Maude Arsenault – Resurfacing

 Her work invests the themes of female representation, private space, domesticity and intimacy within the framework of a photographic and material approach which oscillates between abstract compositions, self-portraits, landscapes and images documentaries. She explores from the photographic and printed image, collage, sculpture and installation. In doing so, her projects deploy bodies as spaces and unexpected spaces of the body, in a perspective of self-determination for women.



That is how part of Resurfacing’s press release reads, though it is from the biographical side of the writing. The great thing about Arsenault’s work is that I have never read it through a particular lens, despite these stated intentions. What I read into the work is slightly more universal, though many of the principal actors or protagonists happen to share some qualities with the biographical text including that most of her subjects are women. Having interviewed Maude after her book Entangled was released, I was left with the sense of what it means to be a human, more than a gender construct, which makes the work flexible. That may sound combative. It is not meant to be. Rather, I like to see this sentiment as something more profound, a function of basic universal understanding that can be shared through the lens of Maude’s primary concerns from feminism to family.



My take on Resurfacing has to do with the notion of what we do when we are able to reclaim our lives after becoming parents, after seeing our progeny enter into adolescent and young adult worlds. It is a time that I have to anticipate, but can understand after speaking with other parent artists. Recently, I spoke with Zoe Wetterling, a participant on the Nearest Truth Year-Long Photobook Course about the idea of what happens as our children leave the nest. We spoke about the bittersweet condition of being a parent, the insights we glean about our children, and ourselves, but also about the timeline of life and its shrinking capability to meet our aspirations at midlife.


At the point of freedom from the direct needs of our children comes a sense of wonderment, of release, but also a grave wondering for where the tear in the fabric of life begins as we decant and descend from all the experiences and memories toward the inevitable. There is also the sense, after being tied to family so intensely for so long that being free presents a certain de-armoring of our being where we can begin to think of individual time, of a time when the self blossoms again and where our tenured family life subside toward repose and we are able to find our place again in the going’s on within the outer world. This takes adjustment. It takes a a moment to find the seams.



Throughout Resurfacing, several pieces of allegory enter the frame besides Maude herself and presumably her children/family. Some of the allegories and metaphors are regulated to a selection of textiles or veils/curtains. I imagine these to be lifting throughout the sequence, an unveiling of Maude herself as an avatar for that universal emancipation back into the post-child rearing self. At times, the illuminated (bed sheets) and wrinkled (bed sheets) are set against the crow’s feet orbiting the wincing ocular features of the artist’s face. It is a personal pairing. Sometimes the cloth billows out of construction sites, all plasticky and utility-based. Sometimes the cloth is literally plastic. One could make allusions toward the Turin Shroud and perhaps the winding sheet, whose use is but a final carriage to other realms, the last trace of the body as it was. Yet, in the case of Resurfacing, the cloth is not so morbid, but rather caresses the body on occasion like an old dress that someone used to slip into before the arrival of children that has since  laid barren for so many years at the bottom of the closet without a body to fill it.



And on the materiality of building and rebuilding, there are the many worksites whose vain surfaces, pock-marked and eroded by time and wrecking ball alike come into focus in the petrie dish of metaphors used throughout the book. Each site is not only a site to be potentially destroyed, but a site worthy of rebuilding. There is something zen in thinking of rebuilding with so many cracked walls hastily patched and puttied together, whose scars made visible, fashion a totem of resilience and not upended decline. These sites are of course a metaphor for a continuous war on the body and mind over time. Though instead of outright oppression, there is some hope left, fecund with the possibility of revitalization. Resurfacing, as a title, might also suggest two things. First, it might suggest a feeling getting air back into the lungs after a period of gestation that is not as much drowning as it is waving from the depths of a slow and viscous period of parenting. The days are long, the years are short. I can’t remember who said that. Second to this interpretation is the possibility that Resurfacing could be read as Re-surfacing, a way in which the old is outgrown by a need to be transformed, replaced, and made whole again.


I remain impressed with Maude’s books. I remember the feeling with Entangled that the images were not only striking, but carried an unpronounced, but persistent psychology to them. This was likely due to the photographs of the body, but her choices of non-body related images supported that atmosphere, mood, and feeling. I thoroughly recommend the box set of both books available from Deadbeat Club.


Maude Arsenault


Deadbeat Club

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