattern or a design can be created on the petal if so desired. Each participant will then place the petal(s) into the already prepared maple leaf outline (made out of rose stems). It should be fun and if we’re lucky, great visually, given its 10′ x 10′ size, especially against the green of the lawns. And of course, made of out natural material, it will be ephemeral and totally environmentally friendly. Will the gods of weather cooperate?
I am working with my archive of inscribed rose petals—the white ones, and with the classical figures, but as with the Nancy text, the figures are fragmentary. Dissolving into memory, they become distorted and removed from the original perfection of form.
On Friday I had my first foray into the stacks at UBC, to start the process of returning the inscribed rose petals to the books in my “Bibliography.” (please see the page on this blogsite for further info on this project).
To say the least, the experience was a delight – enveloped in the smell of books, searching through endless rows, finding familiar titles and meeting new ones, pulling books off shelves and thumbing through their pages; looking for evidence of previous readers – marks, notes, underlining and anything else that might give away the presence of former touch. And, there was that added thrill of knowing that I was there to intentionally add something to that collection of physical evidence.
I had no idea how long it was going to take me to find each book, search through its pages, make notes, place one inscribed rose petal somewhere into the book, photograph the page or book cover and return the book to its original spot on the shelf. I certainly could not anticipate how engaging it would be to read sections of the books – the heavily underlined and “used” pages especially. What did other readers find important? What preoccupied their reading? Who were they? Truly, each mark, each trace, a “world…on the doorstep” to use one of the Nancy text fragments. It’s going to take me a long time to get through my bibliography.
Of the books that I explored on Saturday, 3 discoveries stood out – one was finding Foucault’s essay on “The Meninas;” another was coming upon a receipt of checked-out books from 2007 which included the book that I was looking at, at that moment; and the third was the discovery of a lovely tiny dedication, perched in the corner of the first page of an essay written by Mieke Bal. The dedication reads, For “A” in loving memory.