My Process – Elisabeth Belliveau
Written by Emily Storvold
After not running into Elisabeth Belliveau at art openings and talks for months, I was excited to hear about her quarantine experience. Seeing Belliveau’s mobiles appear on Instagram over the past months made me curious about the evolution of her materials and how these recent works might relate to her practice. The mobiles consist of items found around the artist’s home, such as sanded takeout containers and chocolate bar wrappers. Belliveau repurposes dried orange slices and toilet paper rolls and delicately arranges them to strike a balance.
Beginning with reading, material exploration, and observation, she gives objects another life and a new meaning.
Born: Antigonish, Nova Scotia
Education: Alberta College of Art and Design, Sculpture (BFA) and Concordia University in Montréal, Fibres (MFA)
Currently Looking At: Anne Truit, Carol Bove, Jennifer Packer, Clara Peeters, Kablusiak
Inspiring Artists: Eva Hesse, Fischli and Weiss,Giorgio Morandi
Always Reading: Anne Carson and Clarice Lispector
Favourite Animators: Nathalie Djurberg, Suzan Pitt, Allison Schulnik, Wael Shawky
Do you feel like quarantine could be a type of residency? I imagined it would be. It’s totally not like that at all. Because of my teaching job, and adapting to on-line instruction, planning for fall and rescheduling my exhibitions, the work I had already been planning to do ramped up. There’s also been so much powerful online content and community, and we need to think about what’s valuable right now. It is a good time to reflect on how to direct that energy. I’m paying more attention to cooking, food, and to the materials I have accumulated in my studio, as it’s complicated to gather or shop right now. I have to be really conscientious and critical with every purchase, order or engagement with the outside world. So, I’m thinking about materials even more. I’m thinking about the networks of trade and exchange, labor, and consumerism–there is a heightened sense of risk and responsibility due to the pandemic and social consciousness raising.
Can you describe your creative process? At this point in my career, I have a sense of the cycles of my studio practice. Generally I am always reading a range of books and genres and try to intuitively follow links. I take notes when I’m reading and compile quotes or reflections. I collect a lot of objects or materials that tend to also resonate with what I’m reading and the way I’m thinking. Suddenly there will be a build up of energy, or questions. And then I need to make something to answer those questions or to tie those ends together. Right now on my desk I have rotten potatoes, dried figs, plaster casts of hands, and all these random objects. But I’m reading Leonora Carrington, and if you think about it for 10 seconds, broken objects, rot, it’s all there. You want to see what will happen if you set this potato on fire and film it. It’s like you’re putting things in relation to each other and seeing what kind of energy that holds. Sometimes it resonates, like striking a bell. And for me, that usually comes out in an animation.
When did you start creating contemporary still lifes? I went to the residency at Banff Centre about five years ago. Mark Clintberg was the mentor for an artist residency called Still Alive. He brought artists together who were thinking about still life. And I was thinking about it through a feminist lens. For example, how women were able to participate in painting still life historically and how they were excluded from painting things like war scenes or grand portraits. But still lifes in the home were acceptable. So I was thinking about how women embedded their stories and subverted this genre (ex. Clara Peeters tiny self portraits painted in the reflective surfaces of metal vessels). I was interested in the still life as an access point to understand a little bit more about women’s lives in the past. I’ve always been interested in women’s stories preserved through diaries, journals, and letters. Through that residency I started thinking about the still life painting.
How does the concept of “waste” influence your work? For me it’s about thinking about my responsibility to the things I bring into my life and that nothing ever really goes away. In still life painting there is the subgenre of ‘breakfast still life’: depictions of the abundance and decadence and all the wasted food, after the party. People wanted to have that painted to show their wealth. I get hung up thinking also, about the waste created on the journey of the thing to the table, which illuminates socioeconomics and access. And I have to acknowledge that participating in art exhibitions and travel is fraught with environmental consequences. With the mobiles I’m making right now, I’m considering all the packaging and everything that’s coming into my home. As a single person it’s easy to be aware of your garbage and recycling and to take stock of that. So regarding waste, I am learning to closely observe materials and what they do, how they behave. For instance in my work right now I am focusing on one potato for three months (through time lapse and animation) and you really have to think about that potato. When you slow down and look at one thing, you realize the implications around each object that you bring into your life.
Decay is so prevalent in your work. Maybe you could tell me a bit about that? I think that decay and expiration express a lot of energy that is overlooked because there’s this draw to or celebration of the new thing or the flower in bloom. There’s this idea of the peak of use, beauty, or value. Maybe we can reconsider that and appreciate the beauty of transformation. I guess that could be a metaphor for many things. Right now I’m looking at the way a potato transforms. And it’s urgent and weird. When you watch it, it’s reaching and grasping and rotting and it’s trying to thrive and connect to something else. It’s very alive.
Top: Elisabeth Belliveau, Still life Tokyo, Installation, neighborhood flowers and herbs (Zenpukuji,), jesmonite cast containers, copper, found objects, Youkobo Art Space Japan, 2019