babelkunst
english / norsk

Photo: Grethe Britt Fredriksen

Heather Passmore
Babel, April 17 – 26, 2009Babel

The Canadian artist Heather Passmore (b. 1977) received her Master of Fine Arts from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, in 2004. Since 2000 she has had numerous exhibitions in her native country. She is also a prolific writer who has published several critical essays and reviews. Moreover, she has taught art in Canada and in Finland. She is represented in several art collections in Canada. The exhibition at Babel is her first international exhibition.

In her art, Heather Passmore studies hierarchies related to cultural values and taste. This is expressed in Passmore’s reconfiguration of historically charged media and materials, or, to put it differently, media which may be regarded as obsolete and which are charged with other connotations than the ones attributed to sophisticated and prestigious art. For Passmore, institutional art, through its own history, tradition and practice, represents an unfair distribution of cultural authority and the power to define. Traditionally, the middle classes in their roles as employer, patron of the arts and elite, have been the favoured ones. Passmore attempts to discuss the generally accepted ideas about materials and expressions on the art scene and in our culture in general. She tries to give so-called inferior and alternative media a critical independence of their own which differs from the art of the elite. She does so by studying categories of knowledge to which the middle classes are indifferent: categories that belong in everyday experiences and in popular practices and which are potentially recognizable and familiar rather than alien. Passmore’s critical approach to art causes her to work conceptually; she is not limiting herself to working with one particular material. She makes use of a wide range of materials, media and ready mades, combining for instance painting, drawing and photo with materials like used linoleum, old mattresses, t-shirts etc.

In connection with Babel’s fourth active year as a showroom for art Heather Passmore presents her series “Mattress Paintings”. Passmore has roamed the streets of Vancouver in a protective suit looking for old mattresses. In Vancouver, a city which struggles with housing problems and a bedbug epidemic, thousands of mattresses are discarded every year. The bedbug (Cimex lectularius) often lives and lays its eggs in mattresses. At night it leaves the interior of the mattress to suck human blood. Infested and discarded mattresses are later used by the homeless who in their turn contribute to spreading the bug. As a consequence, the problem is no longer kept within the four walls of the home, and because of greater social problems it becomes a health threat on a large scale. In Canada, where backstreets full of discarded mattresses is a common sight, these textiles will trigger recognition. Because they are easily recognized, and also because they are easily available, Passmore has chosen drawing and photo as working methods. Passmore makes use of mattress textiles as a foundation for her paintings and drawings based on historical photos of crime scenes. The sources of these photos, which often seem like amateurish snapshots, are books on forensic medicine and library and university archives in Vancouver. She also projects the photos directly onto the textiles. However, even if Passmore has an ethical approach to art, it is not the crimes per se that are important. It is the domestic setting and the interiors revealed by the photos, the sociologically related universe of taste in which the crimes have been committed, that is Passmore’s focal point. The crime scenes are characterized by straitened circumstances where everyday life reflects a difficult economic situation and the kind of products the market can offer a certain social class based on the economic resources of that particular class. Social circumstances shape both our taste and the choices we make. In Passmore’s “Mattress Paintings” the mattress textiles and the images contribute to a form a unity which draws attention to the connection between taste, poverty, crime, ill health and housing problems. These are some of the problems with which Vancouver struggles at the moment, and there is every reason to believe that they will become even more acute during the Olympic Games in 2010.

Steffen Wesselvold Holden
Translated by Birgit Kvamme Lundheim