The desire to hang onto life even after it has gone dates back to Egyptian times, when the process of mummification was created to preserve the essence of a human being. The rituals that have been elaborated around death and dying aim to invoke the spirit of those that have passed before us, and are ultimately ego-centric, focusing on making those that are still living retain a feeling of closeness with someone or something that is no longer part of lived experience.
This struggle against time, and the desire to entirely stop its process has sprung up in direct opposition to the ever forward flow of time. The ritualistic procedures carried out in cemeteries, shrines created in homes to those that have passed on, and even the idea that the dead can still live on in ones own dream-state all attest to our fascination with keeping abreast of time and even conquering it.
With the animal realm, it has even come into fashion to have your beloved pet taxidermied, stuffed and able to withstand this ebb and flow. Perhaps all we need is a single qualifier of life – the physical body to then tack on our emotional desires and essentially reanimate a being.
This month, we present to you an artist that works within this circle of time evasion, using her camera and an almost long forgotten photo-process, capturing the capture of time itself by turning her photographic eye to the world of taxidermy. Does this double retention of life through two processes amplify or negate the existence of life beyond the grave? The stories told within a photograph and the stories impressed upon a taxidermied specimen collide in this months exhibition. We extend an invitation for you to join us in this journey against time.- Christina Anastassopoulos, 2011
How does a being or organism retain experience? Why do these experiences change and fade over time? Without memory nothing can be gained and nothing is lost. These animals have no memories left of their own. I aim to build new meaning by bringing them to life through the creation of new moments remembered by the photograph. The process I have undertaken to make these images is laborious and slow. Through the glass negative I experience them as tangible moments, beyond the quick click of a shutter. The animals, my medium and I slowly build photographs together.
Whitney Lewis-Smith is a photo-based artist who currently lives in Ottawa. She works exclusively in alternative photographic processes.
All of the images in the Amarantos series were captured with a large format 8×10 view camera on hand coated glass plate negatives. The plates are coated over a period of three days as each of two coats must dry before the next step can take place. The second coat is light sensitive and must be poured and dried in almost complete darkness. Once prepared, the negatives are carefully loaded into a holder and exposed one at a time. Their sensitivity is extremely low (around ISO 1 or 2) meaning that the photographs are created over a long period, sometimes many minutes. This allows for the images to represent and exist as tangible memories for the artist. Once exposed and developed the plates are contact printed in the darkroom onto fibre based paper. High resolution reflective scans are produced and the photographs are then printed on archival uncoated cotton rag paper with pigment inks.