Secret Place, Heather Leier, photo-intaglio and chine-collé, 2015
January 20th, 2017 to February 25th, 2017
Opening: January 20th, 5-8pm
Artist Talk: January 21st, 3pm
Hiraeth is said to be homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for lost places of your past.
Informed by my anxious perception of my past as well as twenty-first century life, I create spaces that viewers can physically and emotionally enter, inducing feelings of uncertainty, nostalgia, vulnerability, and wonder whilst providing pause and contemplation.
I have most recently been doing this through my use of print as installation. The spaces that I construct exist somewhere between illusion and reality. They are images yet they feel as though they can be entered. They are warm and bright but are also dark and suspicious. It is in these liminal spaces, these grey areas, that I find the most complex and dynamic feelings.
My work aims to evoke consideration of our individual anxieties, the things from our past that we consciously and subconsciously hide as well as the objects and spaces in which we seek comfort and refuge. Influenced by collections, ephemera, monsters, and memory, I seek to recall the past through constructions in the present in order to understand the experience of growing up and more broadly living with anxiety in the world today.
Heather Leier is an artist and Assistant Professor based in Corner Brook Newfoundland. She completed her BFA in 2012 from the University of British Columbia and received her MFA in Printmaking from the University of Alberta in 2016. Her work has been exhibited in widely in BC, Alberta, and internationally.
Text Response by Kerri-Lynn Reeves
Hiraeth; The Work of Heather Leier
THERE was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparelled in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;–
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.
Artist Heather Leier rejects the idealization of childhood advanced by the Romantics of the 19th-century, the capitalists of the 20th, and the mommy bloggers of today. Leier looks to childhood as an exploration of the unknown as represented by the uncanny. Gone are the bright, shiny, and orderly; in their place are the mystical, magical, and murky. Hiraeth, consisting of three series of images, utilizes the uncanny to tap into the viewer’s own memories of their past, bringing up the complex mix of unresolved anxiety and nostalgic comfort that make up memory.
While Leier’s work refuses the rosy and unearthly view of childhood that Romantic poet Williams Wordsworth puts forward in the above poem, it does delve deep into the notion of the “common sight” and our changing perspective as we age and come to know the world. Leier’s images evoke the anxieties that we experience as we grow from childhood into adulthood around making the uncommon common. As children, we make sense of our new world through play: pretending experiences (i.e. Hiraeth), creating temporary spaces (i.e. Fort Series), and collecting objects (i.e. Collection Series). The act of play helps us to better know the world and to turn the wonder of the uncommon into the banal of the common.
The original feeling of specialness – as engendered by these material experiences of children – is sought out by disenchanted adults through the act of nostalgia. The state of wonder is idealized in a way that threatens to negate the discomfort and fear that can accompany the highly vulnerable state of trying to make sense of a world in which everything is new. Leier seeks to hold this space of vulnerability for her viewer in order to allow new perspectives on one’s past and present. By creating prints that are life-sized and immersive, the viewer is able to enter the work physically and emotionally. The work highlights the experience of childhood where one must accept an openness to explore through a constantly vulnerable state. By playing with the scale of her prints, such as in Hiraeth and in Fort Series, Leier overthrows the viewer’s perception of how one knows the world and resides within it.
Notions of perception are key to the immersive experience of viewing Hiraeth. The work questions what one can perceive in a state of innocence and what one can see in a state of illumination. Wordsworth’s poem speaks of this transition. While insight is gained with experience, so too is it lost. The history of “childhood” as a specified state throughout the western world, speaks of this slippage of knowledge. The bounds of what is considered childhood have changed throughout history, as seen by the changing age of when people leave home, enter the job force, and are allowed or expected to marry and start a family. These markers of maturity speak ultimately to the breaking of innocence and the gaining of independence. Leier’s work refutes this binary, levitating between the two. Hiraeth takes the child right out of the picture literally and figuratively, leaving viewers to insert themselves and ponder their own perception of childhood spaces, places, and objects.
The chine-collé process of bonding the delicate Japanese paper directly onto the architecture of the gallery utilized by Leier in Hiraeth, speaks to the process of creating memories in our developing minds as we move through and experience life – the fragility of our memory but its permanent shaping of who we are. By focusing in on the specifics – special objects, moments, and places – Leier demonstrates the effect of the accumulation of memories that build our sense of selves and of the world.
Kerri-Lynn Reeves is a Canadian arts labourer working as an artist, writer, educator, curator and organizer.