Installation shot of Cotton Fields II

Cotton Fields II (Spirits of Place) 


MAY 28th -  JUNE 18th, 2011

OPENING RECEPTION: Saturday May 28th from 2 - 5pm

Paula Braswell’s oeuvre is characterized by site-specific multimedia installations that communicate the connection between humanity and nature, and explore this concept in the context of modern technology. Braswell has produced works which address globalization, surveillance and global warming through representations of land, sea and glaciers, among portraits and bodily forms such as glaring eyes and pregnant torsos. Braswell continues her exploration of the relationship between humans and their environments in Cotton Fields II. This installation is a poignant personal reflection on the farming community in which Braswell grew up, Decatur, Alabama. Braswell attempts to capture its sense of life, history and ambiance, and the connections she feels to the terrain by combining footage of cotton plants swaying in the wind with a montage of family images, phrases and songs.

Braswell commonly combines transparent cast resin with digital images, video projections and audio components, in a juxtaposition between natural landscapes and the plastic bases on which they are displayed. Metaphorically, she conveys nature as encased in a plastic world. In Cotton Fields, however, Braswell diverges from this approach by comparing images of faces and vegetation with the organic material on which they vividly project -fifteen vertical banners composed of various translucent materials and printed video sequences. The videos impact the walls and the floor, filling the gallery with a surreal atmosphere. The use of illusive media and sculptural veils communicates both perceptible and imperceptible aspects of the cotton field in multiple temporal realities. Song is an essential strategy to denote cultural memories across time, as it has long served as a means to endure toil, hardship and destitution.

The hazy quality of the white bolls and sun-dried stems against the dirt is reminiscent of the dizziness experienced in heat and exhaustion. Muted singing comes from various places within the gallery, prompting the viewer’s curiosity to locate the sources by weaving around the banners. Drawing the viewer deeper into the cotton field, “Cotton Fields”, and hymns, “Farther Along” and “Amazing Grace” are sung by different generations in Braswell’s family, including her mother and grandmother. The bold text which aggressively appears in the video complicates the inspirational lyrics, phrases such as, “we hated cotton”, “keep up”, “we picked until our hands were raw”, and “the soil was so hot it hurt our feet”. Together, the songs and anecdotes become signifiers for the past that Braswell intuitively feels lingers in this place: a fabric composed of individual voices and collective knowledge.

~ Anastasia Hare, 2011

Anastasia Hare is a writer and curator living in Toronto, ON. She holds a MA degree in Art History and diploma in Curatorial Studies in Visual Culture from York University. Hare is currently a member of the board of directors of Studio Béluga, a non-profit arts organization in Montréal, QC.

Paula Braswell
is a professional multimedia/installation artist working in Toronto for the last fifteen years. Paula holds a BFA from Jacksonville State University (Alabama) and a Masters of Fine Arts from Florida State University. She has taught art (drawing, painting, photography and multimedia) courses at the university, secondary and elementary school levels and juried numerous exhibitions. Paula's work has been exhibited extensively in solo and group shows across Canada, the United States, Mexico and Europe. Over the years she has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants from organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts (for a solo exhibition in New Orleans -1991), the Canada Council for the Arts (2001) and the Ontario Arts Council (1997 to present). In 1997, her video installation work "River" was selected to represent Canada in an international exhibition sponsored by the Organization of American States (OAS). Paula's work can be found in institutional, corporate and private collections throughout Canada and the United States.In Toronto, Paula has been associated with The Red Head Gallery, the Propeller Centre for the Visual Arts, the Loop Gallery, the Canadian Sculpture Society, Mercer Union, the Kabat Worbel Gallery and the Woman's Art Resource Centre (WARC).