“Gather… Arrange… Maintain,” a survey exhibition currently on at the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, concentrates on the labour-intensive ways in which Ontario artist Jane Buyers works. Her fascination with the physicality of materials and the technologies involved in executing her work is evident in the exacting way she employs difficult media such as bronze, porcelain, clay, wax, wood, fabric, paper and found objects such as books and tools.
As Buyers herself explained in text related to a Berlin exhibition this past summer, “I approach drawing as a sculptor, using slow, repetitive, obsessive labour to build surfaces. My interest is in forms, rather than in figure/ground relationships.”
In “Gather… Arrange… Maintain,” curator Crystal Mowry stages Buyers’s work with care. The installation is clean, with work prudently selected and arranged to provide insight regarding a lifetime of making material interruptions into what Foucault has called “the production of discourse.”
This “production of discourse,” Foucault wrote, is “at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed according to a certain number of procedures.” His words came to mind as I viewed Buyers’s exhibition, and I thought about the process of gathering, arranging and maintaining as a few ways “to evade [the production of discourse’s] ponderous, awesome materiality.”
Immediately apparent as one enters the exhibition site is tangible evidence of the materials, technologies and found objects Buyers employs. Gather … Arrange … Maintain (1990) is a series of 13 wall-mounted bronze tablets picturing different domestic instruments in raised relief. Three black stoneware-with-wax-pigment wall-mounted books from the series Inscriptions (1999) are also on view, as is a large-scale graphite-on-paper drawing of tools—History Lesson #9: The Order of Things (1996).
In an adjacent room are three multimedia sculpture works from 1983 and 1984 that signal three sites associated with intensive effort: a library, a studio and a house, named The Life of the Mind, Che Fare – What Is To Be Done, and Home, respectively. Each work recalls the formal and thematic substance of her investigation and practice to date.
Like many feminist artists (Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own certainly comes to mind) Buyers retains a connection to the conditions of women’s existence, specifically their sites of learning and labour—the library, the studio, the house and well beyond. Whatever materials and tools she employs, her work carries references to architecture, tools, books and botanical imagery as sites for human agency and desire.
Buyers’s multimedia wall work The Road Into/Out of Town (1982)—created out of clay, wood, metal, tar and cloth—suggests the critical role of process in her art production during the last three decades. It is a pivotal work in this exhibition; Mowry says it demonstrates a “complexity of associations with history, memory, technology and labour” and “suggests the potential for renewal and transformation” that has been highly visible throughout Buyers’s career. Certainly, that potential is well visible here.