Monday, 22 December 2014

With Eyes that Close

This image shows the installation after a snow,
which lent an atmosphere of innocence.
The mud made a hungry slurping sound as I pulled my foot out of it.  I was walking down a muddy foot path with artist Pepa Chan, we were on the way to see her installation of With Eyes that Close, which probes the missing but not yet forgotten women and girls of aboriginal descent in Newfoundland and Labrador who were victims to violent crime.  This was not the first time I had made the trek up to Signal Hill and prowled around the back loop of woods behind the Geo Centre Park.  It is filled with lovely distracting views that put you over the City of St. John's and its harbour.

Pepa Chan is an artist who uses plush animals and dolls as her raw material.  She reconfigures them.  And I like her work enough that I have bought it at a silent auction.  My own piece is composed of four legs with pantiloons and tiny white shoes.  To me it represents the dysfunctional family and in particular the odd way we have of constructing memories, stitching together parts that don't really go together or serve a function anymore.  I was curious to see how Chan was going to use the dolls and animals to support her theme.
Plush animals are comfort toys.  Pepa Chan
uses them in disturbing ways.

"We're here" Pepa announces and I shift my gaze up from the slippery rocks and into the wood and I see them.  Eighty dolls placed in the trees.  They look flung as if from some explosion and hang from the branches every which way.  We've had several days of rain and they are sodden.  My eyes first settle on a doll's figure that is upside down.  Purple wool spills out of it like entrails.  "So violent" are the first words that occur to me.  Pepa responds, "the way they died was violent".  She tells me how working on this project gave her nightmares, how she needed to take a break in order to complete it.

I am thankful for the gentle weather and for the fact that Pepa and I enjoy each other's company.  It puts a pleasant sheen on the experience.  This bitter pill needs a sugar coating to experience.  I spend an hour going through the woods, the burnt out campfire ring that was there prior to the installation.  Dolls have been scalped by nature, eyes pushed into their sockets.  This is rough stuff.  My own experience of violence and childhood resurface, which I share with Pepa.  The trees are slick with rain, mushrooms in vivid colours push their way through the bark.  I am moved to tears. This is an exhibition I need to review, I must find a publication that is appropriate.
Scissors: the duality of support and menace are evoked skillfully.

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