This has been a brutally long winter. Months of bitterly cold weather, early darkness falling, and endless bundling in order to go out to do anything at all forces you to dig very deep to find a reason to keep going. On top of the endless, bone-chilling Montreal cold, we lost our dear old dog, Dora, at the end of March. I always emerge from winter feeling like I have very little left, but this year I feel like I have excavated my entire foundation and have little more than some old bones and a broken dish with which to greet spring.
My partner, Neil, and I have been talking a lot the past few months. We live and work in the same space, and winter for us is a time of very long hours, social isolation, a bit of depression, and a lot of introspection. Something about the season forces you to think about your life and work in a different way than during the warmer months. We ask ourselves every year “How do we get through this winter?” as if there exists some particular act we can perform to avoid it entirely. In searching for the answer, we inevitably dig up issues that we didn’t even know were buried.
Despite my depressing entry into the subject, one of my greatest pleasures is talking through life’s events with Neil and trying to make sense of it all. We share the same burning desire to get to the truth of our own existences, and I think he would agree that we share the same belief that all of us humans, while ignorant and often profoundly cruel, have the potential to be empathetic and kind beyond any expectation.
One of the subjects that came up for us during the winter was the existence of recurrent themes in our lives. It seems logical that anything that appears again and again in your life, whether a feeling, an aesthetic, an addiction or a craving, is trying to tell you about a part of you that needs some attention - either in a healing way, or in a way that gives more honour to its existence.
Neil is an artist who paints small, photo-realistic paintings of a variety of subjects. For 25 years he was primarily focused on identifying and painting decrepit and forgotten buildings. He is currently working on a series of paintings documenting a day in our lives in our live/work space. A lifetime of introspection while working has led him to understand that all of his work is a way of expressing his core feelings of invisibility. Painting the buildings was a less direct way of expressing this through elevating and honouring similarly “invisible” objects, while his intimate series documenting our lives is a more direct expression of the fact that he exists. A “Neil was here” sort of statement.
This winter, one of the insights I have come up with about my own work is that Birds of North America is very closely tied to my lifelong feelings that the framework for life we are sold as children by society, parents and institutions is completely fraudulent. I remember starting to feel this intensely sometime around the age of 13 and it has never changed or gone away. It’s always there in the back of my mind - an awareness of the unreality of my own existence. Though I enjoy life, love deeply, believe in people and in goodness, and commit to showing up to work every day, I simultaneously live with the knowledge that all of this is pretty meaningless. Not just pretty meaningless, but likely ENTIRELY meaningless. This is something I know, deep in my bones, that it all amounts to nothing in the end.
The way it manifests for me is feeling like I am a child pretending to play at life. I show up every day wearing a little paper dress and I act out my story on a tiny cardboard stage. I have often had the overwhelming urge to try to rattle “the matrix” by performing absurd acts to see if there is some governing body that will notice, decide to intervene, and in revealing itself, provide an answer to the question of whether there is something more going on in day to day life than meets the eye.