Thursday, September 9, 2010

Betty Spackman's 'Found Wanting'

There is never a feast without a sacrifice.
~ Betty Spackman, Artist

The film referenced below by Kate Bradford introduces us to Bradford's friend, the internationally known artist, author, and teacher Betty Spackman. Spackman's extraordinary 3,000-square-foot installation Found Wanting: A Multimedia Installation on Grief and Gratitude opens tomorrow, September 10, at the Penticton Art Gallery, Penticton, British Columbia.

"Found Wanting" tells a story to which few if any of us give much thought, addressing what the Curatorial Comments describe as "the multilayered and troubling questions which surround today's large scale factory farms while shedding some light on where our food comes from and the journey it took to get to our kitchen table. . . ."

In Bradford's fascinating documentary, Spackman articulately and with great feeling describes the objects she uses, from hundreds of cleaned animal bones, to sheep ash, to empty bird cages; how she came to create the enormous installation, which includes "waiting rooms" with reliquaries, an entirely authentic "boneyard", a "cantina", and a 20-minute video of a sheep being slaughtered by a local farmer; and what the artwork represents to her, revealing to us the many meanings held in the title.

While quietly insistent that the installation is not a protest against anything and being clear that she is not a vegetarian, Spackman notes in the video that she believes her work creates the "possibility to dialogue with the community" about the connections we have to the animals we eat, our perspectives on consumerism and environmentalism, our responsibility to be aware of the source of our sustenance and to be grateful for it. Just watching the video gives a sense of the number and depth of social, cultural, religious, economic, and political questions raised.

The installation took five years to create, and nearly all the bones and animal products used were either found or given to the artist, who cleaned and assembled them. As Spackman says in her
Artist Statement, "The bones I have used in this work. . . are not meant as fetishes of any kind. They are simply scavenged fragments — the evidence of death for the task of remembering life. My basic intent is to honour them and in so doing to acknowledge that, as a consumer, I have benefited from their demise. . . I use the bones and other animal remains in FOUND WANTING as a 'reality check' against my ingratitude and to remind myself that there is never a feast without a sacrifice. . . ."

I've watched the video several times and hope you find it (and the information at the links I've provided) as engrossing as I do. The film may be as close as we in the United States can get to the installation, unless someone has the foresight to bring it here. 

To watch the video, go here.

The exhibition at Penticton Art Gallery runs through November 5. It travels to The Reach Gallery in Abbotsford, British Columbia, January 27, 2011, where it will be on view through March 27.


An ArtWay visual meditation on the installation is found here. (Use the toggle to the left for English.) The essay includes a number of links to additional readings.

See also this news article, "Bones Raise Questions about Art and Life", in the Penticton Western News, published August 25, 2010.

Betty Spackman's on FaceBook

Betty Spackman's A Profound Weakness: Christians and Kitsch (Piquant Editions, UK, 2005) A review of the book is here. Additional information about the "image journal" is here.

Interview with Betty Spackman, Cardus, January 18, 2009

Betty Spackman's Displaced at 2009 Fort Langley Exhibition, Review (Scroll down to view image of artwork.)

British Columbia Arts and Culture Community on FaceBook

Langley Arts Council, Fort Langley, BC


M.L. Gallagher said...

I shall have to make a point of getting to Abbotsford when her exhibit is running.

The creativity of human kind always amazes me.

And the sacrifice of anmials is humbling.

Deborah Barlow said...

M, This is quite moving, even in its disembodied cyber presence. Thank you so much for bringing this to your readers. I am sending the link to this post to a number of friends. As always, I trust your exceptional vetting skills.

Kathleen Overby said...

Abbotsord isn't very far from me. A couple hours? Come visit and I'll take you Maureen. :)

I loved her non agenda take on what she was offering.
Loverby and I are farm kids. There is a dignified, honoring, thankful way to raise animals and butcher them for provision. (And hunt/butcher, also) We experienced it in it's wholeness.
She captured that.

What a beautiful person. What a clean heart.

A. Jay Adler said...

What strong, profound work. What an amazingly resonant quote about all of life. And Kathleen's comment adds to the reception of what is in every respect a completely unconsidered subject for most city people.

Anonymous said...

no life without a death.
it should be quite a show.
i bet that georgia o. would have enjoyed seeing all the bones.

jen revved said...

This is so heartening. I used to go out to the feedlot on the county line and get bum lambs and get them going. The conditions on the feedlot were unspeakably awful. Those with a messiah complex like mine should stay away...unless one is up to mothering lambs. I wouldn't have missed it; mine were wool-bearing and went to a life on pasture. Thank you for this fabulous read. xj

Maureen said...

Thank you all for your comments. I'm so pleased everyone is finding this as riveting and thought-provoking as I think it is.

Spackman's honesty is also quite striking, as is the enormous care with which she went about cleaning all the bones, considering her own personal connections, and creating the entire installation.

I'm interested to learn more about other work she's done, including her writing.

Anonymous said...

Someone sent me your link.Thank you for this.
The exhibition opened in Penticton, BC this past weekend with strong responses from those who came - several in tears in the gallery. Send me your address and Ill mail you a catalogue.
betty spackman

Anonymous said...

thank you for this.
Exhibition opened in Penticton with strong responses - several people in tears.

Send me your address and Ill mail you a catalogue.
Others may order them through The Penticton Art Gallery.

betty spackman

Debbie said...

I'm just making discovery of artists of faith on the internet and appreciate your site. I feel the tensions addressed in Betty Spackman's installation "Found Wanting". It was very moving, I wish I'd seen the installation in person.
We are new farmers and harvest our meat and grow our vegetables. There is indeed no "feast without a sacrifice". Thanks for posting this story and video.