Where Wild Flowers Grow
Maryse Larivière, Kunstverein Toronto, 2015, 140 p.
by Alex Bowron
ESSE arts + opinions
"I can see you now
that my face is falling off
my own face
to make room for yours
so we can see eye to eye
and hear the voice of our hands
touching Bruxelles at night"*
Produced in conjunction with an eponymously titled exhibition at Kunstverein Toronto (April–May 2015), Maryse Larivière’s Where Wild Flowers Grow is a decisively optimistic contemporary romantic trip. The book is a collection of poetry, prose, and discourse in which experimental, personal, and anecdotal forms of literary realism are used. Larivière’s approach to writing encourages multiple forms of reading. By treating text as both meaning maker and compositional tool, she ensures that Where Wild Flowers Grow is able to migrate back and forth between the worlds of the literary, theoretical, sculptural, and performative. The book’s twenty-five separate pieces of text are meant to be consumed more like movements in a symphony than chapters in a book. Some pieces are only three short lines long, others read like theatrical dialogue or personal anecdote, and still others are nothing more than brief statements printed near the top of an otherwise blank page. Where Wild Flowers Grow offers rare insight into the complexities of the artist’s innermost desires and provides readers with a physical sensation of reading. The book’s exterior silky matte finish is soft to the touch and there is a satisfying tactility to the weight of its heavy stock pages. Also including a series of minimalist gestural line drawings, the book is best experienced through an active letting go that allows rhythm, flow, and mood to merge with intellectual content.
Where Wild Flowers Grow is a modern love story focused on the intimate and nuanced relationship between the artist and her art. With a practice that is research based and inherently multidisciplinary, Larivière exhibits a distinctly genre-bending blend fueled by intellect and curiosity. Through a synthesis of fact and fiction, her writing does not mimic the real world, but instead circles in and around it. Inspiration is drawn from a deeply personal connection to memory and a strategic use of free association. There is a fluidity and flex to this approach that ties in with the methodological concept of écriture féminine, developed by French theorist Hélène Cixous to prioritize communication from within the female unconscious. Écriture féminine is a writing of oneself that connects the written word with the female body, thus reclaiming writing as a feminist act. Words are employed by Larivière to indicate both sound and silence, establishing a rhythm to the book that is expressed both implicitly (in its overall mood or “feel”) and explicitly (through the use of literary tools such as repetition and alliteration). Through a methodical interweaving of the physical with the psychic and the sensual, she uses writing erotically to unite the body of the reader with that which is read.
In its characteristically frank and inherently romantic style, Where Wild Flowers Grow does not shy away from tackling the most underlining of human concerns. Larivière ignores taboo and celebrates cliché, opting to engage full throttle in a genuine conversation about love, life, art, philosophy, and death. She is unapologetic in her optimism, allowing her characters to act according to a sense of sentimentality that verges on the naïve. A statement such as “lets make a revolution in the hallway” is presented completely without irony, therefore managing to convey a sense of invincibility that is normally reserved for being freshly in love. And yet, just as love is exalted as a gateway to joy, it is also presented as potentially obsessive, banal, dictatorial, or even traumatic. Images of death and dying, a weakening of the self, a dove flying into a lover’s face—all are offered up as fair warning for the unabated lover. It may be true that love can bend space and time, but it can also grow oppressive, old, and stale, prompting everything from duty-bound, to desperate, to self-destructive behaviours. This approach to love, which communicates bliss in the same breath as uncertainty, is reminiscent of Jean-Luc Godard’s film À Bout De Souffle. In a mood shared by Larivière’s two central characters, Godard’s character Patricia uses her best passive passion to declare, “We look each other in the eyes, but what for?”
In a clash between romance and reality, we turn to art and poetry to save us. In Where Wild Flowers Grow, Larivière understands all too well that the artist chooses life by simply choosing art over death. Just as love and life will fade if they are not nurtured, art, too, may die if it is not given the conditions it requires to thrive. Art, writes Larivière, is “a certain intensity discharged by the sensuous meeting of materials.” It is only through intellectual meditation and a commitment to looking that we can rescue art from oblivion. By paying close attention, by allowing the artworks to speak, we will understand that the story they tell us has always already been the story of ourselves.
* excerpt from Where Wild Flowers Grow, "How Can We Make The Streets Sing Our Names", p.73.