Critical Distance

to sow: Jake Moore
September 13 – October 12, 1996

a response to the exhibition by Susan Chafe

“We inherit our giant as we inherit our language, for as the Douaisien knew, they are one and the same.”¹

THE DIFFICULTY OF MAKING A SOUND The storefront windows are packed with stooks of wheat that press against the glass — a vitrine you can walk into. Ladybugs flutter amongst them. Moths preserved for years in the glass of the front windows. The building makes slow revelations of its history; the huge the small, the living, and the preserved. Inside, is a geographical locus ♦ The dense golden packing, the thick, substantial, smell of hybrid wheat as you enter. Made by ritual — in the last moments of the twentieth century they stooked the wheat by hand, with sickles and by this action, repossessed the past and refused linear history. This is a revivification, fresh from the field not the museological artifact. Intense, essential prairie experience. This wheat is grown here but it is not indigenous — it has be reconstituted to adapt to current needs and conditions. You walk down an aisle to the stairway, stooks on the left and right — like baffles — because they are so pressed into the building. Watched through the office window by three baby sized wire mesh dresses hanging from strings, each guarding a sickle that was used in the ritual. The dresses oversee each installation, marking the act. The one fixed point of departure in a moving plane of cultural nomadism ♦ From everything that is here, an original space is created that refuses location ♦ The movement is like the rising movement of a chapel. As you climb the stairs to the second floor, a tropical smell embodies the change in space, described as much by walls as by the concrete change of scent on the eighth step — the exotic above, the labour intensive below. But instead of ethereal, heavenly chapel light streaming in from above, you find a body emanating heat-and-light from within. A section of a greco-roman column, sewn from cotton with an interior, glowing emission. Being only a section implies its even greater missing body. It is a heavy thing made light, with a pedestal of hibiscus growing all around the bottom of it. Hugely substantial as a ‘sign’ although the materials push towards weightlessness. The air is rich ♦ I“For the authentic body of the giant marks the merger of the self-as-part with an ideological whole. We saw in the rise of the vernacular giants their place in the creation of locality, origin, and mutually experienced identity”²

THE SOUND breath, hiss, the building breathes, sighs. What does that (ominous) sound induce. The long silence in between, each time the building sounds again there is a quiet but firm reassertion, each long silence is the consideration of whether or not the sound will reoccur. Repetition and seduction. The difficulty of making a sound. The voice of the column, an infusion into the patriarchy. At the top of the column is a metal reservoir filled with water. A single intravenous drip falls eight feet to a heated metal plate and vapourizes with a steamy hiss that runs through the pipes of the building and exhales through three round vent pipes in the midsection of the wall, although the origin of the sound is difficult to locate. With it comes the soapy smell of the hibiscus, the soft breathing wind through the vents. It is gigantic because of the huge empty space around it and because its sound breathes throughout the building — a giant within a giant, like the building’s great central heart. The light and the evaporation of one IV drip every fifteen seconds is enough to sustain the hibiscus. The difficult sound, a seductively repetitive organic clock, marks continuous history and continuous present. The massiveness of it. The ability to make a sound. Hibiscus, the exotic self transplanted ♦ “The Human Body is a Water-Cooled Machine”3

HEAT, LIGHT and TRANSPARENCY The movement towards heat in a trilogy. The wax scar melted into an existing rent in a wooden column from the first installation in this trilogy,the gift horse/I trust you. The Trojan horse built for the gift horse/i trust you was an inversion of the Hellenistic myth — rather than a hollow giant covertly harbouring aggression, it was made of bisected wooden sections you could see through, holding no dangerous secrets. A huge heavy thing made light and strung through the wall, a silent instrument with obsessively hand wound spindles at the end of the strings like tuning pegs, thus assigning it not to war but to the physical satisfaction that can be derived from labour. The difficulty of making a sound. The column section in to sow is a further inversion. This greco-roman non-structure, capable of expansion by heat, like a diaphragm, cannot support anything, cannot hold anything up. The light within it is the column’s new configuration. Two instruments; one silent, one for sound. The power of heat and light and of silence, the repetitive action of water hitting the heated plate. Like the wheat which also emits heat (warmth) it leaks sunlight. The wheat is solid light ♦ Those living in Northern climates experience the complete cycle of evaporation, solidity and liquidity — the extreme heat, the extreme cold. We see the vapour and the crystallisation, the change in pressure. No one in sight, the sound of your own breath from horizon to horizon on the frozen river, the air is crystal clear and frigid, and then you hear a scraping in the distance. Ü the sound of skates on iceThe phone just keeps ringing and ringing

SATISFACTION The regeneration of the building, the restorative act of returning it to its approximate original form, with traces of history left exposed, not a covering up but an act of unpeeling. Leather straps hanging from the ceiling. The used clothing store, the saddlery. By deliberately inserting oneself into the circularity of history one asserts personal (social cultural) worth and inclusion. The texture and sensuality of the building’s historical remnants induce a longing to rejoin the past (the lost) to the present, like momentarily interrupting a spinning wheel with a pencil. A jog, a fold. The column, which “lives”, links the exotic self to the unrecoverable self in an act of union without dissonance. This is the rich body, the giving body, sensually generous towards subjectivity ♦ We live in denial of our history — we go comatose on our history. What is “here”, “where is here”, “where are we”, “where should we be” ♦

THE SPACE THE BUILDING/ to sow “Planting” implies more certainty than sowing — in sowing there is trust that nature will take its course, allowing what is able to adapt, adapt, and what is not, to decline. Sewing not as an act of piercing but as an action that rejoins. Choosing the building as the site of art confers on every object, surface and detail of the building the function of art. The built objects touching the existing surfaces of the building is sensually interrelational. Other than point of entry, which is a point of decision, the vantage point of the viewer is always from within. The site is a historical and cultural point of convergence. Proust, Courbet, the circularity of history.The wheat as our landscape and our landscape as hybrid. The prairie is a vast land mass, the prairie is softly, eternally whispering. The memory of these untended buildings is inscribed within them, the memory of steam ♦ Instead of the ethereal heavenly chapel light. ♦ The ability to make a sound.

1. Susan Stewart, On Longing, Narratives of the Minature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press, Durham and London, 1993.
2. Ibid.
3. The World Book Encyclopedia. Volume 20. Field Enterprises Educational Corporation, USA, 1995.

Susan Chafe is a Winnipeg-based interdisciplinary artist who often works collaboratively and is the co-ordinator of the Artists’ Book
Collective Lives of Dogs.