I ended last Sunday’s post with this image,
and a promise to tell you more.
Although the primary focus of You Can’t See The Forest … was the leaves, I wanted to create an environment for them. I bought the lightest non-woven interfacing that I could find (thanks, Janell!), and ripped a discarded copy of Volume I of the World Book Encyclopaedia Dictionary into three sizes of squares.
I cut and sewed nine different tree shapes from the interfacing, and covered them with the torn paper. I started with the smallest squares on the top sections and gradually switched to larger squares as I worked towards the bottom. The edges were re-cut after all the paste had dried.
The process was unbelievably tedious, especially since I was trying to create a completely random pattern which required me to think about what I was doing. The change in sizes was a waste of time since it wasn’t really noticeable when the trees were completed. Another learning experience. (You know, the thing I hate.)
Hard to show in a photograph, the installation did have the feel of a grove in autumn. It was possible to walk partway in and stand between the tree trunks. (In fact, I had to leave access to the gallery offices.)
When altering books, I try to keep a link between the original content and the final form. This is harder with dictionaries, so the connections are more tenuous: this work refers to the ‘book-ness’ of the starting material. Books have leaves and are made from trees. (I know the trees used are softwood, but I wasn’t about to make a million pine needles. Even I am not that crazy!)
I also like to have ties between the parts of the piece: there is the obvious link between trees and leaves, but the components of the work are also connected by the number 9. There are nine tree trunks and nine patterns for the leaves. There were 765 leaves, a number which is a multiple of 9. (I think there are fewer now, as I am pretty sure that some walked away during the exhibition.) It is not something that viewers will notice, but it pleases me. I feel that elements of a piece that are not consciously noted create a resonance within the work.
Finally, the full title of the piece is You Can’t See The Forest … (or Memories of Uncle Vanya). The subtitle is a reference to a set design I did for a production of Uncle Vanya at Persephone Theatre in Saskatoon. The theatre decided to hire an artist rather than a set designer for the show as part of celebrations marking the 25th Anniversary of the Mendel Art Gallery. I suspect I got the job because I had previously worked in theatre. I believe the cutting of the forest in Uncle Vanya is a metaphor for the disintegration of the relationships between the characters, so most of the set consisted of giant ghost trees cut from scrim (which is transparent under certain lighting conditions) with leaf outlines embroidered on them. You Can’t See The Forest … has a similar feel. I think the set was a success: it got better reviews than the play!
The leaves can also function on their own,
evoking the piles of leaves sometimes created by a swirling gust of wind, or the ones built on childhood autumn days spent raking the lawn. The latter seems appropriate, given that the raw material comes from a student dictionary.
I will be in Toronto for the next two weeks. I have pre-scheduled some Friday Night Flicks, but I will try to find some bookish things to post about while I am away.