Sara A.Tremblay: The Replacements
by Anne-Marie Proulx

Je suis la seule savoir de quel bleu est l’charpe bleue de cette jeune femme dans le livre. Mais il y a des manques graves,  celui-ci ne l’est pas.

Marguerite Duras

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.

Ernest Hemingway


Hemingway for Duras
That line by Marguerite Duras comes to mind: the one in which she speaks of the blue scarf worn by a woman in one of her novels, the shade of blue that only she knows about.

There are details that we do not need to know in full, and which the artist can condense in an image or a sculpture, as this author does when she conceals that particular blue in one word that she knows: blue. This author who allows us to imagine what kind of blue it may have been: was it a blue-grey resembling the colour of my mother’s eyes, a soft blue like that of the shadow of a tree on fresh snow, deep like the night, or electric like the colour of a new car?

A translation of this passage exists, but it lacks one occurrence of the colour blue. The translator has decided to keep only one, even if the original contains two, leaving us to wish that they could be reunited.

Accompanying the original passage by Duras, the words of Ernest Hemingway replace the inaccurate translation. Not that Hemingway replaces Duras: on the contrary, it is as though they occupy the same space for the length of a fortuitous conversation.

The replacements do not just replace one another. They merge into one work, each continually succeeding the other as if in an endless relay race.

Images for objects
Sara A.Tremblay is an artist who makes images, mostly.

But before the images, often there are actions, performances, experiments, or just the contemplation of life, its ordinary details and textures. There are memories and stories that she gathers, that she takes into her hands, to which she gives the form of a clay sphere, for example. She might make a mould, and cast it in concrete. She might also leave it to dry, let it disintegrate slowly, accumulating scratches and marks as time passes, or as it is moved from one place to another.

A photo has probably already been taken. Maybe one was taken at the very beginning, when the clay was still damp, or maybe one was taken a bit later, or maybe they have been taken many times since. It is possible that photographs are all that is left of it.

It is possible that the sculpture was left behind on a vacant lot somewhere. That it was too heavy or too big to fit into a suitcase. That there were no takers when it had to be given away, or discarded.

The artist has probably turned to something else since then. She probably forgot all about it, at least for a moment. But the work may not have disappeared completely someone might find the sphere where she left it; maybe another photograph will be taken.

As long as the work can be found (by her, by others), there is a possibility that it will transform, become something else, take one form or another. But even as it risks disappearing, chances are at least one image will survive.

Drawing for photography
She is a photographer. But once she said that photography felt like making nothing, that one doesn’t have the feeling of making a photograph. This is why she turned to drawing, choosing to work with charcoal and with chalk. Black and white, like gelatin silver photographs. But black and white in the form of sticks that feel dirty as they disintegrate at the mere touch of the fingertips, leaving a fine powder on the skin. The charcoal is for white paper, the chalk for black paper.

A little like a negative in an enlarger: for a few seconds, the white light passes through the clear parts of the film and strikes the photographic paper. It traces black shapes that will be revealed all at once when the paper is immersed in an alkaline solution. All the while there will have been the distinctive odours of chemicals in the air and the continual sound of running water.

With drawing, shapes appear progressively. On the paper, lines in charcoal and chalk must be executed one by one, one after the other. Each and every line has to be performed: the stick sliding on the sheet for a few fractions of a second, leaving a mark on the surface, causing the powder that did not cling to the paper to fall to the bottom of the wall or to float in the air for a moment before falling softly down to the ground. When the drawing is finished, a thin layer of charcoal or chalk will cover the floor, bearing the inevitable traces of a few footsteps.

Photography for drawing
It was found in one corner of the studio: a torn piece of paper, with a few charcoal strokes and smudges. More a sketch than a real drawing. A small piece of paper, a little nobody, next to nothing, which one found fascinating and yet could not justify keeping. It could easily have been mistaken for a piece of rubbish. It may one day have ended up in the bin.

If it had been hers, she would have kept it, and pinned it to the wall. Then she would have made a photo of it. Once reproduced and enlarged, it would have assumed the status of an artwork.

A photographed drawingespecially a charcoal drawingis not a drawing anymore. If we place the tip of our finger on the paper, no black powder will transfer to the skin. If we let our finger slide across the surface, it will not change. It will remain intact.

Unless someone decides to draw on it. Unless the artist asks two peopleor was it eight people?to spend a whole evening (the evening of her opening), from five o’clock to ten o’clock, working from top to bottom and covering the photograph with small, more or less equal vertical lines. Then the drawing-turned-photograph can be a drawing again. But it won’t be a photograph anymore. Until she makes a photograph of it, one more time.

Many lines for a branch
She finds a dead branch on her path. An ordinary, insignificant branch. To her, it is perfect, so it will make its way to her studio.

As she turns it around, on all sides, the long branch of dry wood reveals its knots, grain, and curves. Tying an invisible thread at its centre, she hangs it from the ceiling. The branch spins around, like a mobile above a child’s bed. She places the tip of her forefinger on one end, stopping it for a few moments, then lets it go, so that it continues to spin, but slowly, its movement almost imperceptible.

C’est tellement beau; it should become an image.

She sets up her camera and the image appears in the viewfinder. Against a white background, the branch is flattened and becomes calligraphy. With each slight movement, a new position offers a new mark, a new expression, a new letter, or a new word. In a video that is almost a still image, or in a series of photographs, it is as though the branch becomes an invented language.

We could imagine that what she found on her path that day was these many lines, these multiple drawings, which emerged all at once before her eyes, through the apparition of this single branch.

Stones for a cat
A story comes to mind: one that may have happened to her.

It was a few summers back. A stray cat appeared one day at her doorstep, limping on one of its front legs. With its small frame and white fur it did not have the look of an untamed animal: its wildness only appeared in its eyes. She left a bowl of water and some food, which it ate in a few mouthfuls before taking off.

Between this moment and its next visit, its paw had time to heal. From then on, the intervals between visits were always shorter. It came for a few bites and for a short nap before heading off to who knows where.

One day, the white cat arrived looking weaker than usual, and stayed longer, so much longer that she was the one who left it at the doorstep at the end of the daynot without concern for the frail animal. That night, she didn’t sleep well, maybe somehow knowing that the cat would go down the few steps leading to the yard, where it would lie in the grass and rest, sleeping or counting its breaths. Soon after sunrise, that is where she found him, motionless, his eyes half shut in the morning dew.

After giving him a few last caresses, and shedding a few tears, she laid him in a cardboard box of the perfect size, and dug a hole, and covered it with soil that she tapped down gently. Afterwards, she went for a walk by the water to clear her head, and picked up all the white stones that she found along the way. When she got back, she placed them on top of the dark mound of earth, as if to signify the quiet presence of a little white cat.

ANNE-MARIE PROULX is an artist, author, and curator who lives in Montral, Quebec. Her work often bridges writing and art creating stories in which there is space for the memories and imaginations of others. She holds a Master’s degree in Art History from Concordia University, where she also completed a Bachelor’s degree in Visual Arts that was started at NSCAD University in Halifax.

Text edited by Craig Rodmore.

SARA A.TREMBLAY holds an MFA in Photography from Concordia University (Montreal). Her work has been featured in several group and solo exhibitions in galleries and artist-run centres in Quebec, Ontario, and in Gothenburg, Stockholm and Visby (Sweden), where she studied in the fall 2011 and returned for The Brucebo and W.B. Bruce Fine Art Scholarships in the summer of 2013. In 2014, the artist was awarded the first Yvonne L. Bombardier Arts Scholarship. Originally from Charlevoix, a small region in the northeast of Quebec City, amidst mountains and the Saint Lawrence River, Tremblay now lives in Montreal, where she works in a studio with a nice view on Mount Royal.

The artist would like to thank Simon M.Benedict, Maryse Arsenault, Martin Schop, ric Simon, Roger Proulx, Laurence Poirier, Craig Rodmore, and Anne-Marie Proulx.