IOTA: Gallery Pop Up (Deux) - Alisa Arsenault

IOTA: Gallery Pop Up (Deux) is a pop up gallery that featured twelve Nova Scotia and New Brunswick contemporary artists, and two Halifax commercial art galleries for an online sale and pop-up sale event. Artworks were available for pre-purchase from May 1st to June 17th, 2017. All artists were featured for an interview as part of the Six Questions series, released every few days starting the first week of May 2017, and leading up to the live pop up event: June 17th, 2017 at the Anna Leonowens Art Bar + Projects.

The below artworks are no longer available for purchase through IOTA.

The first series of prints are made up of one photograph that I found in a second hand book and record shop in San Francisco. The individual prints are created by way of image transfers using oil of wintergreen, as well as silkscreen portions and dried flowers. These found photographs which depict actual individuals in various situations are woven within my memory through acts of repetition (tracing, photocopying, oral and written descriptions). The images once ingrained within the my consciousness intend to serve as reflections of identity, objects with which to convey my perceptions of personal truths and memories.


The next two print pertain to marriage. They are part of a project that I exhibited entitled Les Alliances et d’autres histoires fantastiques. They were created after having found an abandoned wedding album from the 1950’s. Exploring the contents of this album many times over a great sadness poured over me…I couldn’t believe it had been left behind, especially since I was in the midst of planning my own wedding at the time. I scanned the images and transformed them into prints. Part of me felt like I was preserving a part of history. Part of me felt guilty that I was somehow stealing other people’s memories. The prints I created are the result of these thoughts.


Part of a group exhibition entitled Découpes: L’Évangeline en images. This show was exhibited at the University of Moncton Acadian Museum, as well as the Galerie Colline in Edmundston, NB and the Confederation Centre of the Arts in Charlottetown, PEI. The works were created by scanning medium format negatives from a collection of archives from the newspaper in question. The photographs representing children during recess when the Aberdeen Cultural Centre was a school in the late 60’s and early 70’s. By way of embossements and monochromatic silkcreens these prints explore the concepts of memory and the passing of time.


These images are part of a self-portrait created by using images found online of an event that took place the day of the artist’s birth: Hands Across America. The artist was determined to find something positive to associate with the day of her birth after having been told by an ex-boyfriend that her astrological sign as well as other informations pertaining to her birthday were negative ones. Hands Across America was a fundraising event for poverty during which many states of the US held hand forming a giant human chain.


Emerging artist from Moncton, Arsenault completed studies at the University of Moncton in print making and photography. Her work manifests itself mostly in the form of installations comprised of photographs, print work, video projections and sound. She has participated in many professional group exhibitions, such as, 'Somewheres', at the Confederation Centre of the Arts, art gallery in Charlottetown, P.-E.-I., Acadie Mythique, a travelling exhibition curated by Harlan Johnson as well as Les découpes: L’Évangeline en images a travelling exhibit curated by Jennifer Bélanger. She has exhibited solo shows in both Moncton New-Brunswick at Galerie Sans Nom and in Trois-Rivière, Québec at Galerie Presse Papier. She will represent her province of NB in Les Jeux de la Francophonie 2017 in Abijan on the Ivory Coast as a media artist this coming July.

Through the deconstruction of images and words found within her personal family videos and the material or performative reconstitution of segments of her history, the artist questions inherited narratives. Segmented and semi-reconstituted, these locks of memories form a melancholic yet humorous whole to serve as an antidote to a universal nostalgia. 


Six Questions with Alisa Arsenault

IOTA: The source material for your work is home movies and family pictures, like the ones many of us can find tucked away in old photo albums at a family member’s house (depending on the generation). The photo album is an often forgotten object, collecting dust, and yet keeping cherished moments safe from the passing of time. In a conversation recently you said that memories are a construction, can you elaborate?

Alisa Arsenault: When someone chooses to put together an album of their family or friends they get to make many choices. Firstly, in deciding which photographs make the cut. Secondly, in what order they will place these photographs. Important ones in the front of the book…maybe less important ones in the back. When you look through albums with their owners they usually know where to take you. Skipping pages, moving directly towards an image that is important to them. People have such control over how others perceive them and the photo album (or the photographs we post online or choose not to delete inside our phones) is such a tool in this. Photo albums are old school now, no one uses them anymore. They are relics, archives of past time. I suppose my interest in them stems from there. I grew up with albums and spent so much time digging through them, yet I own none today. I take photos with my phone and eventually delete them. I wonder what will happen in 10-20 years when I have no physical images to hold and curate. I think the personal memories that reside inside our heads go through the same process. We are told annecdotes as kids and hang on to these bits of stories as if we remember them. However do we truly remember or are we told so many times that our brain tricks us into thinking we do. There is a quote by Sally Mann that I often refer to in my work, which explains this idea far better then I can

“I tend to agree with the theory that if you want to keep a memory pristine, you must not call upon it too often, for each time it is revisited, you alter it irrevocably, remembering not the original impression left by experience but the last time you recalled it. With tiny difference creeping in at each cycle, the exercise of our memory does not bring us closer to the past but draws us further away.”

IOTA: Is the selection of images for their representation of site important in these or just pictures of people?

AA: I definitely take into consideration the site, as well as objects represented within a photograph when selecting images. However, I would say that the attention to these details is mostly intuitive. I choose images that remind me of moments or scenes that I have lived. For example gardens or backyards that are well landscaped because my mother was and is a devoted gardener or weddings because I recently got married…I’m interested in events and rituals that are universal to most and that have significance to me.

IOTA: After using your own family photos or putting yourself in front of the camera like in the video The Dumps, where you wear paper masks representing your mother’s past boyfriends and have a split screen dialogue with yourself acting as your mother, you will now be incorporating photos found family in garage sales of flea markets to make your work. You deconstruct the autobiographical, layering your own memories with the personal material of others. Are you suggesting that family is a shared experience?

AA: I am suggesting that family can be a shared experience…however it can also be a very singular experience. I see myself as someone who seeks truth, which is a pretty impossible task within human relationships. Every member of a unit (be it a family, an office, a circle of friends) has their own interpretations of events, their own perceptions of truth. I’ve always been very curious and affected by this. How can two people within a same context have such drastically different interpretations of said context and how can these two people determine what is the TRUE context…does one even exist! It’s crazy, but it happens all the time. Even though I believe we all have our own ways of seeing and feeling the world, we are linked in so many ways not just within the perimeters of a family, but as human beings. I think our similarities far outweigh our differences. As humans we have a conscious awareness of our own mortality. We all share the same fate and we all know it. This is enough to link us together at the very core of our beings. One thing I have noticed in my life many times over is that families often band together when it comes to filtering an image of what they want outsiders to perceive of them…even if the members within that family unit don’t get along. In my work I do mostly focus on how our individual experiences unite…how we share common rituals and even in day-to-day life.

IOTA: Can you tell me about your influences?

AA: Yes. I love the work of Kara Walker an African American contemporary artist who works a lot with silhouettes. For me her work explores huge feelings that are past down from one generation to the next. Feelings that seep into you’re bones and you’re not quite sure how they got there, but come to find out they were also in you’re mother’s bones and her mother’s bones before that…

I also love the work of Maira Kalman an Israeli-born American illustrator, writer, artist, and designer. She writes and illustrates stories in the New Yorker about everyday things. Things she observes as she walks down a street. A hat on a women. Simple things. I like being a part of other people’s experiences…

Sophie Calle and Raphaëlle de Groot are two artists from different generations that I admire greatly. I also love the book Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater…and have read it too many times to count. If definitely feeds my current work.

My mother. She is THE storyteller. THE memory keeper. I guess my work is mostly a way to keep up with her. To pursue her legacy of protecting family heirlooms and the memories they contain.

IOTA: Your use of colour, paper cut outs and subject matter placement seems to comment on erasure and displacement, can you explain how these thematics and the process of ‘layering’ is present in content and screen-printing technique?

AA: I like to think of each print as a narration. A story. Stories are built from layers. Generational layers. Layers of fact and layers fiction. When I construct images from my mom’s collection of photo albums I take segments from different photographs. Some from her side of the family, some from my father’s. More and more I construct images using found photographs. I imagine these as one big archive of events that pertain to one great big family. I treat these individual and events as if they are all part of the same story. Because in fact they are. I believe events and people create ripples in the world…I guess I’m trying to build one big photo album that pertains to us all as human beings…even if there is a lot of fabrication there, there is a lot of truth. Imagination is such a key part of identity to me. We do it whether we mean to or not. We create our truths. When I layer in my print work, I take all these separate ideas and elements and mix them together in one pot of soup…I guess you could see the pot as a big old mess of flavours…but for some reason which I haven’t yet fully grasped, the pot feels a little bit closer to some kind of universal truth…some kind of discovery. I love to work with silkscreen and image transfer techniques when it comes to printmaking. I love how they contradict each other yet compliment each other at the same time. I usually silkscreen line drawings. Very simple and clean. Image transfers tend to look old and faded. Watercolours and collage play a big role in bringing all of this together. It’s an intuitive way to work. I get to try different combinations and then when it feels right I make the composition permanent. I also enjoy gold leaf and textiles. I’ve even been cutting out motifs from ceramics with a dremel.

IOTA: What’s next?

AA: In July I am heading to the Ivory Coast as a media artist for Les Jeux de la Francophonie 2017. I’ll be creating a video and sound performance that incorporates gif like animations of my prints. My voice will tell stories. A mish-mash of memories, sound effects and melody.

My work will be part of a group show of emerging Acadian artists that will be shown at Galerie Colline in Edmundston NB (2017) as well as in Québec (2018).

I am currently working on a new print series scanning bits of fabric and ceramics from my childhood using these motifs to create giant still lifes mounted on birch wood panels.