Le Devoir. “Hommage aux artistes-cygnes”. Delgado, Jérôme. March 19, 2011

“Unrecognized as a photographer, but not without the experience of several exhibitions and publications, Fiona Annis presents at The McClure Gallery of The Visual Arts Centre, a body of work that may change this situation. The series, The After-Image (SwanSongs), is composed of twelve images and fragments of texts, that has not only the force of a poetic proposition that is sensitive and piercing, but is also executed with a careful and strong mode of contrast that is worthy of the best chiaroscuro work, which gives to the ensemble an aura of mystery that is not uninteresting.

The After-Image (SwanSongs) takes root in documentary photography. In this regard, Fiona Annis registers a variety of places, landscapes, and architectures that are associated with the death of notable artists and intellectuals – at the site of their swan song. These are historical characters, “infamous” or “atypical,” as announced by the artist in the project description.

To “follow” Virginia Woolf, Annis made her way to the River Ouse, where the British writer took her life. She also photographed Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park, the place of the disappearance of the iconic Canadian landscape painter Tom Thomson, as well as the field close to Rome where Pasolini’s body was found not long after the completion of his last film, Salò or the 120 Days of Sodom. In all, eight destinations for eight personalities for which their death, unexpected and/or violent, further contributes to their legend. Amongst these well-known names, we also find a Shannon Jamieson, close to Fiona Annis, who took her life in 2006. The commemorative photo is one of the strongest. It is a sombre composition where we can distinguish, on the steps of a brick building, a makeshift still life, evoking Jamieson’s marginality.

Born in Scotland, and presently established in Montréal where she is pursuing doctoral studies, Fiona Annis delivers across this parcours a series that approaches portraiture. They are ultimate portraits: uncommon and anchored in metaphor rather than description. Driven by the salutary need of creation and thought, these images speak to the tragic deaths of intense lives. Rather than illustrating this intensity by means of extravagant expression, The After-Image swims in sobriety, as though the artist intended to articulate the counterpart of the pendulum. Like poems, the photographs stay open to interpretation.

Swang Song (Ader) presents an expanse of water that is lost at the horizon. This image, for which the plane of gradation takes the viewer toward the light (from beyond?), is in homage to Bas Jan Ader, a conceptual Dutch artist who disappeared off the coast of Ireland in 1976. One single point troubles the careful vantage point, as though a rock disturbed the calm of the water. Many people believe that Ader, like Icarus defying the laws of nature, voluntarily made his drowning his final work.

The ensemble of the exhibited body of work has this force of impact. To evoke Woolf, Annis presents three photos, among them the one that sets the tone of the exhibition: a fine white swan. Also included is Walter Benjamin, the theorist behind the figure of the flâneur, who died in 1940 while trying to escape the Nazi regime. His swan song, the traversal of the Pyrenees that he made on foot, is evoked in the image of this steep wooded path.

On many occasions, Fiona Annis intersperses between these photos succinct texts, evoking parallel knots of thought that link life and death. If her images stand alone, the extracts of text from fetish works of fictional or philosophical literature, insist on death as the suspension of a moment, the fragment of life. Such addresses as « the first great concrete freeing of non-pulsed time» (A Thousand Plateaus, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari) or « we never cease and we never finish to die » (The Space of Literature, Maurice Blanchot) also function as a punctuation between the different sites.

From Gaudi, and a Catalan hospital bathed with rare streams of light, to John Lennon, and also to Mark Lombardi, the selection of epochs and artistic milieus are multiple. And what is most appreciated in the body of work is that, even in the face of a cult-figure such as Lennon, the proposed image is not a fetishism of the site. Here, an anonymous bird’s eye-view of a green lawn brings us back to the pacifist principles of the Beatle and to Central Park, where his ashes were scattered.”

– Translated from French by Véronique La Perrière M.

Link to review