In recognition of both her pioneering embrace of interdisciplinary media and her significant community contribution to the visual arts in New Brunswick, Sackville artist Linda Rae Dornan was selected by an independent jury to receive the 2010 Strathbutler Award.
The jury found that the multi-sensory dynamic of Dornan’s work embodies a willingness to experiment and to evolve, and applauded the passion that accepts the possibility of failure in a quest to find a visual language responsive to time and to place. Dornan has achieved a richly nuanced body of work that explores the personal and embodies the universal. Her art practice embraces sculpture, installation, mixed media and performance art. She has an impressive exhibition record and has won national recognition in these newer areas of the visual arts.
The jury appreciated and endorsed the commendations of Dr. Ann Koval, Associate Professor of Art History at Mount Allison University and Mr. John Murchie, Co-ordinator of Struts Gallery & Faucet Media Arts Centre in Sackville. In a letter of nomination, Dr. Koval characterized Dornan’s dominant themes as the complexity of communication, using repetition of word and gesture to explore our need to be heard, to be seen and to love. Mr. Murchie’s assessment recognized Dornan’s significant contribution over a lengthy period of time to New Brunswick’s cultural communities. These comments, together with the evidence of the written and visual presentation, informed the jury’s decision that throughout the twenty years of her professional life in the province, Ms Dornan has had a profound and positive impact on excellence within the visual arts of New Brunswick.
In the artist’s words
My studio practice is a synthesis of diverse media vocabularies. It is a continuous interactive engagement between installation, video, performance and sound art to communicate about (and through) language, memory, place, and identity. As a woman, I have used my body to represent subjectivity, creating personal spaces, stories and ritual gestures. In my performances, breaking words apart into consonants and vowels or reading a 200 page story about dementia backwards have been conceptual examples of this process. Language in my work includes song and sound making. In one video installation, The Song Cycles, I mapped the Tantramar region (where I live) through people’s songs and identities; other videos have talked about loss of memory, and personal and collective memory working from intuition and emotions. The installations connect language as symbols with materiality, such as in senza fine where jumbled life-size wood letters spell out disintegrated words or in One Voice, where the crochet wall’s shadows project indecipherable writing.
As we age, our personal memory repositories are full of sensorial experiences and processes lived, witnessed and dreamed. I like to gather these experiences and create moments of questioning and contemplation in narrative and non-narrative performances, installations and videos; I play with visual metaphors about how we live our lives using both serious and absurd elements. Experimentation and the possibility of failure, ephemerality and temporality (especially in the performance art work) are important elements which have strengthened my practice.
I was a full-time caregiver to my husband, John, who had dementia, for fourteen years. His loss of cognitive skills—the ability to speak and understand language clearly, the ability to remember—deeply influenced my artwork. Another influence was being raised in Montreal where language is a serious consideration, politically, grammatically and conceptually. I have tried to forge a language of my own in my own voice, grown from my perceptions and personal experiences as a woman in this complicated, diverse culture and world. Where I live beside the Bay of Fundy has broadened my perceptions of how we communicate into a fuller spatial and sensual world inclusive of the non-human world. My latest performance art work, titled Where the bee sucks, includes sections where I speak using bird song, wind song and other sounds which are part of the earth’s languages and part of our collective consciousness in order to more fully communicate.