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Features / April 23, 2009

Raphaëlle de Groot: Object Lessons

Raphaëlle de Groot The Burden of Objects 2009 Studio view / photo Raphaëlle de Groot

In 2008, Quebec Triennial participant and Sobey Art Award finalist Raphaëlle de Groot created a collaborative, multidisciplinary installation with a group of art students meant to reinvigorate old and discarded materials. Titled L’art d’accomoder les restes/Making the Most of Leftovers, the project, based out of le Centre d’art contemporain de Quimper, asked the students to “make, remake and unmake” objects using leftover materials from their past work and then invited gallery viewers to take home the finished pieces that they found aesthetically appealing.

While that earlier project was framed as a generative collaboration meant to create new objects, now, in a kind of bookend to Making the Most of Leftovers, de Groot turns her transformative attention to a new installation aimed at helping viewers divest themselves of unwanted, rejected and even burdensome items. Aptly titled The Burden of Objects, this new project, closing this weekend at the Southern Alberta Art Gallery, investigates “objects, the instability of any meanings they embody and the burden endured in their accumulation.”

Working with the public in a newly created open studio space, de Groot put out an open call for objects from the community that occupy a limbo state between usefulness and disposability: things that occupy physical and psychological space for their owner that is becoming increasingly troubling rather than reassuring. The artist then configured the stockpile of stuff that arrived at the gallery into sculptural works using associative meanings gleaned from anecdotes and survey data offered by the objects’ previous owners. Rather than prioritizing the items’ use value, de Groot worked from their sentimental and psychological connotations to create combinations that are both evocative and surreal.

It’s a fitting project for the SAAG to host, particularly in light of their upcoming plans for a major renovation and expansion that will encourage a similar rethink of the sentimental and purposeful use of space and objects. By re-evaluating the way physical objects structure our emotional experiences and offering inventive ways to transform past materials into new, unexpected combinations, de Groot’s approach promises to offer a model framework for just such a reconfiguration. (601 3 Ave S, Lethbridge AB)