For the past five years, Denise de Cordova has been walking, often alone, in the deep woods and forests spaces of British Columbia, visiting First Nation and Settler communities as part of an ongoing preoccupation with wildness and remoteness. Through her work, de Cordova considers how the idea of the female figurative sculpture can express landscape narratives, intercultural exchange and blended identities that draw upon European and non-European sources which allude to terra mater mythologies.
De Cordova describes falling and tumbling into love with the forest as almost shocking; “a deep phenomenological attachment to place that has become embodied and umbilical; a kind of longing to become part of the deep inside of the forest rather than experiencing a view from afar”. She coverts the sensation that John Berger describes as being “like the inside of a glove by the hand within it”. It’s about closeness, nearness and detail.
Part of the attraction for the artist is fear and the uncanny. How surveillance by non-human eyes and thoughts of being eaten, getting lost, and the supernatural, all feel possible and probable when faced with solitary deep wood imaginings. Feelings that heighten an awareness of mortality and vulnerability; but which also unleash the ‘mild fear’ that is creative and material, and the companion of making.
Conceived as a visual love letter (of sorts) to the deep woods, the exhibition presents the imagined beings that exist in the spaces between the trees: maenads, huntresses, wise women and goddesses, conflate and blur to create hybrid characters that have been ‘collected’ by the artist to be her fictitious walking companions. Ideas of dress, costume, myth and folklore congeal and compress: Fog/ Volcano Woman (Haida First Nation) greets and walks with Demeter (Classical European). Log Lady (Twin Peaks), the faithful one, is always there.
But in all fears, mild or otherwise, there are questions and doubts that flavour imagination and making, and for de Cordova one perpetually returns: Whether, as a European, it is possible to go beyond familiar frames of reference in terms of forest narratives, and how does one acknowledge similarity and difference simultaneously? Answer? Probably do more walking...