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Still life is anything but lifeless

by Zachary Cook February 6, 2018
Still life is anything but lifeless

Elisabeth Belliveau discusses inspiration for her exhibition, Ballroom

Elisabeth Belliveau, an award-winning Concordia alumna, still life animation artist, sculptor and art professor, opened the doors to her new exhibition, Ballroom, on Feb. 2.

The exhibition will be open for a month, and will feature a two-channel, seven-minute animation loop along with related sculptures.

The works in this exhibition were created during a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2016. Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

“Fragile, vibrant and transformative,” are three words Belliveau used to describe the works in Ballroom.

The exhibition reflects on historically female art practices, such as genre painting, which portrays scenes from ordinary life. In the past, women were not permitted to paint religious portraits or court paintings, which limited them to painting still life.

“I look at the work of artists who were creating floral arrangements, still lifes or food that were coded and symbolic,” Belliveau said. “They could bury narratives, meanings and stories within these still life paintings that seemed really innocuous but were really complex. I think that’s really exciting to think about; women painting and finding their way into that world within those limitations.”

Belliveau has participated in an array of residencies across Canada and internationally. She began the works included in Ballroom during a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in 2016. The theme of the residency was still life, which focuses on the arrangement of inanimate objects. Throughout the residency, Belliveau had the opportunity to work with bronze and aluminum casting.

Envisioning and crafting the transformation of materials was one of the artist’s favourite processes while creating the exhibition. These transformations are often done using delicate and temporary objects, such as food and flowers, that are casted into more permanent objects using metal. “It’s still fragile, but I really love that transformation, which is why I think I love animation too,” Belliveau said. “There’s something still, and then it transforms into something with emotion. I like that moment, that flip.”

Inspiration for Ballroom came from a selection of novels written by Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, including The Stream of Life and The Hour of the Star. These novels, as well as paintings by Giorgio Morandi, an Italian still life painter, sparked Belliveau’s ideas about time, transformation and still life. These ideas became intrinsic to Belliveau’s own work.

“Thinking a lot about Giorgio Morandi’s practice, reading Clarice Lispector and really reflecting on the history of still life inspired me,” the artist explained. “I’m an animator, so I think about what it means to bring still objects into life, into movement and into emotion.”

Belliveau elaborated on her work in another residency in Japan last summer, where she focused on Japanese traditions of still life and the genre of vanitas art, and was inspired by the rules of Ikebana—the Japanese art of flower arrangement. “In terms of still life, there’s this kind of European tradition. I tried to mix it up with some of the things I was really interested with in Japan,” she said.

Photo by Mackenzie Lad.

For Belliveau, still life is about domestic life and the objects surrounding us. “Paying close attention to what things are and where they come from link to ideas about labour, production, who makes things, how they get to our table and all the political movement around that,” Belliveau said.

Taking part in residencies is a crucial aspect of Belliveau’s creative process. As a full-time assistant professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alta., Belliveau is constantly busy throughout the academic year. “Residencies are the best way for me to have a total break from thinking about school and my students,” she said. “Usually, during the year, I’m stirring up ideas and I can’t wait to get back to the studio, so residencies have been incredibly important to me.”

Belliveau is currently preparing for her upcoming month-long residency in Fukuoka, Japan, this May where she will work with a 3D printer.

“I love to travel to see work, and I think that’s sort of what I do; I collect things, I read things and I try to see as much art as I can,” the artist said.

Ballroom is on display at La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse (4296 St-Laurent Blvd.) until Mar. 2. The gallery is open from Tuesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Entry is free.

Feature photo by Mackenzie Lad

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