Eve Tagny at Centre Clark, Montreal
By Sarah Nesbitt
According to the internet, condolere is the Latin root of condolence which translates as “to suffer together.” In the text accompanying Eve Tagny’s Condolere Sanctuaries at Centre Clark, poet and curator Mojeanne Behzadi writes that the exhibition is part of the artist’s consideration of “how traumatic grief disrupts the natural cycle of life, and […] the paths that gently lead us toward healing and renewal.”
The tensions that are so evocative in Behzadi’s words are further drawn out in the gallery space. The contrast between the two defining sets of descriptors – “life, natural, healing, renewal” and “traumatic, grief, disrupts” – is spatialized in the exhibition. Massive Agave leaves, dried Birds of Paradise flowers, stones, and mud are all symbolic of life/disrupted. Archways and stairways that lead to nowhere act as architectural grounding points for the symbolic garden Tagny seeks to recreate while also speaking to stilted possibility, the surreality, and fragmentation of memory so inherent in trauma and grief as well as healing. Healing, renewal, and life are further registered in the impulse behind the floral assemblages and material choices. Each were either collected during Tagny’s recent trip to South Africa to visit her sister and new baby or reminiscent of it. Although the act of collecting ultimately ends a life cycle in one respect, the gesture of collecting from spaces of grounding importance are also supremely generative. While the materials are no longer in active growth, their symbolic body is renewed continuously. In their stunted form, it is possible to imbue life through the connective tissue of memory that links us across barriers of time and space to sites of importance.
The garden as site holds a similar tension to the individual elements. Tagny is aware of the inherent violence necessary for creating the constructed space of the garden – the constant pruning, pulling, clipping, controlling of natural elements. And yet it is also a site of so much tenderness, loss, and history. One of two video works in the exhibition, both shot in a garden, is propped up on the floor just behind the staircase. The placement of the tucked away monitor allowed me to ignore the other people moving through the tiny space. I was mesmerized. The video is a long shot in the garden during that magical hour when the sun is blinding and most brilliant. The first text appears: “I remember how much you loved nurturing our garden…” With time you understand that this same subject of love, tenderness, and care became one of sorrow and suicide. The inexplicable connection of place and person, community and memory. At one point the text is replaced by an insert of a video showing Tagny in the same garden. She is in a sheer white dress; the frame is cropped to show only her torso. Her arms and hands move one over the other. In this moment of pause, the poetics of her gestures allowed me to absorb the weight of the loss as something embodied. The video ends by lamenting the intangible nature of loss: “The new tenants do not know / That between the layers of the garden – growth over decay over growth over decay / Lies the history of you.” There it was: the invitation to “suffer together,” the vulnerability of the invitation, the safety of sanctuary.
Sarah Nesbitt is an independent writer and curator based in Tio’tia:ke (Montréal).