Barb Dawson’s artworks are a calling forth. Her technique involves material aspects of artistic production, such as paint and printmaking. However, there is another, invisible facet to her process. This takes the form of detective-work; research, investigations into a distorted reality in order to discover, and clear space for, the reality braided into her DNA and alive in her memories. Using recollection, inquiry, the written word, as well as more recognizable art-materials, Dawson creates speaking objects, artworks that speak by means of, and about, the past; a past pulled into the present through reverberations of image, object, and language. Consider Dawson’s work My Grandfather Always had a Drum. It resonates in triplicate. The art object is a drum, hand-crafted by the artist. On its side is written “My Grandfather always had a drum.” in the Tlingit language. The phrase refers to the artist’s grandfather, George Dawson. He was a keeper of traditions, and hereditary Chief of the Ta’an Dunn of Whitehorse. The title in English, the Tlingit writing circumnavigating the drum’s base, and the drum itself, create a triple-echo, concentric ripples. Born of a memory, the creation of the drum is the artists’ bond with her grandfather, a pact rekindled in physical form, an instrument for the continuation of tradition. This ripple of memory into form, is encircled by the second ripple, the phrase of the memory translated into George Dawson’s language. Finally, the oscillation at the edge, the title in English, both a point of closure (the memory crystallized into an artwork) and an entrypoint for the viewer.
Let us return to this same artwork as a means of conjuring the real as theorized by Jacques Lacan. According to Lacan, the Real is one-third of the three interrelated registers of being (The Real/The Imaginary/The Symbolic). The Real eludes representation; it erupts into being, disrupts. It is an absence which intrudes upon the Symbolic and Imaginary orders. Language (the symbolic register) adumbrates but cannot express the real. The signals of the 1 artwork, the writing,the painted image of Dawson’s family crest upon the drum, ,even the memory itself, concentrically circle a seed of absence. Just as a drum- beat creates a still point, the point of contact on the drum’s skin, which then manifests out into ripples of sound, so these manifestations of art, language and memory spiral round an absence. An absence that resounds into the present, creating conditions for the new to arise, new possibilities. Casting a tremor into the future.
- Michelle Weinstein