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As a twenty-five-year-old with terrible circulation and a spine like a Jenga tower – in the sense that one wrong movement means I am resigned to lie on the floor for a while – I have usually laughed off these issues with the joke that I’m an old woman in disguise. This is problematic for two reasons. The first is that I am generalising older people as automatically less physically able simply because of their age, when this is not the case. The second is that I am lying – I am not an old lady, I am a twenty something with health issues. And that’s okay.

The thing about prejudices is that they are often born of fear or misunderstanding, and Eve Provost Chartrand’s multidisciplinary practise utilises this sense of unease that we have around ageing, disability, and even the end of life by confronting it head on. Her unwaveringly visceral, sometimes teratoma-like assemblages are borne out of sentimental objects from her grandparents, and her bacterial landscapes created by the organisms with which she shares her body help build a case for the capacity for creation that is present if one thinks beyond their own preconceived notions of what a productive ‘being’ looks like.

This challenging of the idea of the undesirable body – though centred around Chartrand’s personal relationship with her own position as an ageing woman – most definitely nod to a wider issue within the discourse surrounding such views of older and less abled bodies.

“Bioartworks challenge Western cultural and bioscientific imaginaries of sealed, self-contained bodies and the accompanying firm distinction between life and non-life, natural and artificial, and human and non-human.” [1]

There is no denying the sapiocentric view that has dominated the narrative of the modern Western world is intrinsically linked to the Capitalist attitude in which one’s worth is linked to their willingness/ability to participate within this societal model. Of course, this creates a culture of dismissal of those unable to partake to an acceptable level, becoming labelled as less-than-human, and therefore less deserving of respect. By integrating man-made medical objects like dentures or prosthetic legs into her organic sculptures, Chartrand is closing the gap between the harmful way of thinking that life ends outside of productivity and the ignorance of the vibrant world of living matter outside of our plutocratic centred sensibilities.

Part of the success of these works, to me, lies within Chartrand’s interdisciplinary account of each object she uses. Utilising poetry, sculpture, bio-art, and even performance – in her feeding of cultivated fungi to audience members – broadens the range for inclusivity by our potential to relate to some aspect of her works. Whether through the written words, the tactile nature of the assemblages, or the direct involvement of the viewer in the performative aspects of the works, ultimately, as human beings we all share at least some of the same experiences. So, it is not impossible for us to find something that resonates with us within these works, helping us to unpack the unconscious inequalities we may hold in our own way.

One of the questions posed when considering the issues of such a strongly human-centred mindset concerns how political responses to public problems would change if we were to take the vitality of nonhuman bodies seriously.[2] I am reminded of initial and ongoing responses to the current pandemic, and the dismissal of the deaths of elderly sufferers as something that was inevitable.[3] Of course, the subsequent blasé attitudes towards the virus and its capabilities have, at least partly, led us to a trilogy of lockdowns – because of the ageism that is so ingrained in our way of thinking.

Dissecting our internalised biases is often uncomfortable, and I think Chartrand’s awareness of this discomfort is magnified in her artistic choices; her fleshy, growing artworks lend themselves well to the hesitancy one may have to approach such subjects with their aesthetic strangeness. I just want to dive right in.

[1] Radomska, M. (2017) ‘Non/living Matter, Bioscientific Imaginaries and Feminist Technoecologies of Bioart’ in Australian Feminist Studies, Vol. 32, No. 49 pp. 377-394
[2] Bennett, J. (2010) Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, United States, Duke University Press
[3] Fraser, S., Martine, L., Bongué, B., Ndatté, N., Guyot, J., Bechard, L., Garcia, L., Taler, V., CCNA Social Inclusion and Stigma Working Group, Adam, S., Beaulieu, M., Bergeron, C., Boudjemadi, V., Desmette, D., Donizzetti, A. R., Éthier, S., Garon, S., Gillis, M., Levasseur, M., Lortie-lussier, M., Marier, P., Robitaille, A., Sawchuk, K., Lafontaine, C., Tougas, F. (2020) ‘Ageism and COVID-19: What Does Our Society’s Response Say About Us?’ in Age and Ageing, Vol. 49, Iss. 5, September 2020, pp. 692–695