Artist Statement: An Unexpected Collection

It’s been said that true knowledge is created from understanding and transforming your own experience. While I continue to appreciate the art and science of palladium printing techniques, I’ve treasured my opportunities to learn from photographic printmaker Bob Carnie. While transforming my own photography experience, learning from Bob has been one of the highlights of my An Unexpected Collection project and there is no doubt that this process will continue to influence my future creative direction.

The broken spoon photographs of An Unexpected Collection are printed using a 19th Century technique called tri-colour bichromate gum over palladium. The technique’s timelessness, craftsmanship and originality resonate with my approach to fine art photography.

Learning that this process produced work that would stand the test of time (this technique is reputed to maintain its quality for more than 500 years), I chose it out of a sense of archival responsibility. The enduring quality of the print ensures these stories can still be told for generations to come.

 

Although this collection emerged somewhat ironically to symbolize community, connectedness and appreciation for our first responders during COVID-19, I learned that the history of the broken wooden spoon began very much out of an act of protest. These noisy, non-violent protests date back nearly 200 years.

Originally referred to as “La casserolade” in French or “Cacerolazo” in Spanish, they had the aim of stirring change and expressing frustration with the ruling authority of the day by loudly banging pots and pans with wooden spoons and other utensils in unison at a prescribed time of day, usually in the evening.

This collection, however, is not a protest but a symbol of what is stronger together — community united in solidarity to support first responders around the world. People in the US, Singapore, Turkey, France, Italy, the UK and Canada are banging their pots and pans. Bangers who are expressing their own unique emotions during this crisis. This series started out as a single broken wooden spoon from my daughter during the 7pm Cheer. Then, my son broke another spoon… then I broke another. After my son broke his second wooden spoon, I thought there must be others out there like us.

I posted on a community chat board and other social media to ask if anyone had broken items from the 7pm Cheer. By this time, most people had thrown out their broken spoons. One response came through, commenting how this post made her smile that morning as she was also an artist and always looking for creative positivity. Broken wooden spoons from her day meant evidence of “disciplined butts.” Another response from that original post came from a neighbour who had kept the wooden spoons as they were a dear memory of her aunt. We connected and she left the spoons on her front porch for me. This is when I knew that people would have stories for me.

Everyone has a reason and a different story for banging their pots and pans — all different stories but deeply personal and connected to the current COVID-19 crisis. The more people I asked and the more they saw the photos emerging, the more I heard about a neighbour of a neighbour or a friend who had a broken spoon. In this crazy time, I was meeting new people (at a distance of course) who contacted me to pick up their spoon from their front porch. My goal was to collect 19 broken spoons and stories for COVID-19. I now have many more spoons and one plastic Rubbermaid container.

Creating this series during COVID-19 has been a healing and rewarding experience. While I wish COVID-19 had never brought this much anxiety, sadness and physical distance between us, it has taught me to take baby steps and to appreciate the strength of community. Today, I have found my creativity again and collectively, with a vaccine in sight, we’re looking ahead with greater hope than we’ve had in a long time.

 

Michelle Leone Huisman (Spring/Summer 2020)