LANGUAGE LEAVES ME LONESOME (FOR LAVAL)
This work was created for a project by curators Mariane Bourchiex-Laporte and Anne-Marie Proulx, in conjunction with Chroniques Lavalloises (The Laval Chronicles) at Galerie Verticale in Laval, Quebec. Artists were asked to create a postcard for the city, and from this a postcard publication was produced, looking at the geographical and cultural contexts of the city.
I didn’t have a chance to visit Laval (and so this was a tough project, considering my usual preference for working within sites and circumstances), and the work ultimately ended up being about this distance. One of the intriguing things I learned about the city was the “hand sign” that locals use as a kind of marker of belonging. Spelling L-A-V-A-L is actually pretty easy (and intuitive; give it a try and you probably have it) with your fingers, and I found myself doing it, all alone in my apartment, as a kind of pathetic attempt at embodying some sort of connection to a place I had never been. And so the image I sent Mariane and Anne-Marie was a reflection of this process. Postcards are usually a kind of commemoration of place; of ‘having been there’. And so this is in a way an anti-postcard: an admission of never having been, and a visual wish to bridge this distance.
Here’s what they wrote in the curatorial essay for the project:
“Vanessa Kwan’s postcard, titled Language Leaves Me Lonesome, suggests a melancholic solitude and voiceless communication. The artist refers to gestures the Laval youth make to signify their belonging to a community: a series of hand signals for each letter in the name of the city. An “L” pantomimed in front of a mirror is doubled and becomes the second instance of the letter in LAVAL. The photograph nonetheless also reflects the isolation that is sometimes endemic to suburban life, and the sign thus also takes on the connotation of “loser.” In the mirror, the camera flash obscures the subject’s identity, reinforcing the sense of a self-inflicted insult, even as the photo conveys a desire for communication.”