Spring Hurlbut: Deuil
Curated by Scott McLeod; circulated by Prefix Institute of Contemporary Art
29 June – 30 August 2009
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The most recent of a string of meditations on death that have marked Spring Hurlbut’s practice, Deuil is also the first to document the mortal remains of her subjects. The results transcend our lingering taboos about death. Hurlbut’s photographs – swirling configurations of ashes on inky black grounds – are unexpectedly beautiful and eloquent witnesses to mourning and grief.
Hurlbut’s images reveal the thoughtful process of coming to terms with her difficult subject. Secular in outlook herself, she began in almost scientific fashion by weighing and measuring the ashes and bone fragments of her father, James, and later of Scarlett Wright, an infant who had died a few hours after birth. The first photographs in the series emphasize the terrible insubstantiality of human remains after their purging by fire. Only through patient experiment did she set aside the props of ruler and scale and discover her central metaphor: the human after death as a luminous constellation that is both finite and otherworldly.
Born in Toronto in 1952 and educated at the Ontario College of Art and Design and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Spring Hurlbut lives and works in Toronto. She is well-known for her installations in which allusions to death and mortality are never far below the surface. Sacrificial Ornament, plaster reliefs based on classical Greek architecture, was widely exhibited in Canada and the United States from 1991-93. Her installation Le Jardin du Sommeil, first shown at the Musée du Québec in 1993, was exhibited at the Power Plant (Toronto) in 1995 and was remounted in a park in the north of Paris in 1998; it is currently on display at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal until September. From 1999 to 2004, Hurlbut recontextualized and revivified archived collections with two massive installations: The Final Sleep / Le Dernier Sommeil at the Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto) and Beloved and Forsaken at the Manchester Museum. She has been working on Deuil, her first photographic project, for four years. Hurlbut is represented by Georgia Scherman Projects (Toronto).