SALT: The Distillation of Matter

The SALT project is an installation of the work of three artists; Vancouver artist’s Haruko Okano and Nicole Dextras and Nelson artist Julie Castonguay. The artists worked with curator Deborah Thompson towards the creation of new work which explores the relationship between matter and impermanence. The work of the artists changes throughout the exhibition as…

2009 Feb 14 – 2009 Apr 19

Julie Castonguay, Nicole Dextras and Haruko Okano: SALT Project

An exploration into the nature of impermanence

Curated by Deb Thompson

“All the mythologized processes of nature, such as summer and winter, the phases of the moon, the rainy season and so forth are in no sense allegories (i.e. a paraphrase of conscious contents) of these objective occurrences; rather they are symbolic expressions of the inner, unconscious drama of the psyche which becomes accessible to man’s consciousness by way of projection – that is , mirrored in the events of nature.”
– Carl Jung Myths to Live by, p.13.

Images more than abstract concepts and words have the potential to reach the psyche in a diactic manner and effect change. This potency of the visual language is perhaps what binds the visual arts so enduringly to culture. When an image has archteypal resonance its roots run deep into our psyche, opening us to what has been lost, forgotten or never imagined. Like a dream or a memory they work to uncover and bring a symbolic relatedness to that which is hidden which then act as guides in our daily lives.

Salt: the distillation of matter is a dialogue with this sort of image-psyche relationship. It began with an image dirived from Ancient Egyptian embalming practices, that of the decease’s body being encased in a thick layer of white brine or salt, in order to ensure the bodies reinhabitation in the afterlife. This image embedded in its narrative is the core of my inquiry into the nature of impermanence.

The three artists chosen for this project interested me in that they were all working with matter in a transformative way, both in their use of materials and the coneptual concerns present in their work. They were all exploring death through the earthen body. There choice of materials and subject matter was very intentional.

As the project proceeded It became apparent to me that the question being explored in the work had to do with the relationship between matter and impermanence. Specifically, in the role matter plays in the death -renewal cycle and how is it we seek to understand this expression of immortality.

The link between salt and matter is a curious one: Carl Jung explored the symbolic nature of salt in his work as a psychologist claiming that salt was indeed associated with eros and the dynamic workings of the feminine aspect of psyche. Alchemists also percieved salt’s feminine role in the forming of a transformative triad between sulfur (masculine element), sal (salt) and mercury. This echoes the Christian triad of Joseph, Mary and Christ and like Chirst, Mercury holds a dual role in holding the poles of light and dark / saint and devil. This dark aspect uncovered brings the triad to a quaternity or wholeness. Alas the goal of alchemy and Jung’s theory of individuation.

Note: It is no surprise that the alchemical symbol for Venus is a derivative of the symbol for salt. For it is through the wholeness of the feminine that the triad completes itself. It is this fouth element or “evil spirit” that concerns us in the salt project.

Adding to this complexity, it is in uniting the polarities of this fourth element that comprise the sacred marriage, a marriage of death in the form of a sacrifce which brings forth both renewed life.

Each artist’s work explore this mysterious union, Jung’s Mysterium Conjiunctionis, in language that is alchemical. (Alchemists were medieval chemists who sought to turn metals into gold, the most precious metal. Their work parallels the work of the human psyche as it matures in its relationship to the Self. Or what Jung called the individuation process. Gold then stands as a symbol of this higher self, much the way Christ does in Christian mythology).

The mineral salt is formed by the joining of a base and an acid, sodium and chloride, which come together to form sodium choloride. In doing so each gives up an element of itself to become a new substance. In this way, salt can be seen not only as a symbol of eros but as the potential of the sacred marriage.

Haruko Okano

Haruko Okano is an interdisciplinary artist who has one foot in studio practice and the other in cultural development within communities. She has participated in all kinds of celebration projects, worked with specific cultural groups and cultural events and was a long time facilitator working with youth and social issues for ArtStarts in Schools. She has trained as a curatorial apprentice, has a certificate in experiential learning and has training in human rights especially around racism and other areas of discrimination. Fresh from the first phase of a global artist residency in Mexico and the Yukon Okano also is the curator/director of a little community gallery on the eastside of Vancouver.

Join visiting artist, Haruko Okano in a power point presentation on her experience in community art projects including: Night Honouring the Dead (Mountain View Cemetery)

Homing Pidgin and Flesh Mapping: Vancouver Markets Pacific Women a project to abolish prostitution locally and globally. Haruko will also speak about her piece, “Salt of the Earth” which is part of the SALT exhibition.

Julie Castonguay

Julie Castonguay, originally from the city of Québec, holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry from Laval University. In 2002, she temporally suspended her work as professional forester to study photography at NSCAD University where she graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts. Photography has been her strong interest since the mid-80’s when she started printing B & W photography.

As a digital image-making artist, Castonguay has been primarily engaged with nature and how human’s relate to it.  Castonguay’s first solo photography exhibits were held in 2005 in Nelson, BC and Halifax, NS. She was awarded a special mention at the prestigious 2005 Banff Mountain Photography Competition. Currently, she resides in Nelson, British Columbia, where she balances her forestry career and her photography, continually exploring and integrating her connection to nature.

Nicole Dextras

Nicole Dextras’ environmental art focuses on the ephemeral aspects of nature and her practice follows the seasons, with ice in the winter and organic materials in the summer. Dextras is a graduate of the Emily Carr Institute of Art in Vancouver, BC Canada, where she has been a sessional teacher at ECI for the past 8 years. She has created ephemeral art installations in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Recent exhibitions include a solo show of photographs at the 23 Sandy Gallery in Portland OR and an outdoor sculpture for the Sculpted Green Exhibit in Bellevue WA. Dextras spent the last summer creating new eco-artwork for the VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver and she was artist in residence in Dawson City Yukon for the winter. Upcoming projects include: “Salt” a three-person exhibition in Nelson BC and the inclusion of one of the photos in the 2010 Green Museum Calendar. Her artwork has been featured in Canadian and American publications and she has been the recipient of national and provincial grants.

As part of the exhibition SALT: the distillation of matter, environmental artist Nicole Dextras will be coming to give a talk on the ephemeral nature of her artwork and its placement in public sites. She will talk about her recent installation of Poem a three-dimensional grown text from wheat grass as well as her work with ice text in the Yukon and Ontario. She will also show images from her work at the Van Dusen Botanical gardens last summer where she was an artist in residence.

While in Nelson, Nicole will run a public workshop called, ephemeral public art which will engage participants in the process of making art for public spaces in a manner that is ephemeral. Using an alphabet of ice, participants will create text which will be placed in various sites around town. These installations will be photographed to use in the creation of two dimensional art. Of her text installation Nicole says, The words themselves often infer a physical and psychological questioning of perspective towards one’s surroundings. This analysis of the gaze is meant to challenge the commodification and the romanticization of nature.

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