Lisa Creskey’s porcelain and wood installation throws a knockout

By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk

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Match | Lisa Creskey | Under-glaze and glaze on porcelain, paint and varnish on wood | installation | 2016     Photo by Violette Stepaniuk

Curiosity takes ignorance seriously, and is confident enough to admit when it does not know. It is aware of not knowing, and it sets out to do something about it.

Alain de Bottom and John Armstrong, Art as Therapy

Not a fan of boxing, I almost skipped Lisa Creskey’s exhibition Match at the Art-Image gallery in Gatineau, on view until October 23. Luckily, the large scale figures of boxers in the show’s promotional photos piqued my curiosity, and soon I was reminded not to judge an exhibition by its theme alone.

Scale

I must admit though, when I first entered Art-Image, I thought, “Is that all there is to it?” All I could see was exactly what I saw in the exhibition photo – three muscular figures with beaten up faces and boxing gloves. As impressive as they were, I was a touch disappointed not to see more.

But Creskey is sneaky, in a good way. Her knockout-of-an-installation reveals itself one punch at a time, and only to those who are curious and willing to get up close and personal with her work. These porcelain and wood figures tell a story, but to see it, you have to step into the ring and meet the artist half way.

Inside each figure there are miniature scenes and figures – lumberjacks floating logs down stream, workers in a factory, a boxing ring, people on a boat…I wondered why this shift in scale? Why fill these larger-than-life figures with tiny people and things? To remind us that for some boxing holds the promise of being larger than life and leaving behind the hardships of the world they come from? Or to draw a parallel between the daily grind of physical work and a boxing match?

I asked Creskey about her use of scale.

“I believe that my abstraction and play with scale evokes the idea of time as related to space,” she replied via email. “In a sculptural sense I believe it also encourages more active participation with the work.”

Ahhh, time and space. Time does have a way of making things seem smaller or larger. And the different scales definitely forced me to participate as I stepped back and came closer, scooped and stood up, all in an effort to take in the details.

Also, Creskey’s play with scale reminded me of another artist using this technique. Photographer Janie Julien-For made her exhibition photographs in significantly different sizes to help viewers get engaged in her apocalyptic story. It worked on me then, too. Those tricky artists!

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Match (fragment) | Lisa Creskey | Under-glaze and glaze on porcelain, paint and varnish on wood | installation | 2016     Photo by Violette Stepaniuk

I believe that my abstraction and play with scale evokes the idea of time as related to space. In a sculptural sense I believe it also encourages more active participation with the work.

Fantasy

Match is a blend of reality and fantasy, thoughtful and engaging. The tall figures with their big porcelain heads and imposing, muscular bodies painted on wooden boards remind me of friendly giants from fairy tales. Their muscles morph into roots and legs mingle with trees, adding an earthly, old-world quality. There is also a hare with a rifle and a boxer with three sets of arms.

“Again I believe I am evoking the idea of time when I interchange the literal with the surreal,” Creskey explains. “Even throughout the course of a day, from sleeping to waking, our minds are able to accommodate fact and fantasy.”

These worlds within figures reminded me that we all hold stories within us. What would a Creskey figure of me look like? What stories would fill its cavities? What would be real and what distorted?

And did the artist intend to make me look differently at people who take up boxing? To consider the worlds they come from? To see more of their humanity and not to give in so easily to the dislike that boxing evokes in me? Because she did.

So, how does it all come together? The large and the small, the reality and the fantasy?

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Match (fragment) | Lisa Creskey | Under-glaze and glaze on porcelain, paint and varnish on wood | installation | 2016     Photo by Violette Stepaniuk

Storytelling

It all comes down to storytelling. Storytelling at its finest.

In Match, as in the majority of her projects, Creskey explores a subject with which she has a strong emotional connection. She is telling us about Buckingham, Quebec, where she spent her teenage years, and its pride Gaetan Hart, three-time Canadian lightweight boxing champion who was born and raised there and who in 1980 lost a try for the world title. Both the community and Hart have gone through ups and downs, and Creskey uses the language of art to tell their stories.

“The title, Match, refers to boxing as well as the phosphorus chemical that was produced in one of the company factories,” Creskey explains. “Environmental exploitation and degradation are not something I am able to ignore [in] my work. It also ties in to the idea of the unwritten narrative of our history. When I lived in Buckingham, some mornings, we would wake up and there would be a white chemical dusting on the lawns and trees from the factories. This is no longer the case locally but the same thing is now being done elsewhere in the world where people have less of a voice.”

Creskey believes that her responsibility as an artist is to be emotionally honest in her work because it is on the emotional level that the interaction with the viewer can occur, regardless of how they relate to the subject.

“I give free reign to my subconscious and conscious emotions visually to interfere, side track and distort as they please,” she says. “I am hoping they lead me to everything that I can’t know or see about the location to which I have such a strong connection. The hare with the riffle references the name of the river, La rivière du Lièvre, and the murder of striking mill workers by the militia.”

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Match (fragment) | Lisa Creskey | Under-glaze and glaze on porcelain, paint and varnish on wood | installation | 2016     Photo by Violette Stepaniuk

Since I avoid reading exhibition notes in advance, I didn’t have any of the background information when viewing Match, but the emotion that the artist put into her work spoke volumes. Now, understanding the story behind the story, I appreciate Creskey’s creativity and vision even more. When it comes to art, she is heavyweight. What story will she tell us next?

Again I believe I am evoking the idea of time when I interchange the literal with the surreal. Even throughout the course of a day, from sleeping to waking, our minds are able to accommodate fact and fantasy.

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