Connecting the Dots: What the Body Won’t Let Go.

by triciasellmer

I arrive later than expected at the gallery.  A young man stands intently watching a monitor beside Wendy Weseen’s piece, what the body can’t let go

Wendy Weseen, what the body won’t let go, (Detail) Mixed media: paper mache, digital photograph material, found shelf, 72cm (l) x 35com (h) x 14com (d), Documentation by Ray Perreault.

I walk directly to the other corner of the gallery so that I will not disturb him and find myself in front of Ray Perreault’s work, The Man Project. 

The Man Project is an installation of three coloured, 17” x 22” photographs of young men.  There is a dream like quality to the images.  All three men, dressed in white, seem to be lolling about against a white background and are wrapped in a clear, plastic wrap.  Two of the men are masked.  One has the squiggles of what appears to be a black, fine nib, marking pen.  In this particular image the male body appears to be crucified.  “Sperm,” I think.  “White against white, a clear wrap, containment.  Hmm. Condomns. Erections. Release, release of the male ego. Or maybe not.”

I study the images again from a different angle.  “Have we crucified the male identity, the male ego,” I ask myself, while studying the images, my eyes skimming the photographs looking for a narrative. I am quickly reminded of the book I am reading at the moment, John Irving’s In One Person.  In some quirky way, Irving touches on Perreault’s concerns in The Male Project.  I am not sure I will be able to explore all perspectives of the male identity or the male ego, but I do understand that perhaps the male identity could be part of the male ego and certainly something that the male body in most cases, won’t or can’t let go. And maybe they never should.

Pay Perreault: The Man Project, 3 coloured, photographs, 17” x 22”, 2012.  Documentation by Ray Perreault.

In the background I can hear Simon Donovan’s Somniphobia, a mixed media piece that is also white, soft and white, a pillow, a pillow with the center cut out and a monitor projecting a black and white image of the artist’s face.  Donovan blinks.  He appears to sleep. But is he really?  His voice starts.

Simon Donovan: “Somniphobia”, mixed media, 2012.  Documentation by Ray Perreault.


Donovan’s mind seems to be churning, rambling thoughts that seem to go round and round and round and round and round.  Never leaving, constantly surfacing, feelings that won’t let go.

His incessant murmuring reminds me of my circular thinking during my many sleepless nights.  I listen intently, trying to pick up the phrases.  “Now I lay me down to sleep,” Donovan whispers.  My mind flashes back to my childhood.  I realize it is the same prayer I said each night before I climbed into bed after being read a story by my mother, from the My Book House series and then hearing her sing something about “a little boy kneels at the foot of the bed, Droops on his little hands, little gold head,….”.  I remember kneeling on the floor, elbows on the bed, hands clasped together, forearms pointed straight up and repeating after her the same prayer.

“Yes, I lay myself down to sleep.  What was the next part?”  I stumble over a few words and then pick up when Donovan finishes off and repeat. “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. Amen.”  I remember “Amen” being important. It was always said with an emphatic nod of the head and then into bed.  Lights out, door closed and my attempt to sleep. It is strange now that I repeat Amen.  It seemed to me there were two ways to say Amen.  Ay – men!  Ay – men!   Or was it Ah –men. Ay –men before bed but Ah-Men when concluding a hymn each Sunday.  My mother’s face again comes clearly  into focus.  She always played the organ each Sunday.  At the end of each hymn the audience could always hear her finish her playing with a resounding aaah, aaah, aaah, mmmennn. The Ah-men seemed to go forever.  And we, her children, were mortified. My father just smiled.  I now find myself smiling and then repeating to myself, Amen, no Ay – men, and then quickly switching to aaah, aaah, aaah, mmmennn.   There are some things I can’t let go of, and three of them are my father’s smiles, my mother’s Amen’s, and the childhood stories in My Book House.

I continue listening to Donovan’s words that have looped around.  “If I shall die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I listen for the Amen and realize it is not there.  He continues to speak.  He seems worried about dying while he is asleep. “Is death like sleep,” he asks. “Well, Simon” I answer, “With death there would be no more sleepless nights.”  He answers back, “it is all so abstract yet so frighteningly inevitable.”  I listen for a moment longer.  Silence and then he begins again.  “Now I lay me down to sleep…

With Donovan’s voice in my head I move on to Alexander Forbes’ poem enough of a moon that is printed on velum and hangs delicately out from the wall.  I read

                             hard to believe death

terrible when the moon rises half

full, but filled with light –


round, vast and quiet –

riddle no longer


already enough of a moon

for the eye to guess

its missing side


Forbes’ words resonate with me.  I know this moon.  I also know that I have teetered on the razor’s edge of this half, full moon. How long I will be on this side of death is always something of a mystery. I begin to sing under my breath, “Come a little bit closer, hear what I have to say,” mmm…mmm…mmm…mmm, “Just like children sleepin’, we could dream this night away.” I realize I am singing Neil Young’s Harvest Moon.  I continue. “But, there’s a full moon rising, let’s go dancing in the light” ,mmm….mmm….mmm.  “We know where the music’s playing, let’s go out and feel the night.”  I miss some of Young’s words, but pick up with “But, now it’s getting late and the moon is climbing high, I want to celebrate, see it shining in your eyes.”  I drift off with “I want to see you dance again, Because I’m still in love with you, on this Harvest Moon.”  I realize that Young sings about a full moon, but it does not matter.  It is a moon and I know I must dance again, that I will dance again under a full moon and that this is something that will not leave my body.

I cross the gallery to Harmony Ráine’s photographic installation titled Officially Unapologetic. It becomes almost an assault on my senses after the beauty of Forbes’ visual imagery and Young’s tune echoing in my mind.

Harmony Ráine: Officially Unapologetic, photographic installation, 12 images 16” x 22”, 2010 -2012, Documented by Ray Perreault.

Officially Unapologetic is a grouping of twelve 16” x 22”, photomontages created over a two year period, that seem to express, pain, violation, victimization, and release through the use of self-portraiture.  I stand in front of them and want to turn my head away.  But I won’t.   My eyes scan the images looking for something other then what is there.  I am locked into feeling the pain, the sadness, the loss of innocence and self loathing that resonates in each image.   I zero in on one particular image that is a declaration on how to carry on the family name, and then move to a second that includes broken egg shells. “How fragile life can be, especially a child’s” I hear myself saying. I wonder if this child “could dream this night away.”

My eyes glance to a third.  It is the shadow of an odd, dancing, string puppet beside an illustration from the fairy tale.  I recognize this image.  My mind tumbles back to childhood.  Thumbelina. Thumbelina was one of my favorite bedtime stories read to me by my mother from the My Book House series.

I find myself turning away from this wall of pain and move to the monitor that the young man was standing in front of when I first arrived in the gallery.  He has left now.

I peer at the label and find it is the Icelandic artist, Kristin Blöndal.  Her piece is a video installation titled I have a fragile grip on reality.

Kristin Blöndal: “I have a fragile grip on reality, video installation, 2010, Courtesy of the artist.

I remember this piece from Berlin and meeting the artist.  I also remember being mesmerized by the windshield wipers on the left side of the screen, the water lapping on the right, the single notes playing, the ghost footsteps overlapping the windshield of the car, and then, the artist building nests from lava rocks while in conversation with her adult child. I stand there again, following the conversation, the sound of the rock on rock, the whip of the wind, the mother’s gentle voice and the acoustic notes varying in speed.  And I understand.

I understand the need to build a nest for a young child as well as a mature adult child who might be suffering.  As a mother I understand the artist’s need to protect, to build nests and to let a child fly when ready. I also understand that an adult child may come back to the nest before they can fly again.  This is also something that my body won’t let go.

I stand watching, listening. The notes speed up, double up, pound, tinkle, reverberate, vibrate. Words intermingle. It becomes dizzying. Faster and faster the notes whirl. They become a jumble, a confusion, a hammering in my brain.  I can not longer hear words.  The artist begins to dig a hole in the sand.  Now she is sprinkling pink eggs, no maybe pills in the hole.  I count twenty-one. And then the notes begin to slowly lose speed. I hear footsteps again.  Conversation. Slowly.

Slowly…slowly…slowly…slowly…slow…slow…slow…slow…….  Now I can hear the wind soften. There is release.  The two screens become two Luna landscapes and there are just three pink pills.

The music becomes gentle, single notes.  I can again hear a conversation.  It is between the mother and her child.  The screen goes black, silence, credits and then the gentle music begins again.  Words roll onto the screen and I read.

When my head is in turmoil I need a place to escape to, I need shelter to flee to when the world is about to let me down, I make a shelter from visions and memories from dreamlike visions of the future and beautiful memories.” 

“Yes,” I think to myself, “’When my head is in turmoil I need a place to escape to.’And this is something my body will not let go of.”  

Before I leave the gallery, I stop at the comments book.  I read such phrases as “amazing”, “elegant & “cool,” “wonderful project,” and “awesome connection of diverse talents.”  I flip the page and in big, bold writing, someone has scribbled “this is heavy like a beating drum, up uplifting like a feather in the wind.  So impacted.  Who knew this could happen in Kamloops.”

I smile to myself as I go through the door.  The smile turns to a grin as I begin the long walk down the corridor of the visual arts building and out into the blazing sun of the Thompson Rivers University’s parking lot.  I am there just in time to see that my parking has almost expired.  I get into my car and begin to drive away.  Yes I say to myself, still grinning, Connecting the Dots certainly could happen in Kamloops