Friday 12 June 2015

"We've Forgotten Where Our Hearts Have Been" by Carrie Perreault at NAC

When I went to see Carrie Perreault’s show at NAC I was struck first of all by the emptiness of the room. It became quite clear very rapidly that this artist is not interested in producing beautiful objects to decorate private or even public rooms.

As Carrie states in a couple of barely visible statements isolated in the middle of large framed sheets of white paper, absence is itself a form of presence or presence is a form of absence or maybe one might say that the best way of being present is to be absent or to be absent is to be present. I failed to make a note of which way round this was put, but all the interpretations would be equally valid.

Next to these two framed statements were a pair of fringed flat cushions in a rather dull colour embroidered with the message that the artist did not expect to make much money by her art but if she did she would purchase more feathers to compensate the people who purchased the cushions. The precise nature of this message apparently escaped the artist as she was recording it, for she embroidered the word “life”, put a slash through it and substituted the word “live”. As Alice’s White Knight would put it, meaning trickles through her and our brains like water through a sieve.
Next in line came a series of small, unassuming photographs which, while in colour, did not seem to be recording anything in particular in at all a striking kind of way. This series was interrupted by two things and continued on the opposite wall. The first interruption consisted of the legend ‘We’ve Forgotten Where Our Hearts Have Been’ painted in large black letters on the wall. This seems to present the basic meaning of the show, but where in fact our hearts have actually been may or may not be indicated by a procession of marching modelled white feet that fills up the rest of the wall, or else by the photographs.

Natasha had told me that Carrie was also a performance artist. I asked her about this and understood her to say that at the reception Carrie had performed a one person show called “Impossible Conversations”, moving about to different parts of the gallery. I was sorry I hadn’t been able to be there. As I was cogitating over all this, a light dawned: Carrie was trying to produce the same effects as Samuel Beckett by naming the things it is almost impossible to express.
I was unable to speak to her face to face but was able to leave a message on her answering machine asking if she really did have an affinity with Beckett as I thought she had. She called back very interested in Samuel Beckett for a long time.

We went on to have a pleasant chat about him. I reminisced about my first encounter with him. At the end of my last year at the University of Illinois, before coming to Brock, I had to teach “Waiting for Godot” as part of a course in French literature in English translation. When it came to the point, I was unable to think of anything to say about it so I just read out a critical essay to someone else had written. When I finished one of the students remarked that he had come across “Waiting for Godot” in another course, where the professor had not attempted to say anything about it. Instead he had instructed the students to spend the hour meditating in silence.Carrie remarked that one of the reasons why Beckett is difficult to talk about is that he is often funny but in such a grim context that to laugh would be like laughing at a funeral. I said that that reminded me of a Freudian slip I had once made. While on a trip I turned up at a Catholic funeral and the priest asked me if I would be staying long. “No”, I said, “I’m just passing on”. Carrie asked if the priest had laughed and I said “No, he just didn’t know what to make of it”.
In a Beckettion context that is the usual reaction, which is why Carrie Perreault’s show had me think of Beckett. For a while I had been reduced to silence by her show, just as we two professors had been by Beckett.

Not that Carrie would claim for one minute to have attained his stature. As she said to me as soon as the subject came up, “Those would be very big shoes to fill.” When she talks about herself she says she’s “an advocate for human witnessing” which takes the form of “meditative gestural acts”, perhaps this is a little too serious and when she makes and artist’s statement she might do well to be more like Beckett and lighten up a bit. I understand that although Beckett’s critics were initially stricken dumb, he has now been analyzed more than anyone but shakespeare, but on the subjects of his own work Beckett was always very modest and unpretentious.

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