In the 18th and 19th centuries, human migrations from Europe radically changed the cultural environment of North America. Water was the main channel of this movement and generally unidirectional. In many ways, late 20th century electronic technologies have supplanted water as the exploration route. With this shift, the speed, direction and control of cultural exchanges have corroded conventional regulatory means. While the expense of these technologies is a critical factor, a powershift is nevertheless afoot for marginalized groups and individuals to inform and re-envisioned themselves and their ‘communities’. The work shown in this session seeks to address a reading of history in which we respond with silence when our experience crashes into conflict with the current main stream and to begin reconfigure new connections rather than delivering authorative conclusions. I response to my own movement through these waters, I developed two site specific installation series, Eau de Passion: An Ode to Passion and its sequel, La langue d’eau; the first series followed a personal migration along the waters between Canada and the United States and the second continued eastwards to Ireland. The three installations in Eau de Passion; An Ode to Passion each explored a topic of particular relevance to contemporary women – the environment, partnerships and health. The installations employed fragments of local history in combination with images of the ?andscape photographically ‘tattooed’ onto the female body. The beveled edges of these self-portraits create the illusion of faux mirrors. The juxtapositions are further contextualized by debris collected along the shores of ‘the route of the explorers.’ These debris are incidental monuments left by generations of human intervention; in the installation, the objects function as metaphors for the last decade of our century, its complex issues of displacement, and the shifting cultural codes which are our collective and personal legacies and new ‘territories.’ The metaphor of water’s edge provokes thought about the corrosion of boundaries, the power of contradiction, and the collision of passions. The female body as self-portrait grounds the metaphor in the personal – the mapping of sites onto the body locates the dilemma of a woman tending fires of private passion in the context of a societal landscape pulsing with diverse and contrasting demands. The second series, La langue d’eau, is still in process. The first installation, In the Wake of Grosse Ile, was developed as a commemoration of the Irish who passed through or died at the Canadian quarantine centre on the island of Grosse Ile, Quebec between 1832 and 1937. The work, constructed of 5000 tongue depressors formed into a wall fragment floating in the water near Dublin, remembers the historic and liguistic connections among the Irish, French and Canadians in Quebec. It is often in the mother tongues, the mother’s names or the mother’s birthplaces that the forgotten connections lie. In the broader migratory sense, the work is about the ritual return to place for renewal and satisfaction of a hunger. Where are the tongues of women in these places today? What do we have to say, how do we say it, how do we receive what we hear? In the silences surrounding women’s bodies and women’s passions, much is extolled channels of information and cultural expansion, corrode established barriers or become vessels quarantined offshore? Are voice and visibility a promise or a threat?
- Kat O’Brien, USA katobrienstudios.com