bacterial landscapes. 2019
This creative case study took shape when an opportunity to show work at the Sheldon M. Chumir Centre presented itself. The challenge was to conceive artwork that would be foremost accessible to the general public and actively seize life by forging specific types of allegories. These metaphors should conjugate the life force of old age with excessive declination of materials. The five sculptures were exhibited in five windows overlooking a street in downtown Calgary. This limited the audience’s participation with and input on the pieces and therefore assumed a more traditional artistic viewpoint.
Bacterial Landscapes offers microscopic views of bacterial cultures presenting the body beyond what we usually define as key identity markers (such as gender, social class, age, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, religion, age and disability.) In the studio, for six months, I swabbed, at different times, different parts of my body, applying and growing bacteria on agar-agar in order to gain access to my internal flora. I created my own intimate bacterial samples over time, ones that bore my microbiologic signature. Subsequently, digital manipulations and artistic interventions on the photographed bacterial cultures summon the viewers to reflect on the fact that one might still be fully generating life, even in their most intimate, infirmed interoceptive parts.
As I become older and perceive the finiteness of my lifetime, everything becomes more complex, complicated yet remarkably simplified. My body transforms as it degenerates. Compared to youth, the flesh scrolls and wrinkles are excessive. Ear lobes and nose grow longer, teeth are lost, weight is gained, and desire flees. The corporeal ends up weighing me down; bones become brittle and falter. Yet, all this excess does not amount to overexposure. On the contrary, it leads to invisibility and oversimplified narratives summed up by one biased word: old.
Exertion and excess (of form and matter), becomes in this work a metaphor of my quest to define myself outside normalized constructs. Until now, these constructs have considered my ageing body as either marked by disease and/or in need of repair (Olivier & Lalik as cited in Springgay 2004). Despite having to deploy intense and enduring physical efforts to keep going on, older bodies are also odes to joy, remembrance, and life. However, they are also metaphors of resistance. Inspired by Joseph Beuys’s notion of “social sculpture” (Durini 2010), where art has the potential to transform our environment and attempts to structure and shape society, this work suggests how ideas and objects are in continuous relation to a wide range of actions and worlds that fall outside the realm of tangible things.
At this stage of my visual research, study on form and materiality prevailed. My main concern was to juxtapose and assemble successfully unusual shapes and objects to make the grotesque become familiar and agreeable while sustaining an element of surprise. The goal was to create visual effervescent organic structures that allowed the conveyed message to shine through by capturing the viewers’ imagination and interest long enough.
By presenting works that are familiar but also demanded further examination, and by embracing an aesthetics that fosters curiosity and pleasure instead of revolt or disgust, unexpected aspects of ageing bodies are revealed. Intended for the general public, these works distance themselves from the abject and embrace more seductive, palatable visuals. Inspired by Cave’s exquisite craftsmanship, as I was previously by Coyne’s work, I provided viewers an “entry point through craft” (Leblanc 2019) to underlying darker issues tackled throughout my research-creation.