|Wendy Toogood’s A Nakusp Narrative: Autobiographical Memory and the Everyday by Amy Gogarty||| Print ||
When we are very young, every day presents us with wondrous experiences and sensations, which, sadly, disappear with hardly a trace. Later, vivid impressions shape our adolescent sense of self and are recollected with surprising clarity. As adults, external pressures and obligations corrupt our memories, merging one day into another so that only public events such as holidays, birthdays and the like mark and order the jumbled mass. Occasionally, our lives take a dramatic turn, enabling us to experience and remember a period of time with clarity. Such opportunities allow us to reflect and organize our recollections into a coherent personal narrative or autobiographical memory.
In 2006, Wendy Toogood left her home of many years in Calgary, Alberta, and moved to Nakusp, a small village in the mountains of British Columbia. Her life changed dramatically as she adapted to a new community, a new pace of life and a new relationship with the natural world. She built an impressive studio in town to complement a rustic retreat she had previously established on a nearby plot of forested land. She began to document her experiences with drawings, which formed the basis for a series of some one hundred small fabric collages. Each collage features a stylized image of the artist surrounded by iconic elements. Collectively, they record the events of her life: building her studio, visiting friends, making wine or dressing windows for a local charity shop. Occasionally, world events in the form of radio reports, or local tragedies such as the death of a child, intrude on the rhythms of daily life. Installed in a straight line, the many images might read as days in a year, a linear representation of rational time. It is more appropriate, however, to see them as replicating the activity of the mind selecting and constituting the self through memory and self-reflection: a narrative of self.
The French sociologist Henri Lefebvre criticized art as alienating with its focus on professional galleries, identities and commerce. He acknowledged it, however, as a valid means by which the everyday might be made visible (Johnstone 14). Lefebvre linked art-making to play, calling both “transfunctional”—something with many uses and yet not itself useful. A complex symbiosis of alienation and creativity define the everyday, ensuring it can not be approached directly (Johnstone 15). Instead, it is witnessed, revealed or caught by chance through tactics and ruses, accidental or intuitive processes and time-consuming activities that invite it as a partner or benevolent presence. In short, work that takes the everyday as its subject does so as a form of play.
Art that addresses and incorporates the everyday is inherently political in that it asserts the subjectivity and experience of the overlooked against the ideological weight of the powerful and socially vested. In making such work, one must be open to chance encounters, stray attachments, surprising challenges and reflection. The everyday enters work not so much as a subject, but as a medium to be processed and worked through. Its presence is made visible through activities analogous to those by which the mind recognizes and processes daily events as memories constituting the self. Toogood’s work valorizes the everyday as a form of political tactic, championing the marginalized or overlooked. Through the power of art, she creatively transforms the raw material of lived experience into engaging works that celebrate friendship, community and the natural world.
Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. Trans. Steven Rendall. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.
Johnstone, Stephen. “Introduction/Recent Art and the Everyday.” The Everyday. Ed. Stephen Johnstone. Cambridge: MIT Press and London: Whitechapel, 2008. 12-23.
Klein, Stanley B, Tim P. German, Leda Cosmides and Rami Gabriel. “A Theory of Autobiographical Memory: Necessary Components and Disorders Resulting From Their Loss.” Social Cognition 22.5 (2004): 460-490.1 The term “autobiographical memory” refers to individuals’ ability to recall events in their lives and to be able to understand them as having been experienced by them. “Our knowledge of self is very much tied up with the ‘story’ of how what we have experienced has made us who we are, and how who we are has led us to do what we have done” (Klein et al 462-463).
Wendy Toogood : A Nakusp Narrative, September 5th – October 4th, 2008 , Stride Gallery 1004 Macleod Trail SE, Calgary, AB
Amy Gogarty is a painter and writer. Her paintings consider issues of representation as manifested in museums, archives, language and memory. She taught ceramics and visual art history and theory at ACAD for sixteen years prior to relocating to Vancouver, BC in 2006. She has served on national and international panels, written over eighty reviews,
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