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Object Lessons

Flaubert A Simple Heart

Art + reading co-editor Jenn Law has been reading Gustave Flaubert. Her latest exhibition, Still, is inspired, in part, by his realist approach to constructing narrative worlds through detailed descriptions of discrete objects in domestic spaces. She is especially taken by Flaubert's novella A Simple Heart, which focuses on the life, hardships, and affections of a French house-servant Félicité. A reflection on the search for meaning in the face of repetitive loss, the work left a profound impression on subsequent writers, including Willa Cather and Julian Barnes, who went on to publish literary homages to the story. Jenn explains, "I am as intrigued by the original novel as by the way in which it lives on in the work of others."

Taking poetic inventory of her own collection of accumulated objects, Jenn has set out to build a biographical narrative through the social life of heirlooms. Hand-lithographed on tissue-thin paper, her assemblage of objects recall Flaubert’s own poetic inventory—the parrot, for example; an iconic mascot of language and mimicry. Transparently layered, each storied artifact serves as an ethereal portrait of a personal heirloom in the artist’s own collection, collectively called upon for the tenuous access they grant their possessor to past lives, real and imagined.

Presented in the form of an artist’s book, the work is designed to evolve, the signatures left unbound so that new object-pages may be added to the collection and potentially rearranged by the reader.

Accompanying the book, the heirlooms simultaneously appear as individual works of printed ephemera, ghosted objects intended to be gifted or folded away in books or drawers, distributed into the world beyond the confines of the original collection.

Approached as a deconstructed vanitas arrangement, each “still” ultimately references the capacity and futility of objects to create meaning, as well as their elusive promise to extend the collector’s life through their individual heirloom trajectories.

Jenn's exhibition, Still, is currently on until Sunday, December 2, at Loop Gallery, 1273 Dundas Street West, Toronto, Canada.

Photo credit for all images above: Thomas Blanchard 2018

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