Your Collection: Vanessa Paschakarnis, Shadows for Humans (2003–04)


Vanessa Paschakarnis, Shadows for Humans (2003–04), purple-grey Cape Breton marble, installation dimensions variable. NGC

In the last fifteen years Vanessa Paschakarnis (born in Werneck, Germany, 1970. Lives and works in Halifax) has honed her skills and developed her own techniques to create human-scale sculptures using a variety of traditional materials such as bronze, plaster and stone. Although she looks to the body, the natural environment and even animals for inspiration, her resulting works are generally amorphous forms that evoke, rather than depict, a familiar object. In the careful conception of her sculptures she often integrates tensions between the opposing forces of gravity and levity, and confounds the boundaries between inner and outer.

The physical impact of the work on the viewer is of great importance to the artist. According to Paschakarnis, “sculpture … is a catalyst for experiences deeper than the exchange of mere information. My works – scaled as they are towards the human body – seek to engage you in a physical encounter, or moment of reflection, that triggers a questioning of our being here. It’s a dynamic that feeds on our curiosity in the ‘thing’ as the autonomous other and our attraction to images that seem familiar but resist clear definition.”


Vanessa Paschakarnis, Shadows for Humans (detail), 2003–04, purple-grey Cape Breton marble, installation dimensions variable. NGC

For Shadows for Humans Paschakarnis painstakingly carved three human-scale Cape Breton marble stones to create different amorphous reclining shapes that could be described as existing somewhere between bodies and matter. She then incised deep cuts along the length of the greyish-purple stones to give the impression of folds, suggestive of layers of skin, or even mollusks protruding from their shells. Although the sculptures are fixed and inert they seem animated, as though they are extending and retracting as one walks around them. Sculpted in a heavy material, they are frozen in time and space and yet appear malleable, even fleshy, as if they are continually morphing and moving. In an effort to preserve the nature of her materials the artist chose to retain the traces and scars made by her tools while she carved the marble. She did this to reveal the process of making and to show the viewer that these objects were created and not found.


Vanessa Paschakarnis, Shadows for Humans (detail), 2003–04, purple-grey Cape Breton marble, installation dimensions variable. NGC

The sculpted elements of Shadows for Humans evoke anthropomorphic figures or, more accurately, traces that they may have left behind. As suggested by the title, we are confronted with vestiges of bodies that have suffered degradation and loss, with forms that are mere shadows of what they once were. In an interesting contrast to this interpretation, Paschakarnis conceives of shadows as compelling evidence of existence, describing that the moment an object projects a shadow it “is.” She maintains that shadows “are more true to reality than reflections because they do not turn things around. They reveal the other side, the duality of being.”

These sculptures signify a physical presence, perhaps even an ominous one, as they simultaneously grapple with the intangible. Each form is unique and autonomous and encourages different associations for the viewer. When displayed in close proximity the sculptures communicate with each other and could even be understood as representations of different moments or states in the transformation of the same subject. Through their existence and display Paschakarnis’ sculptures ask to be acknowledged, reflected upon and engaged with.

Shadows for Humans is on view in the NGC Contemporary Art Galleries as part of Shine A Light: Canadian Biennial 2014, until March 8, 2015. This article first appeared in the Shine a Light Surgir de L'ombre bilingual exhibition catalogue. Click here to purchase.

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