236 Pender St East,
13 Oct 2023–10 Feb 2024
12 October, 2023
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08 October–31 October 1992
Curated by: Susan Shuppli
Stripped of Sense
Media Release Oct. 1 , 1992
Stripped of Sense
OCTOBER 8 TO 31, 1992
The Or Gallery continues its fall programming with a new installation of drawings by Vancouver artist Frances Grafton entitled Stripped of Sense. This project consists of a series of large format, black and white drawings based upon photographs the artist took of the severed heads of Gothic sculptures, once situated in the Gallery of Kings in Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris. The stone sculptures were systematically destroyed during the French Revolution because they were mistakenly identified as representations of French kings. In fact, they were representations of the kings of Judah. Had their true identity been known, it is questionable whether their destruction would have been executed so thoroughly. As it is, apart from a few fragments, only the heads remain identifiable. These were discovered by chance in 1977, carefully preserved in a ‘grave’ in a hotel courtyard in Paris. Frances Grafton’s work has been concerned with identity, how we define our edges in the flux of circumstance, how labels are attached and who attaches them. The particular nature of the history of these destroyed figures is not evident in the presentation of the drawings, Frances Grafton regards them as non-specific: what is evident is the senseless violence. This history of victimization by virtue of their identification (in this case mis-identification) as ‘Other’, moves the work beyond the particular.
Stripped of Sense, an installation of new work at the Or Gallery, will be Frances Grafton’s first solo exhibition since graduating with a Masters degree in Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia.
OR GALLERY, 314 W. Hastings, PO Box 1329 Station A, Vancouver V6C 2T2, (604) 683.7395
“I walked along the road with two friends. The sun went down-the sky was blood red – and I felt a breath of sadness-I stood still tired unto death-over the blue-black fiord and city lay blood and tongues offire. My friends continued on-I remained trembling from fear. I felt the great infinite scream through nature.”
Edvard Munch 18951
Catalogue-Stripped of Sense/ Frances Grafton
The palpable silence of Frances Grafton’s drawing installation, Stripped of Sense is derived from an apparent contradiction. On encountering the works, our expectation of a perceptible cry proportionate in volume to the large scale of the visages, is met instead, by a vast silence. These are not, after all, faces within nature, caught like Edvard Munch’s in an oscillating landscape constructed to reflect a romantic personal vision. They are faces drawn with reference to the landscape of the photograph. Indeed the strategies that Grafton has undertaken in realizing StriPped of Sense have made the viewing experience one that cannot be separated from the filmic: the black and white world before talkies, in which sounds of love and protest were similarly inaudible, is here recollected-but not reconstructed. Behind these works is a story, and it is that aspect of Stripped of Sense that threatens to lead us into temptation-the temptation to engage the works based on prior knowledge, rather than with our eyes. The artist has, appropriately, given us the narrative of the mutilated heads that were photographed to become her subject. We learn that the fragmentation of the sculptures occurred during the French Revolution because they were mis-identified as representations of French kings, instead of being properly identified as kings of Judah. Our fascination with this history may cause us to believe it to be the thing that legitimizes the drawings. But we would be mistaken-these are not illustrations of a truth that may be read or told, they are themselves the embodiment of a truth which must be seen to be believed.
It is necessary here to refer to the condition of photography: much critical thought holds that the photograph is an artifact that speaks of death because it represents a moment that no longer is. The work of Christian Boltanski, for example-itself preoccupied with the trace of the visage extends this reading by extreme blurring of the photo to pull the face further away in time.2 By enlargement, the eye-holes of his subjects become huge and skull-like, staring at the viewer with an implied gaze that becomes an absence. In Grafton’s work such an absence also exists, contrived in the intense black areas. However, it is not only a reference to a photographic emptiness drawing us in, but a graphic one, which manifests the surface and pushes us away from itself. And what are we pushed to? To the multi-variant graphite marks, the painstakingly drawn surface that can only be studied gradually, even meditatively. Frances Grafton has constructed a viewing experience that overturns the traditional filmic-some would say ‘masculinist’ one. Our initial reading of tortured and mutilated stone faces, captured photographically, gives way to a powerful awareness of landscape, of living body, and ultimately, of the slow and careful trace of the hand. The artist’s engagement with the shattered representations has returned a teeming topography, rich with possibility. Stripped of Sense is a work of considerable idealism-dare one say hopefulness? Some will see its insistence on placing marks of beauty within a context that recalls violation and loss, as merely problematic. Others will see this contradiction as a challenge to repair what is broken and to rebuild.
-Patrick Mahon, 1992
1 Elizabeth Prelinger. Edvard Munch: Master Printmaker (New York, 1983) p.39
2 Susan Tallman. “A Jewish High School in Vienna, 1931” in Arts Magazine (Oct 1991) p.20
Patrick Mahon is a printmaker and teacher who is currently working at the University of Alberta.
Stripped of Sense
October 8-31, 1992
These images are based upon photographs which I took of the severed and mutilated heads of Gothic sculptures once situated in the Gallery of Kings in Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. The stone sculptures were systematically destroyed during the French Revolution because they were mistakenly identified as representations of the king of Judah. Had their true identification been known, it is questionable whether their destruction would have been executed so thoroughly. As it is, apart from a few fragments. only the heads remain identifiable. In 1793, four years after the assault on the Bastille, it was decreed that likeness of the kings of France in Notre-Dame must be toppled and completely destroyed. Until 1977, little was known about the remains for these sculptures; it was assumed that their fate was sealed within the walls of subsequent constructions. In April of that year, a discovery was made completely by chance; 364 pieces of stone, of which 21 were identifiable as heads from the Gallery of Kings, were found carefully preserved in a ‘grave’ in a hotel courtyard in Paris. As yet, there is no information to explain how they became interred. Under the auspices of François Giscaird D’Estaing they have now assumed the status of museum pieces. The heads which are approximately twice life-size are presently the sole occupants of a room in the Musée de Cluny.
I engage in producing a word with these heads as subject matter because of their history of victimization by virtue of their identification (in this case mis-identification) as ‘Other’. Concerns with identity, how we define our edges in flux of circumstance, how labels are attached and who attaches them, have been seminal to my work. However, the history itself is not evident in my presentation of the drawings. I regard them as having become (through the drawing process) non-specific, and therefore representational of any victimized group; it is the senseless violence which is evident. Literally stripped of their sense, the faces I have drawn can only attest to their wounds in silence, but it is a silence which demands to be confronted. Face to face with the images, I am reassured of the necessity of seeking an identity, a sense of being, which is cognizant of the self, and the place of the self within the whole.
Frances Grafton is a printmaker and visual artist living in Vancouver. She recently completed her M.F.A. at the University of British Columbia.