Last week I had the opportunity to work with a wonderful bunch of people out in Edmonton, Alberta in celebrating, finishing, and perhaps resurrecting Betty Spackman’s Found Wanting exhibition. I was lucky enough to attend the exhibition when it appeared at the Reach Gallery Museum in Abbotsford, British Columbia in 2011. At that time, the gallery wrote that,
“In Found Wanting, Spackman wrestles with the dilemma we have as consumers between the objects we consume and the stories connected to them. To illustrate this point she has methodically collected and cleaned the bones of those domesticated animals we readily consume as meat – often without thinking about them as animals. In so doing, she forces the viewer to reconcile and acknowledge the origin of the meat products we consume.”
It was a show that really moved me. Betty’s work was conceptually powerful, but also beautiful and carefully executed.
Last year, when Betty and I were having a cup of coffee together during a visit to Ontario, she talked with me about her desire to put the exhibition to rest, but in a way that still honoured what the show was about. As we talked about this, and some of the work I do with creating pigments, we began to form a plan for transforming the bones by burning them.
Burning for me is the purist way to dispose of, and sacrifice, something … which is an odd juxtaposition when you think of it. We decided to create both bone-ash and bone-black pigment from these remains (both of which are possible depending on whether oxygen is present while it burns). Our plan was that the bone-ash would enrich the soil for growing things, and the bone black pigment would be recycled in being given to other artists as inspiration and use. In burning these animal remains into ash we were returning to the earth the bones that had made up the show, but in creating a black pigment from them we hope to offer them over to the hands of others.
The week was surrounded by the remains of the animals that make up so much of our food—sorting them into piles of antlers, teeth and bones, then burning them. I don’t think I ever became totally desensitized to the fact that everything I handled was from a dead animal. The effect was sobering.
But what I loved most about my week of transforming these bones were the people I got to work with. Betty’s circle of friends and supporters includes a lot of wonderful folks, and I felt honoured to be included and befriended. The chance to be in conversation all week with artists, curators, patrons and song-writers was truly a joy.
While in Edmonton, I also had the opportunity to talk about my work with local colours and in iconography at the University of Albert’s Ronning Centre and work with an amazing group of students at King’s University around making paint from earth pigments. I throughly enjoyed the chance to play and explore ideas of place and colour.
Returning home, my suitcase was full of special black pigments, which I look forward to painting with, but back in Edmonton, there’s now a large, steel case of bone black waiting to find its way into new artistic endeavours … I can’t wait to see what happens!