Condolere Sanctuaries: Eve Tagny
by Ashley Raghubir
In the exhibition Condolere Sanctuaries, Montreal-based interdisciplinary artist Eve Tagny converted Centre CLARK’s Room 2 into a multi-sensory garden refuge. “Condolere” in late Latin translates to “suffer together” and in this context alludes to the garden’s potential as a site for reparative healing. Refugia, or places of refuge, referenced in the work of anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, are the ecological areas in which species regenerate following catastrophic events. The cultivated garden, as an extension of and expansion upon the private domicile, is a refuge for the body, memory and identity. In this way, Tagny’s installations in Condolere Sanctuaries offered a similarly resurgent potential in response to contemporary and historical trauma. The garden as refuge, however, presents a paradox, since places are cultivated not from a void, but rather from specific socio-political contexts. The garden is a healing space and also a site of historical trauma with psychological and material traces requiring criticality.
To enter, visitors passed under the room’s arched doorway and looked up to see a photograph of dense tropical foliage installed on the archway’s walled underside. Directly across the gallery on the opposing wall, Tagny installed a proportional wooden archway with a similar photographic treatment, creating the illusion of an expanded garden. Positioned against the middle of the gallery’s right wall sat a life-sized but structurally unsound clay staircase. The doorway and staircase extended the space into the imaginary, unbounded by the gallery’s brick and mortar. Yet the precarity of that expanded realm was emphasized by the doorway’s impenetrable vegetation and the earthen staircase’s instability. Such architectural additions delineated the exhibition space as much as they elaborated on it, revealing how tending to a garden is also an imposition of the gardener’s will.
Tagny’s careful attention to the exhibition’s garden refuge was noticeable in the various flora-inspired objects affixed to walls, resting on clay structures and lying on the gallery floor. Hybrid organic-inorganic forms were object assemblages made of flower, stem, rock, tropical leaf, fruit, glass, decorative metal clip, metal nail and printed photograph. Suspended semi-translucent plastic sheeting made secondary walls that partially obscured the hybrid objects that lay behind them. This refuge was the result of discernible human intervention and had indeterminate surroundings.
The absence of wall labels, including work titles, heightened the holistic, terrestrial nature of Tagny’s exhibition. A silent video was projected on a floor-based semicircular clay structure with a rectangular base. Filmed in a garden in Johannesburg, South Africa, the video features quick transitions of superimposed scenes. The smaller foregrounded scenes are of a sun-filled private garden of abundant green foliage in which a woman tends to laundry drying on a clothesline, the care of a child and the covering of a shrub with plastic sheeting. These scenes are layered over the video’s larger, abstract background image of warm-orange and cool-blue tones, suggestive of a landscape. The garden in the video is utilitarian in facilitating household tasks—an earthly paradise in its dense tropical vegetation, but also unsettled by the inclusion of the plastic sheeting. Is the plastic to protect the garden’s flora from an unspecified danger? Or, does the plastic’s opacity refer to an unrevealed past particular to this location? How is this garden, and its potential traces of psychological and material trauma, connected to Johannesburg’s history? The garden as refuge is thus complicated by unearthed and buried histories, specific to geographical place. In this way, Tagny’s Condolere Sanctuaries aligns with Tsing’s ecological understanding of refugia as generative areas of resurgence following catastrophic events.
A second video work, also on the floor, played on a monitor beside a dried tropical flower. The video begins with a daytime scene of a lush garden adjacent to a white-walled building, along which a dog roams back and forth, in and out of view. Another scene within a smaller, square frame quickly appears, superimposed upon the garden, featuring a young Black woman wearing a white dress and bathed in ethereal light. The woman’s hands tenderly hold and release crumbling earth, feel and embrace the corresponding hand, wrist and forearm in self-touch, gesturing outward in repetitive dancerly formations. The work alternates between the woman and the garden and includes a text-based account of a garden’s history. A selection reads: “I remember / How much you loved nurturing our garden / But one day / As the sun was setting down / You took a clothing line there / Tied a noose.” Together, Tagny’s video works speak to each other in shared narrative. With the garden’s clothesline con.nected both to household ritual and personal trauma, the paradox of the garden refuge is made explicit.
A quiet permeated Tagny’s multi-sensory Condolere Sanctuaries. The quiet reinforced the garden’s reparative healing potential and complex site-specific history. It also suggested an aesthetic that Black cultural and literary scholar Kevin Quashie attributes to an expression of selfhood. For Quashie, in-teriority manifests as a quiet presence; it is not absent of sound. Interiority’s socio-political capacity is not diminished by quiet—instead, the possibility of an expanded expression of culture and subjecthood is amplified through the vastness of inner life. The dancerly hand gestures in Tagny’s video are the material and metaphorical embodiment of Quashie’s “aesthetic of quiet,” as evocative as the spoken word, if not more so. In Condolere Sanctuaries, Tagny’s examination of the garden as paradoxical refuge calls attention to living in the aftermath of trauma and offers new schemas for reparative healing that mirror Quashie’s positioning of interiority as equally substantive to public expressions of socio-political resistance.