We need only refer back to the old stories from the Depression and from the world wars to remember, or to realize, that a mere scrap of paper has been for some people, in some dark and terrible places and times, a precious treasure. Abundance of the kind we know here in Canada, has turned what was once potentially and literally priceless into nothing more than trash. It is unthinkable that we could ever long for a piece of paper on which to write and to draw. Most of us don’t need to hoard and save and salvage because of want, or need; the weeping extravagance is wrong for other reasons now. Abundance is most certainly excess, and excess makes everything worthless.
In our current milieu one cannot help but notice the enormity of the so-called waste produced every hour of every day. It’s so large a problem that the solution is no longer a matter of personal choice. It’s a way of life, it’s big business and it’s hard to resist even when you know that those cheap and brightly coloured objects that come all the way from China will one day form a plastic island in the middle of the Pacific. Wendy, our beautiful Wendy, has declined to be one of the millions who waste, or, in these enlightened times, one who recycles; she has instead decided to save, to collect, to order, to arrange, to rearrange and to exhibit materials which would otherwise be considered garbage.
The spectre of office work referred to in Wendy’s artist’s talk and in her writing is another old story, hearkening back to the dawn of modern office work when women first began to be employed as office workers. The story of women and paper. Women in offices opening envelopes, preparing correspondence, filing. Of course times have changed. I think. Now, there is shared labour and men presumably also do the work of managing paper. But for many many years women were the main characters in the non-drama that is the office. There are even popular female stereotypes; the sexy secretary and the ultra competent, slightly manly, office dowager, for two. The office and the endless work of managing paper has been the special arena of women.
Office work. It is endless work and it must be done, so they say. But is it meaningful? Does it feel good at the end of the day? Has anything been accomplished? If not, then there is waste here of another sort, apart from the constant flow of quality paper into the recycle bin and the defunct computers into the trash. The workers are wasted. Their working lives are spent in a Kafka-esque dream of repetitive action and minute detail, but nothing is ever really completed, nothing is created. Again, as in the case of Material, Wendy, acknowledges the waste, this time of labour and she redirects the endless repetition, the sorting, the organizing, the making sense of, and she creates a work of art. A work of art which could in it’s way be considered unnecessary and senseless and yet provides for a more profound and an infinitely more entertaining way of understanding the lives we live.
This idea of work, the endless, repetitive, multi-tasking type of work that has been assigned most frequently to women, is safe, I think. There is safety for women, sometimes, in always knowing what to do next. There are women who spend their entire lives in the fond embrace of the doing of the right job at the right time and for all the right reasons. It is clean and it is simple. It makes sense of senselessness. And life is senseless, isn’t it? Chaotic. You are young, you begin to age, you are old. There are boxes and one is expected to conform, but sometimes you are young and you die. Like a soothing incantation there is the work to focus on, and the work will wash away the enormity of the unknown, the unreasonable, unreasoning harshness that is life.
Here in Circuitous Routes, Wendy has taken the broken and unwanted materials of our excess and she has applied the repetitive detail work that is women’s (or has been women’s) and she has created nests and lace, knitting and crochet. The materials, reconfigured, are delicate and she has strung these creations together with the most vulnerable of adhesives, just tape and pins. Anyone could rip it all apart. Just one swipe of the hand and the wall mounted paper spirals would rip and fall to the ground. And this is true too of Tumbleweed, the large and central installation with it’s multitude of silk flowers and it’s fly swatters and Christmas lights. A person could grab and pull and it would come apart in hundreds of places. It is that delicate. It is that vulnerable.
In spite of all the existential darkness that is waste and oppression and death, we are not overwhelmed with horror when in the presence of this work. It is not horrible to look at; it is beautiful, it is a delight. The lacy magic of the installation induces a state of wonder. It is wonderous that Wendy took it upon herself to create these pieces, to divert these materials, this labour, to create something that is art. It is life affirming. It is a way to live.