The Space of Strange Magic
by cheyanne turions

Talking Back, Otherwise

Part of an on-going body of work where Maryse Larivière creates sculptures that orate poetic texts, My Pleasure Teardrop (2015) is situated in the research carrels at the JHI, where its function as an artwork is subsumed into its practical use as a lamp. The audio track is an interpretation of Larivière’s poem “A Delicious Path to the Sky is Crying My Pleasure Teardrop,” which was published in her 2015 artist’s book Where Wild Flowers Grow (Kunstverein Toronto, 2015). Voiced by the artist and performance maker Evan Webber, their dialogue is accessible only through the pose of eavesdropping, by sitting in a plush lounge chair and leaning ones ear against a large pillar to the right, the sculpture’s light shining from the left, the visitor sandwiched in between.

What one hears when they assume this strange posture—not at all the typical observational distance of museum presentations—is a rumination on creativity and romance. Meaning is made from art in two ways: there is the subjective register and there is the social register. While a particular colour may evoke a garment worn by a lover, it may also be reminiscent of the branding of a particular hotel chain. When used in a sculpture, the presence of that colour carries both those references, push and pull. For the protagonists of Larivière’s poem, the mapping of these interpretive intersections are laced through with the development of their own love affair. The proposal that artworks are able to communicate through a “certain intensity discharged / by the sensuous meeting of materials,” carries the implication that their attempts to discern the meaning of their artworks is as much a comment on their romance as it is the objects themselves. The visitor, through sensuous contact with the work—its bright light, its soft sounds, the tactility of placing one’s ear to the wall—is invited to consider themselves as a kind of unwitting third, if only in making sense of what this work’s intensity can be.

Hanging just above the listening station is You teach me to talk to the birds, you teach me love (2015), a collage titled after a line of dialogue from the poem. Against a vintage cut-out of Niagara Falls stand two bodies, their heads replaced with the faces of parrots of the love bird variety. Referencing a figurative shape used in the sculpture and an avian reference from the audio track, the bird motif implies both freedom and capture—a creature capable of flight, yet known for a voice relegated to imitating sound rather than properly producing speech. This is not unlike the language of desire, caught between imitating courtly motifs and declaring the absolute novelty of every pair bond. Larivière’s Otherwise advocates a voracious curiosity, the development of secret languages despite their inevitable limitations. The amorous lexicon her protagonists seek would not concretize the meaning of their affair nor their shared artistic practice. Rather, in the fluctuation between the emotive and the intellectual, a space of possibility opens, the space of strange magic.