Heller’s revisited camp memories that further sparked a reflection into her mixed heritage. By including original images of her camp, Camp Naivelt’s location, as well as drawings and renderings of that “eerie frozen terrain, large-scale pictures hold out the promise of a new world, one that bridges seemingly distinct realms,” writes Evelyn Tauben in her curatorial statement.
To celebrate FENTSTER’S fifth anniversary, Niv spoke with Heller to learn more about her experience with FENTSTER, working with Tauben, and why the gallery is essential to the artistic landscape and beyond.
Suspended at FENTSTER. Photos by Morris Lum.
The possibilities are endless of what you can do from your experience working with graphic novels, materials, and performance. How did those experiences inform how you worked within the space at FENTSTER, or how did the space inform your practice?
The FENTSTER gallery space is so site-specific it’s just a constant parameter when you’re working with an exhibition there. Evelyn and I talked about a few ideas, and came to this idea around a particular Jewish upbringing that I had. My upbringing wasn’t only Jewish. I come from a mixed heritage but a real influence in my life was my dad’s Jewish heritage and how that expresses itself in the family and in my background, so that was the key. Then I started thinking about what makes sense in a window, what makes sense in terms of longevity, and not taxing Evelyn as a curator, also comes into it a little bit. The practicalities of it inform the work, but that’s really not an issue with my making, I don’t mind parameters at all, I don’t mind trying to make something that makes sense within a space or within a galleries competencies or abilities to maintain it. The story that I was working with had a very still kind of feeling to it. It was a distant memory and sometimes I thought I dreamed it up except I had some confirmation from my mom that it did happen. Suspended was just a strong still image.
Your piece feels multi-dimensional, there is the young paper cut girl, the ice cubes, there’s little details that bring the viewer in. And then you have the graffiti on the window, there’s always stuff on the window but that’s really on the window in a way that is more explicit.
That really came out of Evelyn making apologies for the scratches [on the window], and me thinking, no they’re gorgeous, let just emphasize them. Actually, this comes out of my performance background a bit because I used to be a dancer, and I had the most wonderful dance teacher Lenny Gibson, and he always used to say, often in musical, comedy, or jazz, etc. you have to do some kind of costume change on stage sometimes, and he called it ‘the bits’. And he said never hide them, if you’re going to change costumes, make it a thing, that stuck in my mind for years and it’s really a visual art methodology as well: you don’t ignore things, don’t plaster, don’t cover up, if it’s there, then work with it.
What was the collaboration like between Evelyn and yourself?
Initially I had an idea she thought was a little tired, in retrospect it probably was. It didn’t have as much to do with who I was deeply. Evelyn pushed me to think more about where I came from and then I remembered my memory of Camp Naivelt. Evelyn was a little more interested in my mixed heritage: my mom’s side were [Anglo-Protestant] United Empire loyalists and they came up from the United States to stay loyal to the crown.. I’ve always really been clear that I want to honour both, and I don’t want to say I’m Jewish, and I don’t want to say I’m not Jewish, I’m from a mixed culture. And right now, with identity politics, there’s a lot of pressure to sort of identify this kind of one thing and that’s just going to go the way of the dodo, there is going to be no one thing in the future.
What did you take away from your experience exhibiting at FENTSTER?
Because I’m in this fluid space of multiculturalism I don’t think about being Jewish that much. I guess it pops into my mind a fair bit, but the exhibition really made me focus on it. And then some old acquaintances from Camp Naivelt came to see it. And they were very touched, and it was nice to connect to that community a bit, I haven’t done so in years.
Did anything surprise you, whether it was you personally or hearing responses from people?
I don’t find a lot of venues to get decent analysis and criticism, there might occasionally be an old friend from art school I could talk to a little more deeply about my work. The relationship with Evelyn and her pushing me a little bit that was healthy, but it wasn’t criticism of the end product per say. You don’t get money, you don’t get particularly well known, so what do you get? I put this up and people seem to enjoy it, and isn’t that nice.
How do you think FENTSTER has changed, or is changing how artists can interact with art and how spectators can interact with art?
I wouldn’t have done this piece had FENTSTER not been there, and had that specific mandate. Evelyn’s definitely raising some awareness around Jewish culture. I think she’s had many different artists work there, it’s not just Jewish artists but it always references Jewish culture somehow and that’s amazing.
The five year FENTSTER anniversary celebration continues, with interviews from founder and curator Evelyn Tauben, Bernice Eisenstein, David Kaufman, Rachel Miller, and Evan Tapper.
Header photographs by Morris Lum.