Installation in progress at Enjoy Public Art Gallery, 2013. View of windows which were used for exposure as photo studio in late 19th to mid 20th century.

Build Your Altar to this Moment looked at the previous history of the Enjoy gallery space -- as photographic studio in the late 19th to mid 20th century. In the early 2000’s, glass plate negatives were discovered in the ceiling of the building during renovations. These negatives, now in the Te Papa collection, were images of New Zealand families, many of soldiers departing for WWI. These images opened a portal through time. I became curious about the backdrops, which were drawn by hand and referenced European ideals of architecture. I also became aware of the room itself, as a vessel for transporting the subject to another time/place, through the photograph. I equated this with the experience of a gallery, which promises transcendent experience through viewing of art. The room remained constant through all inhabitations. Light, essential to the photographic process, also remained constant over time. I used the light as unit of measure, letting it transcribe itself through the windows onto cyanotype coated paper one early morning in May. The finished work became a hybrid of the re-printed backdrops and light. Human presence was alluded to by the wrinkles and lines visible in the backdrops, with erased figures -- as well as the presence of the viewer in front of the re-created panels. Olivia Collinson, who wrote the essay for the show states, “Occupying the very space and light used to create the portraits all those years ago, these embodied souvenirs offer a unique visual portal to the past.” Also present in this show was a video of my hand rubbing the light on the wall. Posters stating ‘Build Your Altar’ were free for the taking. The show provided an opportunity to consider the potential for pulling past into present while allowing the performative gesture, in this case light, to act as an axis through time.

This work was created specific to the location of Enjoy and with the encouragement of curator Claudia Arozqueta. Thank you to the Canada Council for the Arts and Denison University Research Funding for assistance with travel.  Thank you to Willough MacFarlane and Massey University for help with cyanotype images.

Link to essay by Olivia Collinson,
"In the Presence of Presence: The Embodied Souvenir in Sheilah Wilson's Build Your Altar to this Moment."


© 2019 Sheilah Wilson