A seemingly annual event in recent years, damaging floods occurred in many parts of Canada once again this past spring. News stories frequently saw first responders and reporters wading through hip-deep waters in the streets. In a recent story from New Brunswick, residents were interviewed post-flood as they returned to the sites where their homes and seasonal cabins once stood. In speaking about the impact on their lives, much of the conversation became about memory and place, and how that relationship is both strained and deepened after such change and loss. One woman took comfort in her grandmother’s words, who said that the family cottage they lost was just a material object, and what mattered was that the view had remained. The lake was the place that held their past.
The interconnection between land and family memory resonates throughout Lise Beaudry’s exhibition at Centre3 in Hamilton, Lignes d’horizon, lignes de repère / Horizontal Lines, Reference Lines. In a triptych of silent, muted pieces—a wall work of hanging paper strips, a stack of photographs, and a video projection—the lake is ever-present as a marker of a family’s continual return to the Northern Ontario area of Témiscamingue, where the artist was born and raised. All three works evoke the water’s edge and draw attention to the way the landscape is experienced and remembered. But they also speak to how memory functions in relation to photography, a dialogue that continues to evolve in a time where there is rarely not a photographic device in easy reach. Through the fragmentation, abstraction, and re-assemblage of found images, Beaudry fosters a complex dialogue between memory and its photographic expression.
Presented as a series of vertical strips of enlarged photographs, the titular piece comprises multiple images captured of various waterfront locations over time. Disjointed seasons are placed next to each other—the iced-over lake with a skidoo rider is placed adjacent to a man on the dock, looking out over the water with a forest bathed in golden twilight in the distance. A lone man appears repeatedly, as though this could be the same person visiting the same place over time. In reality, both the locations and the individuals vary from fragment to fragment, but it’s as though the collaging effect echoes the way memory fabricates its own narrative. Beaudry’s composition suggests a continual return that extends beyond the handful of incomplete, soft-focused images pieced together. It speaks to a marking of place. While the photographic strips are hung at different levels, a single horizon line runs straight across the images, locating an element of constancy—of landscape, of belonging—that persists despite the fluidity and indeterminacy of everything around it. The horizon line acts as a metaphor for what we try to hold onto, and the false promise of stability in taking a photograph.
In Chez Sandy, the horizon line is redefined as the very foundation of the image. Beaudry has stacked 1600 printed images into a column, where each paper represents a pixel from a family photograph that has been stretched and printed, so that the final image takes form along the stack’s vertical edge—a dockside snapshot featuring two children in life jackets, with a sun umbrella and beach blanket visible in the foreground. A common enough scene, to an outsider this image could be any family snapshot taken in any number of places at any moment over the last few decades, but it takes on singular importance when displayed this way. And yet, despite the precision of form and attention to every pixel, the image is barely readable. An excess of fragmentation results in an image that verges on visual illusion. It recalls the excessive digital archive found in many phone cameras, and the common tendency to capture at high quantity and then leave the images untouched and unviewed. Giving the photograph physical presence can also be seen as an attempt to lend weight to memory and hold onto something that no longer exists. This interplay between holding a moment and fragmenting it is something that Beaudry experiments with throughout the exhibition.
In family photographs, the landscape is usually the backdrop to the main event. In this exhibition, the water’s edge is just as present as the people, even more so. Le fleuve focuses on the motion of waves rolling toward the shore.
The video is faded and unpeopled, but leaves a space for the visitor to intervene: only by inserting your own reflection can you properly view the washed out images that appear on strips of paper mounted to the wall, which striate the projected image and confuse the viewing space. The movement of the waves embodies the passage of time, and the nature of water as a paradoxical presence for its strength of continuity while being constantly in flux.
A sense of quiet remove and contemplation carries across this exhibition, something that feels both inviting and distant. Images are present yet partial and unclear, as though caught in the midst of their gradual and inevitable disintegration. As with any artwork that includes family photographs, a sense of time’s passage and loss is entwined with the reading, but with Beaudry’s exhibition the importance of place to holding and shaping memory is brought to the fore. A photograph may capture a particular view of a memory, but returning to a place can trigger past experiences in surprising depth and emotional fullness, as though the land carries our history in our absence.
[Lise Beaudry’s exhibition was curated by Sally Frater for Centre3, Hamilton, 2019.]
Shannon Anderson is based in Oakville, Ontario, and has an independent writing, editing and curatorial practice. Her upcoming projects include a solo exhibition of work by Sara Angelucci and a group exhibition curated with Jay Wilson called The Further Apart Things Seem. She is also the Art Curator for the Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital, where she generates year-long exhibitions of contemporary art for the building’s main public corridors.