From a long, narrow and reverberant corridor in the Loyola Building at Saint Mary's University, visitors cross a threshold into the gallery's quiet plain.
First conscious of the evaporation of sound, gallery-goers are met by a strong but silent visual: a triptych on a table called "Questions She'll Never Answer," the introduction to a show called Somewhere in Between, by Toronto artist Sara Angelucci.
A framed photo of the artist's mother, on the deck of the boat that brought her across the Atlantic from Italy to Canada, is flanked by two video monitors, also contained in frames. For one, the artist has recreated the skirt worn by her mother, its embroidered hem waving in the wind. A series of questions rise and fade, the text written across the fluttering fabric. The other monitor maintains a steady view to the endless ocean, a still shot if it wasn't for the motion of the waves.
Angelucci created the piece during her grad studies at NSCAD, where she received her MFA in 1998. It grew out of a visit to Pier 21, before it was a museum. "A bunch of us walked around in these buildings and it made a huge impression on me: 'Oh my god, this is where they landed on their boat,'" she recalls from Toronto. "It was the first piece where I was really trying to grapple with those issues," Angelucci says. "The questions I didn't ask" about the crossing, a central motif in stories of immigration, and of the decision to come to Canada.
Before she came to school in Halifax, the artist lost both her parents in close succession. While she confronts the loss of her mother in "Questions," Angelucci reconsiders her relationship with her father, and his absence, in "Everything in My Father's Wallet/Everything in My Wallet" (2005).
"It's a taxonomy," says Robin Metcalfe, the gallery's director/curator, pointing out how each item is shot directly, the image centred on a square tablet.
Like photographer Arnaud Maggs, Angelucci takes a neutral, almost detached view to the items, says Metcalfe. "She doesn't editorialize, just presents them and opens up all kinds of fields of possible meaning."
By comparing the receipts father and daughter have kept, the charge cards, ID, documents and photos they've carried, the viewer appreciates the differences (personal and generational) between Orfeo and Sara Angelucci, but also sees similarities, patterns and the continued connections shared by the two. The personality and identity of both emerge and there's a metaphorical crossing of the division between life and death, absence and presence.
According to Angelucci, the whole of Somewhere in Between, an economic show of rich, colour-saturated chromogenic prints that originated at Cambridge Galleries, is "me trying to come to terms with my own identity and my own history." At past openings, visitors have responded in kind. "They start talking about their own history."
Part of being human is to examine one's own life for connection and shared experiences with others, starting with one's family and moving outward. In other words, the artist illuminates a larger, universal story through the telling of her own. It's a powerful, difficult and constructive thing to do.
For "Regular 8" (2009), Angelucci researched and then staged models in the popular dress, pose, gesture, style and locations of the late 1950s, the age when, Metcalfe points out, Kodachrome, colour film and Super-8 home movies arrived and were popularized by working and middle-class families. "What we remember is shaped by the media we use to remember it."
"Those are the ones that move away more from an 'immigrant story' and look at the vernacular," says Angelucci, "how people develop their own mythology of the family, where those stories come from."