Next in my wandering around Bergamot Station, I came upon the Elena Mary Siff’s exhibition of the intricate table-top sized installations she composed in response to Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities.” (Click here to see Siff’s work). Each piece is accompanied by a section of Calvino’s text, suggesting how the image moved her to move it from the page to the artwork. This process does not incorporate letters or phrases but places the artist in the position of medium in a magical translation from the page into three dimensional work. Siff writes that “Calvino’s feeling about cities is much like my own – abhorrently fascinating… a chaotic bouquet of poisonous flowers…city dwellers trapped in cycles of despair failing to realize that they hold the keys to their particular prison.”
I am not a collector. Art that suggests an endless set of accumulated of objects tends to make me feel claustrophobic. But Stiff’s assemblages offered “keys” me- not quite enough to release me from my particular prison- but instead, keys for unlocking memories. Her work reminded me of my childhood fascination with the changing assemblage of beads and charm bracelets, hair pins and rosaries on my grandmother’s dresser. The shifting arrangements on the polished mahogany evolved around an ever-present embossed hairbrush, ivory comb and bottle of Eau de Rochas cologne. The objects in the changing tableau refracted the dusty pink décor of my grandparent’s modest Chicago bungalow, making them seem precious, and beautiful.
When I set out to develop " Mediterranean Sea Scroll" for "Object in/of Migration" project with The Moving Matters Traveling Workshop I began by arranging precious objects associated with particular people on my own mahogany vanity. The site-specific exhibition/intervention was made for the Allard Pierson Museum of Mediterranean Antiquities. So I selected objects related to "my" Mediterranean", a region that has played a special place in my life. A Moroccan sugar bowl jewelr
y container Leila offered me when she left Rabat for Montreal. Grandma Marie's vase from Vallauris. The small plate that I inherited from my dear friend Nabiha after she died in a tragic accident in the Kerkennah Islands.
I worked with the image of the plate, printing it on ivory BFK print paper. Perhaps it looked like a flower or a coin from a treasure long lost at sea. I cut it out to shape "coins" and placed them in the folds of a silk “scroll” inscribed with classical texts of Mediterranean civilizations. In these creases of history the plate joined the names of people lost at sea and matches signifying the "burning" of migration.
Although the form and use of text differs from Stiff's, I felt a similar melancholia in her work of translation of Calvino's images and my use of objects to explore the continual reinsciptions of history.