Un grand nombre de Sœurs

Here follows my artists statement for an upcoming show, The French Connection, opening in Richmond, Virginia (that’s right – the one in the USA) on February 24.  It’s not the most succinct artists statement I have ever written but thinking about my time in France unleashes something of a torrent, it probably reflects that.

“The primary purpose of my arrival in Paris seven and a half years ago was to collaborate with Canadian filmmaker and fellow lapsed Catholic, Toni-Lynn Frederick.  We had met and become fast friends in Vancouver, Canada 4 years earlier.  TL was working on a PhD in the UK at the time and it we managed to orchestrate this meeting, somewhere between our two homes (I live in Tasmania, Australia) quite successfully.

She joined me in Paris and we travelled together to Lourdes (in it’s off season), shot black and white reversal super-8 film, ate at the same mixed-asian restaurant every night, drank, argued about the Catholic church and discussed our experiences growing up within it and tried to record as much of this as possible. We collected 2 large 4 litre jugs of the famous Lourdes water and carried them with us back to Paris where TL taught me to hand-process reversal movie film in chemistry we mixed up with the water we had transported. The film when processed, turned out to be a divine blue-on-blue rather than black and white, like the blue of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s robe.  TL assured me that this sometimes happened in hand-processing, but I prefer to think of it as our personal Lourdes miracle. We planned to call whatever we made with what we had done,The Pilgrims.

I have tried many times in the years since to turn what we have, the film and recordings, into SOMETHING.  I edited together a short video piece soon after but it left me unsatisfied. I have screened short loops of the film (the crown on the Basilica, the ring of stone lambs just a few hundred metres away) for a couple of exhibitions but nothing seemed an appropriate use of this material.

Even prior to being invited to exhibit here, I had made a resolution for 2012 to resolve this work. This exhibition and it’s collision in timing with a local symposium on socially engaged and relational artworks at which I was speaker, exhibitor and audience suddenly made something clear to me – The Pilgrims WAS the trip.  I couldn’t make the work because we had already made it.

I now plan to create a blog to document The Pilgrims, pulling together letters, diary entries, film, video and photographs to act as coda to the project but this has not yet happened so I offer up instead, two small film stills from the project, that I have, rather unimaginatively. titled Two Nuns and Three Nuns respectively (lets date them 2004 – 12) each blessed by me with some of what remains of the Lourdes water. I kept some in a Mary-shaped bottle. As well as ‘rebirthing’ the images, this kind of treatment/abuse of prints has since become somewhat of a signature for me.

The Pilgrims took up one month of a four month residency and while there were brief visits from my husband, some other family and from Europe based friends, for much of the time I was lonely. I suffer periodically from both agora and social phobias and I was gripped by both while resident at the Cité Internationale des Arts. I also drank very heavily.

The video Encore was shot in my studio over an afternoon and night, as I sang along repeatedly to an aria from  Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers that had continually brought me some comfort while simultaneously breaking my heart, Je Croix Entende Encore.  The first take was performed sober, and subsequent takes performed as I consumed a sequence of martinis. The drunken take used was after about 9, but in actuality I continued to drink until I collapsed and had a little blackout on the  marble floor of my studio. I had hoped that some great truth might be revealed in the comparison.  You know that old furphy that you always tell the truth when you are drunk?  This video suggests it is a lie. While sober me is reserved but open, drunk me is a game-playing showoff. She looks like a liar to me.

I’m glad now that when I met our curator Amie Oliver at the Cité I was sober.  She and another Australian artist, Eugenia Raskopoulos ambushed and commandeered me as a fellow body to storm the Australian embassy and crash an exhibition opening there in protest of the fact that we were not invited. These two women tore me from my solitude and ensured that my last month there was not so lonely, nor wasted. We three linked arms and together crashed more events, drank hot chocolate, walked in the snow and adored Paris together. I will always be grateful for their friendship.

From the distant to the recent, A Pack of Lies is my first artwork made for podcast and incorporates the voices of both our curator, Amie and her partner Harry Kollatz Jnr. (who I was lucky to meet in Paris also) who volunteered as two of the sixteen readers of alternate biographies of my life. Biographies borrowed from film-stars, musicians and sportspeople. It was always important to me that the lies were openly declared as such and so I assembled a selection of readers who knew me personally.  I am not a good liar or a happy one and can only tell lies if I also confess immediately. How very Catholic, I imagine you thinking. Someone told me recently of this work They know it’s not true. I can hear the smiles in their voices. I think I’m happiest when friends give in to my vision and join me in a quest for the ridiculous. This was just such a project.

My time in Paris tore me down and filled me up again and was entirely instrumental to my continuing body of work that has proceeded as an an investigation of identity and the self.  It was a time where I learnt new skills in both craft and diplomacy and was given the opportunity not only to meet with friends and collaborators old and new but to also be truly with myself in a completely messy and exploratory but ultimately constructive way. And all surrounded by the greatest beauty I could ever imagine.

Sally Rees
January 2012″

Below: Me, Eugenia, Amie – @Angelinas for the finest hot chocolate in the known universe. Paris 2004

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