Critical Distance

RAPT: Kathleen Sellars and Susan Shantz
August 20 – September 18, 1999

a response to the exhibition by Jake Moore

Some of the elements that comprise the exhibition ,rapt: a correspondence of objects were originally solicited for a joint exhibition in Saskatoon at AKA Artist Run Centre “based on similarities in [the artists’] use of sculpture to articulate aspects of female sensuality. The artists decided to minimize verbal exchange and concentrate on making and maiing scuptural objects. Each object would be made in response to the last one received.”¹ The conversation continues here, as complex and nuanced as dialogue becomes between equals with affection for one another and the offerings that are presented.

Shantz and Sellars have developed a shared vocabulary culled from their positions as primary receivers of these objects. When we gallery visitors encounter them, it is wit the knowledge that they have been previously shared. We look for evidence of this conversation; eavesdropping and snooping, we enter into the dialogue and continue the work.

The gallery here has been newly divided, its huge space broken down to better house quiet work. In the previous group exhibition in/habit, this allowed room for each artist; a separation; a roo of one’s own. In ,rapt, these rooms allow for metered mixing of works and thought, more a site of communion than distance, but with a suggestion of storage and privacy. Bits live in one room but their corresponding items exist in another. We need to visit the whole house to reassemble the conversation these artists have held. Where we begin will alter our reception, just as entering in the middle of a conversation will.

Archivists and historians have bemoaned the advent of electronic mail because people do not keep it as they did their paper letters. There is a fear that the innermost thoughts and revealing private exchanges of our cognoscenti will be lost – thus, no larger context will surround their works. Individuals considered historically worthy will exist only publically. Thus, electronic media are already mediating our reception of the future and the present, as well as forming our sense of the past. Sellars and Shantz have reactivated the physical mailed expression but remained outside of language. The method itself belies the time take to construct the objects, hearkening romantic notions of exchange as well as blurring the private with the public.

The works are visceral; the body is both implied and present. Cast fingers point and poke at me – they seem to hook within me. They conjure awkward adolescent sex, softly fumbling and newly invasive. They are not part of the hand; they stand individually, yet are part of a group, a seeming bush of fingers.

A tangle. Hair mixes with wax, with plaster, with sisal.

These materials are simple, but they are enriched by actions that have wrought them into morsels of circumstance, conversation and things which cannot be spoken. They speak of experiences we can never truly be sure another has encountered. In another’s description, you are always uncertain that their words mean the same as your own. Somehow, then, these objects speak more clearly.

The objects have an open-endedness to them that involves me immediately. There are voids to be filled. These are objects which stand alone (you think), until you find their casements elsewhere. They state so clearlythat one side can never be enough. Do Iknow the whole story? It is not even a narrative.

Sellars and Shantz suggest some blurring of authorship has occurred, but I am uncertain what is meant by this. If an author is considered a conceiver and originator, then no author is alive today. This is not a naive statement nor an attempt to cling to postmodern ideas, but an alertness to the artist’s individual presence in their work. If authorship indicates the presence of self, then authorship has been maintained – perhaps not in the heroic sense, but in what to my mind is the real sense of creation – received information mixes in the body and mind; objects, thoughts, or words that are culled from this action are an individual’s means of reconciling this information with the self; of making meaning. Thus, each object reveals a great deal of its maker (author?), existing not as the result of Hegelian reason (thesis+antithesis=synthesis), but as an almost continual flow of synthesis, of assembled and commingled information.

When I accepted the invitation to write about this exhibition, I was given an example of writing ² to suggest the format in which the text would first appear. In the spirit of this exhibition, I could not help but to respond not only to its form of the writing, but also its content. Its thoughts, beautifully collected by Stephen Horne, were so conclusively apt, I should like to include them here.

“…every motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through the element of thinking; every bearing of the hand bears itself in that element. All the work of the hand is rooted in thinking.” -Martin Heidegger

“by virtue of patience, delicacy of touch, and gentle careful motions, the (artist’s) craft becomes an event of disclosing, a moment when the field of the gesture’s encounter gives birth to, or makes appear, a ‘new thing’, and the etional depth of the field’s reserve of enchantment in somehow itself made sensible for our emerging body of understanding. Whenever this kind of skillfulness is at work, and whenever this kind of sensibility, this kind of reverence, is still handed down, as the gift of ancient tradition, there I think we will find a living response to the nihilism of our technological epoch.” -David Michael Levin

1. from an exhibition press release
2. Stephen Horne, Justice in the Flesh (exhibition catalogue), Montreal: Articule, 1994

JAKE MOORE is a Winnipeg based cultural producer. Her work continues to be site-specific and multidisciplinary. Current works involve sound, robotics and embroidery as well as scent. Most recently, she has exhibited at the Walter Phillips Gallery in Banff, Alberta and the Museum for Textiles in Toronto.