Boat Without A Boat

May 11 - August 3, 2024
Reid & West Galleries

Boat Without A Boat

Deborah Thompson


Featuring brand new work from Nelson-based painter Deborah Thompson, Boat Without a Boat captures her practice as it moves in two new directions. Comprising life size cut paper drawings that are assembled into what Thompson refers to as “Constellations” and stop motion animation works that embody the implied movement displayed on the walls, each piece forms from a mosaic of related associations that reach into art history, mythology, poetry, and media images as points of reference. They often begin with a central figure that moves out across the wall, adding other figures and components as the narrative unfolds. Woven within this process are the metaphysical questions around creation and death that continue to inspire Thompson’s practice. These works bring the drawn image to the foreground, building on the underlying modality of a career spent imagining transformations of consciousness and of putting into image something felt rather than seen.

Moving from drawing and painting to stop-motion animation requires the intentional development of a narrative arc and engagement with the element of time. Images of faces from media, books, and magazines become the starting point for simple line drawings in graphite, with the occasional addition of oil bar or chalk. When a face holds a numinous quality, it becomes alive and gazes back, beginning a conversation that eventually evolves into a more complex work on paper. It can then be brought further to life through the meticulous frame-by-frame technique of stop-motion animation. There is no specific formula, rather a curiosity informed by listening to the emergent narrative of the work as relationships to colour, shape, space, and movement begin to form. Throughout the creation of a piece over weeks or months, it is this subjective connectivity with the initial face(s) that gives direction and meaning to the piece. This shift comes with a vulnerability that can be hidden in still images; the process reveals layers of meaning. As stories unfold, the characters begin unexpected journeys of speculation and kinship, opening Thompson’s practice to a whole new realm. Inspired by a memory of being in the Cave of Altamira, an Upper Paleolithic site located in northern Spain, Boat Without a Boat is an exploration of Thompson's continuing interest in instinctual consciousness through the generative mysteries of mortality, decay, emergence, and reemergence. In Clayton Eshleman’s book, Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination and the Construction of the Underworld, he suggests that the animal and human forms drawn on cave walls during this period represent a crisis in human consciousness; that they are “an adjustment to the animal separation out of the human.” This notion prompted more questions, wondering if this ancient connection could be reestablished – if the animal could be rekindled in the human. Might this better prepare us to manage today’s traumatic climate and humanitarian situations? Is instinctual consciousness the agent that morphs and moves matter through its endless states of being and becoming? The exhibition title Boat Without a Boat provides a metaphorical umbrella for the work. Boats have appeared in visual language for over 10,000 years: as coffins for passage to the underworld, as arks for salvation from the struggles of life, and as containers for alchemical transformation. Boats offer a familiar image in which to cast both our innate abilities of metamorphosis and our fear of death. As Carl Jung suggests, a boat is the central symbol for the feminine, a body-vessel. It implies a journey, a passage, or a crossing made by either the living or the dead from a place of known to that of the unknown. In myth, a boat provides an image for the psyche to endure transformations in consciousness from one realm to another.

Moving through the exhibition, you will begin to notice boats everywhere – moons, snakes, eggs, worms, orbs, female bodies, composts, angels, and psychopomps. Boats embody not only physical metamorphosis but the transformation of consciousness from one way of thinking to a new way of perceiving. The symbol of a boat is especially poignant today with the profound and precarious migrations of humans undertaking watery passages to other shores in hopes of a better life. Perhaps this could be a part of a larger shift in consciousness moving towards a different world order. In leaving behind old paradigms, we must imagine and undertake new ways to be in relation to ourselves and to others.