Nicole Dextras 35

the culture of materials

Nicole Dextras has been associated with On Site review since 2007 in issue 18: culture and her project ‘Belonging, sous le pont’, an installation of woven and threaded structures under Granville Bridge, site of a transient population. The cover of issue 20: museums and archives was an image from the work she did at an art residency at the Gibraltar Centre for the Arts on Toronto Island in 2007. This involved freezing garments in Lake Ontario, which gave them, strangely, an animation that we felt paralleled the best of archival presentation, something investigated in this issue. A project involving frozen letters, ongoing at many sites over many years, was in issue 21: weather. Les Noms, LEGACY and The River’s Bride were done during a residency at at Dawson City’s Klondike Institute of Art in the winter of 2008-9.

Les Noms (a coucher dehors)  is a series of words made of ice representing first names taken from the 1901 Census of Dawson City during the gold rush and are of people who came from Québec originally. Many were mis-spelled or Anglicised and I have represented them they way they appeared in the census.  Elphese is one of these old name or  noms a coucher dehors , as we used to call them when I was a kid, that are no longer in use.  Noms a coucher dehors  means names that sleep outside because they were uncultured, rural names, the kind of name, such as Gédéon, Cléophase and Gandias, which belong to my grand-parents’ generation. Today I feel these names are quite beautiful and poetic.

Les Noms (a coucher dehors) is a series of words made of ice representing first names taken from the 1901 Census of Dawson City during the gold rush and are of people who came from Québec originally. Many were mis-spelled or Anglicised and I have represented them they way they appeared in the census.

Elphese is one of these old name or noms a coucher dehors, as we used to call them when I was a kid, that are no longer in use. Noms a coucher dehors means names that sleep outside because they were uncultured, rural names, the kind of name, such as Gédéon, Cléophase and Gandias, which belong to my grand-parents’ generation. Today I feel these names are quite beautiful and poetic.

If you go to her website nicoledextras.com you will see that she has divided her work into botanical wearables, frozen garments, social typography, public interventions, photography and film. All her work reveals extremely strong environmental concerns: her ice work takes place increasingly at higher latitudes as warming tracks north; desertification underpins her eco-warrior series, two of which are in this issue 35: Chronos and Forest Warrior. Public engagement is embedded in all these works: they are never objects, no matter how beautiful, they are processes in which we all participate, as witnesses at the very least.

Part of this engagement is found in the way that each project crosses many disciplines: there is a garment, made from fabric that in turn is made from the collection and processing of plant material. For example, in Chronos, yucca leaves are found, hammered until they are just long fibres which are then made into string, or thread, and then woven into fabric. If not yucca, then banana leaves, or iris leaves, or any plant that survives without much water, given that is the way things are going. The processes for turning plants into garments is both collaborative (many volunteers) and intensively documented on Dextras’s Facebook site: www.facebook.com/ndextras or her Instagram account: www.instagram.com/ndextras. Social media becomes art. This requires some diligence from us, the viewers, but it is all there, somewhere.

Igor Santizo as  Chronos  in a garment made from yucca, abaca (a species of banana), silk and dyed willow bark. He holds a sheaf of stripped yucca leaves. He is armed against the sun with expanding screens protecting the head and spine, sheathed leaf sleeves that shade and let breeze through.

Igor Santizo as Chronos in a garment made from yucca, abaca (a species of banana), silk and dyed willow bark. He holds a sheaf of stripped yucca leaves. He is armed against the sun with expanding screens protecting the head and spine, sheathed leaf sleeves that shade and let breeze through.

So besides the processes documented on social media, they are also made into films. Chronos, which is on page 12 of issue 35, is in the process of becoming a film: nicoledextras.com/portfolio/film/chronos. I had chosen Chronos for issue 35 as it shone like a junebug’s wing in an issue of grey and brown pages — the sheer beauty of Dextras’s work is very seductive. But this overlooks its activist agenda: Chronos is also a performance. Igor Santizo is not just a model for Chronos garments, he is Chronos, he animates Chronos, he speaks of fibres and global warming, as he did in ‘The Social Fabric: Deep Local to Pan Global’ at the Textile Society of America symposium in Vancouver in September of 2018. His speaking was itself a performance, thus not didactic but lived.