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Susan McEachern: Stories We Could Tell
Stories We Could Tell 1990-91
Susan McEachern’s work resembles a strain of photo-textual practice which combine original or appropriated images with original or quoted texts, an has for twenty years been an international mainstay of feminist artmaking. Whether probing the image-environment for latent contradictions, or situating feminist autobiography in a political context, photo-text serves as a versatile critical tool. The use of quotation and disjunction marks such works as strategic interventions. By these means the artist seems to signal both the ideological risk and necessity of adding her contributions to the general stock of images.
Diverging from this paradigm, Susan McEachern converts strategic practice to practical strategy, using photographic and textual elements in relationships similar to those of social documentary. An artist-educator who has taught at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design since 1977, she is concerned to communication intelligibly through her work. It seems to me that another feminist artist might show her distrust of ideological constructs by either suppressing or deconstructing the narrative coherence of her art. In contrast, what looks so Nova Scotian about McEachern’s feminism, especially in the context of the Mount collection is her affinity for narrative, and her pragmatic conviction that stories can be agents for positive change.
The two frames in Stories We could Tell belong to a more extensive series, the five-part Creation of Desire. Stores We Could Tell is sequenced like a story. On the left, the photograph shows the lily blossom closed; on the right, the blossom has opened. The images constitute an icon of growth and fulfillment, the implications of which are easily recognizable.
The stories we could tell turn out to be stories already told. An excerpt from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (1915) is printed like a caption on the mat below the budding flower image. Beneath the next image appears a passage from Doris Lessing’s novel Shikasta (1979). Though the texts are discontinuous, McEachern’s presentation implies the long and frustrated history of feminist utopian yearning.
From Now Appearing by I. Jenkner