I always enter dark spaces gingerly because the little girl inside of me is still afraid of the dark. The dimly lit installation makes me think of entering Italian crypts made of brick and stone, with their quiet, musty air, and a stillness that I only feel in spaces where dead bodies once were. The respect that manifests on my lips as speechlessness, to be in someone’s final resting place, is conjured here as well.
I watched and listened as waves of music accompanied the final vapours of another’s physical form dissipating into the air. The emotional overwhelm of my own impending losses started to swell in my chest as I thought of the most important women in my life who are all slowly approaching their mid 90s.
If I stand in the space for too long, I feel tears start to burn in my throat as “I’m sorry to leave you” reverberates inside my ribs. I think about my family, my neighbours and the people who “would have loved me” that I never met. I ache for the grandfathers and maternal grandmother I never met. I miss them without ever knowing them. I think of the impending loss of Mom. (I often wonder what I would say, could say, if I spoke at her funeral. I want to find the words now, so she can hear them…but ”I love you” feels like a chunk of cotton in my mouth, over saturated and heavy, and dumb. All I can think is “I’m not ready, please don’t leave me.”)
I went home that weekend after seeing Nicole Collins: Furthest Boundless and tried to find a connection to the people I yearn for. I ripped open drawers and the storage closet in the basement, sifting through photographs, tarnished jewellery and scarves. I uncovered a silk pouch filled with baby teeth, an old poetry book and a notebook that had my great grandfather’s careful etchings, delicate diagrams for bridges that were built in the early 1900s. How these relics survived baffles me, yet it is likely due to the fact that we live in the house my mom grew up in as a child.
I found my great grandmother’s bible, with its gold edges, the names of her children scratched into the front pages and faded pressed flowers tucked into the centrefold. I couldn’t help thinking of the netting Nicole Collins used, because it seemed perfect for illustrating this misplaced nostalgia, my desperation to connect, to touch something they touched. We are left with the residual tracings of what was once physically present; simultaneous presence and absence. Nicole spoke of her residency on the West Coast, near Vancouver, and how she combed beaches, collected and searched. She even created her own nets in her studio knot by knot by knot. I feel connected to a cyclical process as well, the turning over and over and over again of a thought or a stitch. I am trying to figure something out, and I’m hoping that through some sort of ritual I can summon inherited muscle memory from my paternal grandmother.
I took my newly discovered treasures, and I wrapped them in wool, in knitting, in embroidery. I needed to protect them, encase them. I felt like the boulders that tether Apeiron (2018), desperately trying to weigh down and capture stories. I started wrapping stones in knitting, because they needed to be protected, swaddling their precious bodies. I can’t help think of the intermingling of stitching wounds, knitting and piecing together stories. It is a process of physical labour and strain, and an attempt to grasp at something that is inherently intangible.
I’ve taken on this process of covering in an attempt to uncover, and attempting to write down some stories of their lives, recording the family legends that come up every Christmas (Mom’s parents met when Ivy wiped out on her bike in front of Jack’s house, and he laughed at her. Dad flattened Uncle Jim’s toy truck with a hammer).
And after this, I’m left with more questions. My hands feel clumsy and inadequate to sew entire lives, but I want to know, as best I can, the ancestors who gave me their dark hair and green eyes. How do I celebrate and grieve, losses that happened so long ago, and soothe wounds that aren’t on the surface of my skin, but deep in my organs. How do I capture the viscerality of Nicole’s work within my own paintings? I’m not sure what story I’m trying to tell, but I’m hoping that I can figure it out, by doing it again and again and again and again...
LUCIA WALLACE | Lucia is an undergraduate thesis student at OCAD University, & will be graduating from the Drawing & Painting program this spring. Wallace has studied & exhibited in Toronto, Ontario & Florence, Italy. Through a studio practice which straddles the realms of writing, painting & textile art, she explores the self, memory & family. Her work will be exhibited during GradEx 103 at OCAD University in May 2018. Lucia is Koffler Gallery's 2018 Experiential Learning Program Intern, in partnership with OCAD University.
Images courtesy of the artist, Lucia Wallace.