Sian Lille

Sian Lile in Meduse

Sian Lile - Méduse Report 2005

Méduse and Engramme

January to March 2005

I flew to Montreal and arrived on Friday evening, stayed at a hotel overnight and travelled by bus to Quebec City, arriving there Saturday afternoon. I was met at the bus station by a member of Engramme who drove me around Quebec City a little to get me accustomed to the place and then took me to Meduse to my flat. The flat was spacious and warm. It was one large room but had a living area with a bed, sofa and television, a kitchen area, a computer and phone and tables and space to work. It was a very pleasant space to work in the day, with large windows letting in lots of light.

Meduse is very quiet at the weekends, for although the galleries are open all the offices are closed. On the Monday morning I met Martine who looks after the studios and she took me over to Engramme to meet Louise (the director of Engramme). I was shown around the printing areas – there are studios for silkscreening, lithography and etching. The etching studio where I would spend most of my time has three presses, and therefore space for three people to work at one time. It is possible to book time or days at a particular press, but generally the studio is pretty quiet (especially at the beginning of the week) and if the press I wanted to use was booked I would spend the day researching and working in my sketchbook. Engramme provides the acid for etching, newsprint, ground, white spirits and cloths for cleaning. Everything else must be provided by the user, and there is a shop on site which sells almost everything one could need – copper and steel plates, ink, scrim and lots of different types of paper. There is also a large and well equipped art shop nearby called Omar Dessares, which again stocks lots of paper, sketchbooks, paint and some craft materials. The etching studio is a lovely place to work, I was often there working alone, but also spent quite a bit of time with Denise Pellieter who is also a member of Engramme. Denise was very friendly and helpful, explaining where everything was and also gave me addresses and contact details for printmaking competitions and exhibitions.

Louise did say that she would show me around Meduse, but this never happened, although Andre showed me around the photography studios. I did find myself a little isolated on the residency, and the fact that I couldn’t speak French was a bit of a barrier. It would have been nice to have been introduced to the people who worked there or some of the other artists on other residencies. I did spend most of my time at the etching studio and everyone there was always friendly and helpful.

Quebec City, Montreal and New York

Quebec City is quite small, pretty and touristy. It is a good place to be based and to work. Meduse is in the centre of the city, so everything is within walking distance, there is a bus and train station, a library where one can join with a letter from Martine, small supermarkets, newsagents which also sell English language newspapers and magazines and lots of places to have coffee and food out. There is a National Art Gallery which had really interesting exhibitions and I saw work I liked by Quebec artists, Paul Riopelle and Betty Goodwin. The Inuit art museum is fascinating and contains numerous stone carvings, information and a documentary film, the large National Museum traces the history of Quebec and the First Nation people. Just outside of Quebec city is the Ice hotel, which is a very impressive building entirely made out of snow and ice with bedrooms, a chapel, a vodka bar and art gallery. The Winter Carnival is also held in the city in January, there was an opening night with fireworks and bands and then a two week festival which contains snow sculpting competitions, stalls, husky racing and many other events.

Montreal is about three and half hours away by bus and the buses leave every hour. I went to Montreal a few times and it was nice to spend a weekend there to go to art galleries (there are lots of small galleries showing contemporary work, and I intend to apply for exhibitions there in the near future), and wander around the city. There is also a small but interesting museum of modern art which was showing a fantastic retrospective of the South African artist William Kentridge while I was there, as well as the National Museum of Art which shows art from the medieval period onwards, with some modernist art and a few contemporary pieces.

From Montreal I took the bus to New York which was about 9 or 10 hours including stopping at immigration and customs. I wanted to go to New York to see Christo’s ‘The Gates’ in Central Park and to go to the Museum of Modern Art. ‘The Gates’ was such a huge project covering the whole of central park and were quite beautiful. The park was full of people admiring the work and taking photographs. The Museum of Modern Art was extremely busy with queues going around the block, there were some great pieces on show, and I particularly enjoyed the print and drawing room, but it was a bit too packed with people to enjoy it properly. Next door to MOMA is the American Folk Museum which has amazing work by outsider artists: sculptures, paintings, quilts, small pieces made out of tin and wood carvings. I also visited some of the galleries in Chelsea, again, taking information to apply for exhibitions there.

My Art Work

Before travelling to Quebec I had been making etchings dealing with maps and map making, particularly looking at cities and utopias. I wanted to continue with similar ideas in the work I made in Canada, but also to let the experiences I had there guide and influence my work. I initially worked in my sketchbooks, gathering information from local newspapers and magazines and also sketches and ideas from visiting the local art galleries and museums. I was still interested in using maps in my work, for as well as continuing with the work I had been making before going to Canada, it would also suggest ideas about journeying, exploration and travel. I studied old maps of Quebec and Canada a great deal, and also read a lot about the Inuit in Canada and the way they made and used maps.

The Inuit maps were not merely about the geographical but would also include the cosmological and the spiritual. Their maps were often ephemeral because the land would change so quickly and because of the snow, any way markers would disappear. Therefore, to find their way the Inuit would rely on a variety of sources – the snow, stories and songs, the stars, animals, migration, the magnetic north, familiar landmarks (there were types of way markers like standing stones called ‘Inuksuit’ which sometimes showed the way, but sometimes would just frame a view or mark a burial), winds, smells, infrasound and minute changes in gravity and barometric pressure. I was interested in how the Inuit would involve storytelling and folklore in their maps, and the fact that they incorporated animal facts and lore into their maps also – such as the migration routes, and I wanted to use these ideas in my maps too. I was also fascinated by the different types of maps used by the Inuit such as ‘Sky Maps’ which were naturally occurring maps in the spring time. When the earth begins to melt and the sea is still frozen dark land mass reflects up into low hanging clouds and a mirrored view of the land ahead could be observed in the clouds. My favourite though were the dream maps which would show the way to heaven. The way to heaven would come to the Inuit in dreams and they would then record this information on paper. When someone in the community died a corner of the map would be torn off and buried with them so they could find their way to heaven. When the creator of the map died, the remainder of the map would be buried with him.

I based my prints on a combination of current maps of Quebec and the old maps of Canada. I also included information and folklore about the surrounding area, a whaling prayer, and information about cranes, sky maps snow and migration. I became particularly interested in the migration of both people and animals, and read a great deal about snow geese and other animals and the way that they travelled. The main part of my work was to be these prints (about A3 size) based on maps, which I also hand painted, and decorated with stickers and collage. Towards the end of the residency I also made some small etchings the same size and shape of playing cards. While reading and researching I discovered that the first Canadian money consisted of playing cards. This playing card money was invented in 1685 when soldiers could not be paid when the ship carrying their wages was late. Playing cards were used as money until the end of the French regime. The ‘cards’ I made included images of Kings Queens and Jacks from the different suits, maps, text and other drawings. As well as making etchings, I created numerous monoprints and by the end of the residency had over 100 small card prints

At the end of the residency I had a small three day exhibition where I displayed these card prints in multiples, and pinned my maps to the walls. I also created a little shrine area, where I displayed books, photographs my five sketchbooks and other prints. I was pleased that Engramme printed a card which showed images and text about me and my work. At the end of the residency Engramme take a few prints for their collection; they usually take one print from each edition made, generally I don’t work in editions as I like to use chine colle and collage, paint and stickers, so each of my prints is unique. In the end Engramme took four of my prints for their collection.

I had a very productive time in Canada. It was wonderful to have a block of three months of time to just concentrate on my artwork and to have the time to really research and read about a subject. I came back with a large number of prints and numerous ideas for future prints. I also felt that my work developed and benefited from being away in a different environment: the snow and the cold, the different light (often quite blue because of all the snow) and the dryness of the air all affected my work.

I hope to show the work I have made in Quebec in a small exhibition and I am going to apply for some exhibitions in Wales as well as sending images and information to some of the galleries I visited in Montreal and New York. At the end of May I am taking part in a group show where I shall exhibit some of my Quebec prints, and am also having a solo show in Swansea in October. After speaking to Denise Pellieter from Engramme, I also plan to send my prints to international print exhibitions.

I would like to thank Wales Arts International, for allowing me to take part in this residency and for the support shown before and during my time away. I would also like to thank everyone at Engramme for the opportunity to work in their studios, and for all the help they provided.

By Sian Lile

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