The Pandemic is a Portal (2020)
SFU Audain Gallery
October 19, 2019 – January 5, 2020
Including Artists: Simranpreet Anand, Anna Banana, Vanessa Brown / Francey Russell, Lacie Burning, Margaret Dragu / Justine A. Chambers / Kage, Lucien Durey, Jessica Evans, Elisa Ferrari, Sharona Franklin, Michelle Helene Mackenzie, Megan Hepburn, S F Ho, Julian Yi-Jong Hou, Hazel Meyer, Cindy Mochizuki, Cecily Nicholson, Carmen Papalia / Heather Kai Smith, Jacquelyn Zong-Li Ross, Jayce Salloum, and Nicole Kelly Westman.
Curators:  Karina Irvine, Christopher Lacroix and cheyanne turions
Image Descriptions: Cheryl Green

Nicole Kelly Westman: oversharing obscure sentimentalities
Presented as part of The Pandemic is a Portal

Reflecting on the ways that social media can act as a repository for personal revelations, oversharing obscure sentimentalities (2020) is a photographic series displaying the artist’s modest collection of keepsakes. For the making of the images, sunlight and Rosco film gels collaborate in the concealment of access to the intimacies that make the objects significant to their owner. Retaining a barrier of mystery to preserve the elusiveness of the objects documented allows the value of the collection to be casually interpreted. These arranged personal treasures have traversed many living arrangements, humidities, makeshift storage facilities, and communities to now occupy a space as a placeholder for the people affiliated to these legacies.

[Image descriptions: A series of 10 photographs, each showing of a collection of everyday objects organized by colour, texture or use. Each set of objects is arranged and displayed in the style of a museum exhibition, treasures stored beneath glass. But the use of coloured gels and a sometimes hazy, sometimes light-splattered effect on the photographs clouds the images and calls into question the very notion of creating and documenting an archive. Rather, the series raises questions of our relationships to inanimate objects, what meaning they hold for us and how they are a glimpse into someone else’s world.

[01: A set of four open blank books, partially in shadow, a yellow gel filtering the light. The gel is crinkled, creating a lighting effect of bright, glittery shapes in the air above the books. In one book, pressed, dried flowers. Another has cursive writing too small to read. The third, in large, green cursive script, “On the night before the funeral...” The fourth has large, bubbly outlined letters reading,


[02: An orangish hue cast over the photograph with sharp spots of red and yellow-green, bright as a neon light. The centrepiece, a crinkled paper with “take me with you” in cursive made with a calligraphy pen. Also included are a set of 1980s-era dangly earrings; a photo of a woman in a winter coat; an image of Goofy behind chicken wire; a pamphlet for Stonecraft Symposium In Dialogue (barely legible beneath the spray of red light); a handwritten, whimsical card in cursive with a drawing of a cat wearing a bow tie; and other objects difficult to parse.

[03: Under a dark, almost sombre magenta hue, a photo of a young girl, eyes closed and grin overtaking her face; children’s drawings of large faces with no bodies; a watercolour of a house engulfed in black clouds in sharp contrast to a nearby small “Happy birthday!!!” drawing with a cherub-faced unicorn and a heart; another small birthday card is a cupcake coloured over in unrestrained strokes; at the center of the array, a long necklace with a coin-shaped pendant.

[04: A magenta gel over a scrapbook style arrangement of photos, plus one framed photo and a set of two keys on a keyring. Light appears dappled through the gel, sometimes creating shadow, while at other times creating bright spots of fuchsia or green. The framed photo shows a man leaned forward on a racing motorcycle. Unframed photos include one with a small child on a parked motorcycle, a family inspecting a motorcycle, the Race City track, the happy family on jet skis, and dusky images of the outdoors.

[05: Envelopes in the standard size as well as envelopes for greeting cards are aligned in an orderly, but not uniform grid. Several lie partially atop others. The light cast is reddish, and where light hits the folded gel, it shines a bright white and green, reminiscent of a light leak on film still photography. Envelopes are addressed to the artist, some with an address, others with only a name. Many have drawings or a circle around “Nicole.” One is adorned with shimmering cat and butterfly stickers.

[06: A collection of letters retrieved from the envelopes lie beneath the cast of a bright orange gel. One is typed, and all others are handwritten. Some have been neatly folded in half or thirds, others crinkled, and the smaller ones lack fold marks at all. Letters are personal and intimate though nearly impossible to read through the gel, save for tender words like, “My dearest Nicole” with a heart dotting the “i;” “My dearest babe my dearest Nicole;” “I miss your soft hands….”

[07: A personal library of 10 softcover and hardback books arranged in diagonal lines under a reddish-orangish light, a starter pack to knowing the artist. Viewed clockwise from the top left corner, the collection includes We like to be free in this country by Patricia A. McCormack, partially covered by In Different Situations Different Behavior Will Produce Different Results by Yania Lee in conversation with Chris Kraus and Jacob Wren; Black Diamond Dust; Brian Jungen’s Friendship Centre is partially masked by a pamphlet that is obscured by The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House by Audre Lorde; Our Metis Heritage...a portrayal; The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje with a deeply creased cover; Nascar: stories by Steffanie Ling lying partly atop Kaja Silverman’s The Miracle of Analogy or The History of Photography, Part 1.

[08: Deep orange light over four stacks of neatly folded fabrics in a line. Most appear pale and monochromatic, but one piece, lying on its own is dark with slices of pale colour decorating its surface. Most of the fabric is tidy and smooth. One piece has lightly frayed edges and is wrinkly. Another has the thick, knobby surface of raw silk.

[09: Under an orange-red gel, shadows and spots of brighter light, a straight and tidy row of pamphlets on the topic of sexual assault. The pamphlets on either end are partly sliced out of the frame. Topics include rape drugs, consent, the Central Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, an informational guide in French and one in English, and teens and relationships.

[10: An anthropological study in hair care shows a formal array of hair care implements lying on a lightly-scratched mirror and cast under a yellow gel. A brush, several types of combs of different shapes and sizes (including a carved comb that looks like four hands lined up, fingers extended), a tiger’s eye barrette, and two seashell hair clips. Only a glimpse of each object’s reflection and a sliver of shadow are visible.]