This text is published alongside BARBARA BALFOUR‘S Living & Dying exhibition.

A Matter of L and D
by Barbara Balfour

life and death

My first inclination is to say something humourous, to deflect
attention from the thing itself. I don’t want you to think it’s
a matter of life and death, to use an overused expression,
because it isn’t. Or if it does relate to life and death, then it’s
about the space in which living and dying are so close as to
be almost indistinguishable.

living living living living living living dying dying dying dying

In my handwritten text, each line is a concatenation of living
living living which, at a certain point, changes to dying dying
dying. Yet this point is uncertain, varying from line to line,
from top to bottom, causing a fluctuation between living, on
the one hand, and dying, on the other.

this and that

There is enough of a difference threshold between the
handwritten letterforms of living and those of dying to
produce two distinct word masses. But at what point does
living become dying? From what vantage point can you best
detect this? When does this become that?

nearly the same

I’ve printed and reprinted to produce a varied edition of texts
that are nearly the same. They’re reiterations differing slightly
in each instance; they say almost the same thing, although
the introduction of colour changes everything.

horizontal, vertical

From one handwritten text, black ink on white paper, I’ve
printed various coloured iterations revealing different portions
of the entire text, itself larger than the prints. as a result, there
are varying proportional relationships between the sides of
living and dying. Responding to the insistent horizontality
of the rows of writing, to the text that seems to repeat itself
(relentlessly, soothingly, absurdly?), I incorporated the vertical
counterpoint of oscillating bands of coloured ink. I’ve come
to think of the text as a script that changes with the inflection
of colour.

reading the script

I wanted the aspect of colour to confound the reading to
work against the literal nature of the words themselves and
to expand their possible meanings. At the same time, in order
to read the text and make the necessary leap to what the
words might signify, one cannot dwell too much on the visual
presence of the letterforms or the colours of ink in which
they have been printed.


On any given day of printing, I would make a set of colour
variations derived from a configuration of hues and tones
that I altered, from print to print, through physical blending
or the addition of colour. Within and across the colour sets,
relationships are subtle at times and extreme at others. They
blur, intensify, and fade.

in the end

To say that the sets of colours are meaningful to me won’t
help any viewers. My choices are too subjective and personal
to warrant being identified and explained; there is a lot that
I’ve left unsaid. The profusion of variations might be one way
of saying that I don’t have one way of saying what living and
dying are.

BARBARA BALFOUR is a Toronto-based artist who has exhibited prints, multiples, and installations, in addition to undertaking curatorial and professional printing projects. An associate Professor and Head of the Print media area in the Department of Visual arts at York University, she teaches theory and print-based studio courses. Her current practice, supported by a SSHRC Research/ Creation grant, deals with artists’ writing, within and parallel to art production. Other research relates to notions of selfishness, reproducibility, and mortality.

To my parents, James and margaret Balfour. To my mother, who believed we all were living too long, and to my father, who never wanted it to end.