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It Was a Strange Apartment

Kathy Slade & Lisa Robertson It Was a Strange Apartment

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It was a strange apartment; full of books and tattered papers, and miscellaneous shreds of all conceivable substances, ‘united in a common element of dust.’ Books lay on tables and below tables; here fluttered a sheet of manuscript, there a torn handkerchief, or a nightcap hastily thrown aside; ink-bottles alternated with bread-crusts, coffee-pots, tobacco-boxes, periodical literature and Blücher Boots…

With a lengthy title citing Sartor Resartus by the 19th C writer Thomas Carlyle, this exhibition consists of an image/text installation by Kathy Slade and Lisa Robertson. A constellation of screen prints, recalling a panel from Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas (Mnemosyne was the personification of memory in Greek Mythology), offers a glimpse into the artists’ collaborative process, in which historical symbols, drawings, diagrammes and texts come into a complex relationship with the contemporary world. Never explicit, these relationships offer a utopian opportunity to be lost for a while in the vividness of a multi-dimensional present that includes the unknown.

Slade and Robertson have a long history of collaboration. Along with many others, their work within local artist-run centres and public galleries has been part of a substantial convergence of visual art and writing in Vancouver. With silkscreen as a medium and Warburg as a key influence, this exhibition functions as a kind of scrapbook or pinboard that provides a detailed, yet obscure, basis for a wide-reaching conversation, which exists within a unique territory somewhere between contemporary art and literature. Indeed, conversation could be said to be the installation’s implicit medium, and it opens itself to a viewer’s participation as well.

Aby Warburg was a German art historian and cultural theorist who researched the lasting effects of the Classical World on western culture from the Renaissance until the early twentieth century. He is famous for shaping the library now housed at the Warburg Institute in London, and also for archiving thousands of images spanning hundreds of years of popular culture, and assembling them into the panels he referred to as the Mnemosyne Atlas. These panels present a literary, philosophical, and intellectual map of western culture that is nonlinear, fragmented, and nevertheless very precise in its referentiality and conceptualization.

As with the images in Warburg’s panels, the appropriated images and words in this exhibition span from the Renaissance until the present day. References include an alleged quote about dOCUMENTA (13) by the artist Lawrence Weiner, La Poèsie by painter Nicholas Fouché, an elimination ladder from ping-pong, “Dans le monde entier” by singer François Hardy, a book cover from 1966 called Das Welt, a key from ping-pong, L’Origine du monde by painter Gustave Courbet, an astrological diagram from Aby Warburg’s archives, a sun-blast monochrome, “The Library of Babel” by writer Jorge Luis Borges, The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman by 18th C writer Laurence Sterne, The Hanged Man (XII) from Tarot, “Across the Universe” by the Beatles, astronomical maps by Johannes Kepler, Marimekko stripes, “Lillibullero” by composer Henry Purcell, and Nightwood by writer Djuna Barnes.

An atlas exists to represent the world, and that’s what this installation undertakes to do as well. What is a world? In what ways can we be said to be in it? Are we able to change the world, or are we merely subject to it? Slade and Robertson choose to view the world in terms of its mixture, variousness and hybridity. High and low cultural reference, the anecdotal and the historical, the scientific and the affective, the baroque and the minimal, the melancholic and the comedic are suspended in energetic play (for the hilariousness of the world is not neglected, even if sometimes their humour is black or bittersweet). This work contemplates the world’s complexity rather than seeking to resolve it. There is the assumption too that meaning is never complete; it remains in open process. These images and texts are suggestive rather than determining. The resulting constellation also represents a thought process between two people, and between two forms. It is for the viewer to negotiate the associations, and their pleasures, difficulties and intensities. Such a vivid engagement is what constitutes worlds in general, and this world, in the present gallery space.

Curated by Justin Muir, Executive Director, Malaspina Printmakers

Kathy Slade is an artist who works across various media including film, video, embroidery, sculpture, vinyl records, and books. Together with Keith Higgins she runs Publication Studio Vancouver. She collaborates with Brady Cranfield under the moniker Cranfield & Slade and as Co-Director of The Music Appreciation Society. Slade is the founding editor of Emily Carr University Press.

Slade’s work has been exhibited in North America, Europe, and Asia. Her recent exhibitions include IS EVERYTHING GOING TO BE ALRIGHT? (Audain Gallery), Barroco Nova (Museum London), Die Perfetk Astellung (Heidelberger Kunstverein), and Cue: Artists’ Video (Vancouver Art Gallery). In 2009 she received the VIVA Award and in 2012 she was Artist in Residenz at Kunsthalle Exnergasse in Vienna.

Lisa Robertson is a poet and essayist, based in France, who often collaborates with visual artists. She spent over twenty years living in Vancouver, where she was a member of The Kootenay School of Writing. From 2007- 2010 she was visiting professor at California College of the Arts and is currently teaching at Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam.

Robertson exhibited in the group shows We Vancouver (Vancouver Art Gallery) The Weather (Charles H. Scott Gallery) and The F Word (with Allyson Clay and Nathanael) (The Western Front). Her collection of essays on city space and Vancouver art and artists, Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture was published in 2003; this year Nilling: Prose Essays appeared.

This exhibition is made possible through the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch, the City of Vancouver, and our donors.

Special thanks to Matt Parisien for his tremendous contribution to the technical production of the prints for this exhibition.