prescribing Behaviour and/or Other Definitive

Prescribing Behaviour (fear & JOY): Fiona Kinsella
September 15 – October 14, 2000

a response to the exhibition by Diane Lemieux

The word “prescribe” implies a directive – to fix authoritatively for the sake of order or clear understanding. Its medical reference also suggests something in need of attention, something broken or not quite anatomically or physiologically correct. In Fiona Kinsella’s exhibition Prescribing Behaviour (fear & JOY), she investigates the realm of human physical vulnerability. The artist manipulates found and collected items, those of lost significance, and imbues them with a new sense of meaning and purpose. The reworking and reordering of these objects, along with the assimilation of medical text and imagery and the repetitive nature of the work itself convey an ambiguous message.

The majority of the work consists of shadow boxes containing row upon row of eggs. Some are whole but most are broken, pecked away in a consistent fashion. These intentionally violated objects, representatives of the vulnerability and fragility of the body, are used here as containers, frameworks for images wrought from medical texts and first aid manuals, and as miniscule urns – final resting places for matted wads of dry and lackluster hair; actual by-products of life. Pristine doilies, table runners, hankies and napkins speak a decidedly feminine language, cushioning and protecting the damaged eggs like overzealous females tending over their broods. These objects, with their ornate shadow box frames and plush velvet interiors, evoke intimate memories of the past, preserving, as a kind of curio, treasured family heirlooms.

Initially, the work appears to be an exercise in precision, dizzying with its perfection and repetition. An obsessive-compulsive ordering with all eggs uniformly positioned, all images precisely replicated. The presentation is exact – the shadow boxes are each built of the same materials, to the same dimensions, hung at the exact same height, at precise distances. Everything is replicated and repeated, a symptom of some inane Freudian disturbance.

Against this background, any discrepancies are exaggerated, inflated and held up for investigation. Disturbing inconsistencies in the overall pattern jump out at the viewer – bits of Styrofoam peeking out from behind doily cutouts, crooked and off-centred medical images and texts, each a small slippage in perfection. This juxtaposition of extremes playfully approaches the absurd, tipping the balance of sanity. Kinsella points a finger towards these inconsistencies and instabilities, thereby hinting at the fragile nature of the mind.

Collaged texts subliminally issue emotive and provoking prompts: lucky, fear, joy. What, exactly, is their intent? The visceral response this imagery elicits makes possible, and indeed probable, the understanding of “fear”, but what of “joy” or “luck”? Once again, the scales have been tipped and more questions are asked than answered. Although some narrative is undeniably at work, it remains unclear and obscure.

What are we to make, then, of this presentation, this approximation of some unimpassioned family genealogy or vague genetic documentation of familial illness and injury? What do we make of the work’s anonymity and ambivalence? That the steady hand of the creator wavered, perhaps slightly skewing or exposing some twist of information, some sliver of sight or miniscule truth? This in itself is not important. Perhaps the sheer evidence of our existence, no matter how anonymous, justifies the fragile and vulnerable nature of our lives.


Diane lemieux is a Winnipeg based installation artist. She is a recent graduate of the University of Manitoba School of Art and resides in St. Norbert with her three children.