Exhibition Text for Heather Jackman ‘Steadfast’ | Kristen Lewis
Weather worn grass cradles gravestones in the local cemetery at spring. Scattered throughout the memorial landscape are pops of colour, vibrant hues of red, yellow, and pink reflecting the blue of the oceanic backdrop. Upon closer inspection the material composition of these bright features come into focus: plastic flowers adorn the parameters of the stones. These floral arrangements, while themselves inorganic, draw our attention to the persistence of life within an otherwise departed space. I want to live to be a hundred—“we all hope you live to be a hundred”—but lovingly remembered forever more.
This is the scene captured by Heather Jackman in her exhibition Steadfast, a photo series of seaside graves in outport Newfoundland. Jackman chooses to highlight plastic floral arrangements in particular, contradicting our usual assumptions of both flowers and plastic. Unlike the dainty beauty of an organic bouquet which wilt and whither, these plastic flowers have staying power. Too, unlike the peskiness of plastic in its average everydayness, this plastic is significant because of its being floral, expressing care through its aesthetic arrangement. Acting as everlasting reminders of the sentiments of grave layers, the plastic florals captured by Jackman convey how meaning both arises out of and transcends material objecthood. It is not necessarily what is given that is significant, but the fact of its having been gifted. And it is the thought of permanence which motivates one choosing plastic over petals. These florals talk. They say “you matter so much to me, too much for me to let you forget it even for a moment.” This feeling calls for something of permanence.
Jackman labels each photograph with one-word sentiments, both reflecting how one could feel when going to lay the flowers onto the graves, and simultaneously instilling such feelings in us as we examine her photographs. In the photo labeled “Love,” we see a heart shaped wreath peppered with pink roses and understand that the deceased continues to occupy a space of significance for those who outlive them. Maybe we think of who we love and acquiesce to the tenderness of caring and being cared for. “Grieving” is marked by the heavy weight of storm clouds, barren trees, and dead earth, livened only by the white and yellow flowers tucked dutifully into the ground. Through this scene we may find ourselves empathizing with the insurmountable feelings of loss, mimicking the long season of Newfoundland fog through which we trudge in hope of a spring day, a day without grief. What we know too as Newfoundlanders is that the sun indeed comes, despite its persistent dormancy.
In Steadfast Jackman takes us through the whole gamut of the feelings of grieving. Through her photographs we glean the various ways we mourn a loved one, feelings which operate on a cadence of their own, unbeknownst to us who are affected. Too, Jackman enables our recognition of the contradictions undergirding our commonplace assumptions of the world and our experience of it. While plastic may seem cheap, the lesser counterpart to the natural beauty of an organic flower, these plastic flowers reflect the thoughtful disposition of loved ones who wish to express enduring care.
Annuals arise, and we tend to them in their season. However beautiful, these florals are marked by their ephemerality, and certain circumstances call for a hardier option. So instead, we choose a perennial plant. And in this case, a plastic one.
Kristen Lewis is a Newfoundlander studying in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Kristen holds a BA in Philosophy and Religious Studies (Memorial University) and an MA in Philosophy (Concordia University). Currently Kristen is pursuing doctoral research in Art History at Concordia University where she is working on performance art ontology. Her writing is informed by her intimate acquaintance with philosophical theories of art and the significant role she attributes to art in our everyday experience of the world and ourselves.
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