Monday, June 03, 2013

Docent not Docile

Last year we went to an exhibit at the Gardiner Museum that looked at a history of Russian Royalty through pottery - much, much, more interesting that it sounds. We managed to catch a tour given by an incredibly talented guide, or as they would have referred to her, a 'docent', to which we chatted after the tour. We've run into her a few more times since and we've always stopped to chat. She is a very lovely woman. She has an active and really, truly, enquiring mind. She enjoys listening to and considering other points of view. This is probably what makes her so good at what she does.

We ran into her again yesterday when we went to see a new exhibit 'Life' and she happened to be there and we joined her on the tour and listened to another docent as we were guided around the space. The exhibit was truly remarkable. Life sized terra cotta figures - exact replicas of people known to the artist. Many, but not all, were nude. I found one installation stunning, all the figures were hung in the air and they all looked liked they'd jumped off a dock and landed in the water. They floated in the air, being totally still, yet demonstrating movement. I was a bit in awe.

When it was over we fell into chat with the docent that we'd met before and she was giving us a bit of her take on the exhibit. I found myself telling her that I found that the artists representation only able-bodied bodies a bit disappointing. There were differing ethnicities and differing heights and, a lovely addition, differing weights. But all were clearly abled. I pointed out to her one of the figures where the woman was sitting ... and the chair she was sitting on was implied but not shown. It was clear from both the body's form and the body's position that the woman was intended to been as a sitting able bodied figure. If the artist had the talent to imply a straight back chair, she certainly could imply any chair she wanted. If the artist had the talent to vary height and weight and as she could have the bodies sitting, laying and jumping into pools - she would have the talent to do any body she chose. And she chose not to include someone with a disability.

"I'm guessing that most people who come here wouldn't notice the absence, but I do," I said to her. She listened to me with a roaring intensity. "That absence needs to be pointed out, like the absence of people of colour on television once needed pointing out to white people," she said. Then, to herself, "and the artist should have this mentioned to her too."

It was just a chat.

Only a chat.

But what was nice was to have someone take "absence" as a "statement" and, further to take that statement seriously. I kept waiting for the 'yeah, but' to come, but it didn't. We veered off onto disability representation in art and then to other subjects.

It was just a chat.

But a great one.


Belly (Liz McLennan) said...

Sounds like your docent is a kindred spirit!

CapriUni said...

That sounds like a wonderful exhibit. And an even better conversation -- especially since, as a docent, that young woman is in more of a position to act on her realizations than most.