A wrinkle in time: Leah Garnett’s installation When One Space Meets Another
Performance scholar Megan MacDonald leads us along artist Leah Garnett’s journey
through space and time
Leah Garnett: When One Space Meets Another
Confederation Centre of the Arts, Art Gallery
March 4 – June 4
Leah Garnett’s installation When One Space Meets Another invites visitors to the gallery to engage with objects that reference four different spaces in three countries: Canada, the US and Ireland. Garnett used the dimensions of a room in a gallery in Sackville, NB to stage a space in the woods in Maine. Using the tools of the construction trade she learned from her father, and the actual materials and scraps available from his business in Maine, the first version of the room was created amongst trees. Subsequent residencies in Ireland added created objects that reference elements of the forest, as well as drawings that enact other vantage points of the installation.
The floor and walls of the Confederation Centre of the Arts Art Gallery in Charlottetown are marked with the dimensions of the Owens Gallery in Sackville, the placement of trees in Maine, and gridlines representing the two residency studios in Ireland. Within each of these re-staged spaces we find structural remnants of the other spaces: pieces of shingles from the scrap heaps in Maine that are now sculptural elements; a workbench from one of the studios in Ireland; and the suggestion of a doorway from the gallery in New Brunswick. While aspects of the staging are incredibly detailed in their fidelity, there is slippage – the table cannot sit exactly where it would have been in the studio in Ireland as that would interrupt the reference to the wood pathway from Maine that has been laid out on the floor with thick tape. The spaces are all there, but they have begun to merge with and transform each other. Each space merges with the previous ones to create the current installation inside a fifth space – the Confederation Centre.
At first glance the installation is quite porous with no clear beginning or end. The participant can choose to focus on any item that catches their eye or observe the whole. The largest piece is reminiscent of a stage set with its slightly raised floor and unfinished walls. The emphasis of the space is performative – it enacts the layered realities of each space Garnett engaged with and invites an interactive and reflective response from the participant who consciously or unconsciously chooses a path through the space, performing some elements and not others, and thereby making the story their own. While the spaces have personal significance for Garnett the viewer is challenged to become aware of how his/her own spaces and memories influence his/her engagement with it and to gain a new perspective into how space and place merge with lived experience.
The implications of the piece are manifold. With worldwide travel possible at a faster rate than ever before, with millions of displaced people, and millions more who move yearly from rural to urban areas, it is not uncommon for contemporary people to move between locations and spaces. Garnett’s piece highlights how with each move a certain amount of information is brought forward. What does this mean for those who have been forced from their homes and now try to build a life in a new country? How does the added change of radically different architecture affect the merging of space and place? As humans move through life and accumulate experience, how does this layering happen and when does a space truly meet and interact with another space, instead of being subjugated, subsumed, forgotten or otherwise imagined? Whether conscious or unconscious, each space only makes sense in relation to the first and preceding ones, the layers informing each other along the way.
The piece made me conscious of my own layered spaces, accumulated over time, distance, and in various cultures. I cannot help but perform the spaces of my present through the layers of the past. The installation also illuminates the ways in which we each edit and construct these experiences of space. This is a gift of the installation: Garnett reminds us that each experience does not stand alone, that the sum of the performed experience of space and place is cumulative and that we take it with us into each future opportunity.
Megan Macdonald is an independent performance scholar, researcher, and yoga teacher. She received her PhD from Queen Mary, University of London and has published articles on performance practice, the body in performance, belief and ritual, and contemporary performance artists. After living and working in Germany, England and other Canadian provinces, she is now based in Prince Edward Island.