The Gaze of History was shown at the Burnaby Art Gallery from July 6-Aug 26, 2012. This exhibition presented a selection of portraits from the gallery collection along with an extensive series of faces that I drew directly on the gallery walls.
The people who pass through buildings always mark them in some way. The powdered graphite faces I drew represented real and imagined former residents of this building. The drawings were intentionally faint and indistinct; they blended with the building’s architecture while interacting with the artworks around them.
The prints and drawings from the collection included in The Gaze of History considered the gaze and directed looking. Seen in dialogue with each other and my wall drawings, they provided an opportunity to consider the boundaries of history, subjectivity and representation.
“Fairacres,” as it was first known, was built as a retirement estate by Vancouver realtor Henry Ceperley and his wife Grace in 1910. Prior to its conversion to the gallery in 1967, the mansion housed a succession of wealthy families, beginning with the Ceperleys (1910-1939), a community of Benedictine monks (1939-1954), a controversial religious cult (1954-1965) and a university fraternity (1965-1966).
As I researched this installation I realized that much of the history associated with this building could only be imagined. Best represented are the accounts and images of the wealthy men who lived here in the early 1900s. Few records of their wives and children survive and none concerning the servants who worked in these households. Except in a few cases, the three groups that lived here before it became a gallery are documented as communities, rather than individuals.
Whenever possible, I used actual photographic references of the former residents for my drawings. However, most of the faces represented here are surrogates—anonymous faces that represented the wives, children, servants, monks and students whose sojourns went unrecorded.
I’m not interested in replacing or revising the histories I encounter. I want to create representations that remain provisional by their very nature. Using graphite to produce my wall drawings underscores the temporary nature of the representations I create. These narratives were transitory––they can be erased, they will be painted over.
This installation was not intended as a literal description of this building’s history, but offered a speculative representation of the complexity of its inhabitation.