"The Black Notebooks series"
Brigitte Radecki, "The Black Notebooks series," 2004-2005, acrylic on canvas, 60" x 60".
PROXIMITIES: Artists’ Statements and Their Works
Kamloops Art Gallery, Kamloops
Oct. 16- Dec. 31, 2005
By Portia Priegert
The contested space between words and images — and the often uneasy relationship between making art and writing about it — offers rich terrain for a thought-provoking exhibition. Proximities: Artists’ Statements and Their Works explores that territory, bringing to the foreground what is usually peripheral.
In its most utilitarian role, an artist’s statement is essentially a short essay that serves as a calling card-cum-solicitation to curators. An indicator of an artist’s professionalism and criticality, it typically summarizes content and provides context by discussing influences and esthetic approaches. Thus, as the show’s title suggests, such statements can be seen as existing in proximity to artwork but also as a verbal proxy or approximation of it.
Many artists dislike writing statements — some because the form is difficult to craft, others because they feel text can be too explicit, thereby narrowing potential interpretations and eroding visual power. There is also debate about whether musings on private aesthetics should be shared with viewers through catalogues and didactic panels.
The exhibition’s genesis came after W.F. Garrett-Petts, an English instructor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, was invited to discuss writing with a studio class. He and fellow professor Rachel Nash began to research statements as an overlooked minor literary genre.
For Proximities, they asked nine artists — Stephan Kurr, Donald Lawrence, Paula Levine, Kristi Malakoff, Ashok Mathur, Jan Peacock, Brenda Pelkey, Brigitte Radecki and Sandra Semchuk — to explore statements as art, whether “parallel, complementary or even contrary to the principal visual representation.”
The exhibition includes Radecki’s evocative series of paintings, The Black Notebooks, which uses the established language of abstraction to explore handwritten passages by Elizabeth Smart, author of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. Part of an ongoing project to recall the lives of women writers, it inverts the typical relationship between image and text.
Kurr, in Artist’s Statement, allows the statement to become the artwork by presenting uncut video footage of 53 artists who responded to his question: “What are you doing?” Kurr suggests the current absence of widely accepted assumptions about esthetics means that authenticity — which he defines as consistency of work, person and background — ultimately becomes the test of quality.
Suggesture, a collaboration by Semchuk, Mathur and Malakoff, attempts to efface the boundaries between words and images by presenting a wall of vinyl text that incorporates video, photographs and sculptural elements. They note that statements, through their challenge to articulate, promote “artistic genesis and self-awareness essential to a practice.”
Lawrence, meanwhile, focuses on material manifestations of text in The Drumheller Albertosaurus by presenting family memorabilia, including a fossilized dinosaur bone excavated by his older brother, which he proposes as a “latent impulse” for his work with skeletal constructions.
There is plenty to ponder, too much to summarize effectively within a brief review, another proximal representation fraught with challenge. Perhaps it’s best to conclude with an observation from the exhibition catalogue that seems apropos to both artists’ statements and reviews: “They are footprints to follow, a temporary assurance that someone has walked this way before.”