Parallel Lines is a multi-disciplinary interactive art installation and social engagement project by Amanta Scott — encompassing a series of photo-based encaustic paintings centred around a prison bed, a prison suitcase and an individual; two interactive sculpture installations featuring prison beds from the former Kingston Penitentiary for Women; storytelling and workshops.
Centred around the idea that we create a prison for ourselves through our beliefs — Parallel Lines explores questions of perception and choice. Parallel Lines also explores issues of incarceration and freedom, alienation and community, desperation and hope.
The title Parallel Lines refers to the parallel bars of the physical, emotional and psychological prisons where all of us find ourselves from time to time. It also refers to how parallel lines appear to converge in the distance just as seemingly opposing view-points can converge with a new perspective.
Parallel Lines draws attention to the continued challenges of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples to overcome their history of incarceration on reserves, at residential schools and in prisons. It also highlights the plight of refugees fleeing war and hardship in their own countries and their struggle to build new lives in Canada. Parallel Lines draws people of all ages, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds to engage intimately with contemporary art and share their stories. Parallel Lines is an empowering, socially relevant project, providing a platform for people to express themselves and be heard.
PARALLEL LINES encompasses:
- Fragile — an interactive installation featuring 15 black metal prison beds arranged as if in a dormitory; and a sea of white eggshells upon which Visitors may walk (hand in hand with me or alone) silently acknowledging our own histories and ancestors, and the fragile nature of memory and emotion.
- Perceptions — a photo-based encaustic painting series exploring perception, reality and choice.
- 15 Minutes of Fame — an interactive installation featuring: a prison bed; suitcase and an individual. Visitors are invited to open a standard-issue orange “get-out-of jail” suitcase containing various personal items, then: consider and arrange these objects around the bed to create their own artwork.
- Sharing Circles — artist-facilitated discussion sessions: where people of all cultures, ages and socio/economic backgrounds share stories; and consider various symbols (bed, suitcase, frame, prison) from an artistic, emotional, social, psychological, spiritual and cultural perspective.
- Solitary — an interactive video booth, where Visitors document their stories.The resulting videos, created by the Artist, become legacy pieces for each museum, documenting communities' oral histories.
Parallel Lines includes entertaining talks by the artist in which she discusses her inspiration for the work, the fascinating process of encaustic painting (painting with melted wax) and exactly how she ended up with so many prison beds. Amanta also recounts stories heard over the course of developing the project — some: heartwarming and inspiring; others: surprising and disturbing. Visitors are then invited to engage with the prison bed and suitcase installations to create their own personal artist statement and share their own stories.
I met a Cree youth who (by age 16 having lived in 14 foster homes) figuring no one wanted him — threw a shovel through a jeweller’s window convinced: at least he’d be wanted in jail.
His story touched my heart and I thought how true it is — we create a prison for ourselves through our beliefs.
Choices we make in life are governed by an entirely subjective perception of reality.
When later I was commissioned to create works with waste from government buildings, including items from the former Kingston Penitentiary for Women donated by Correctional Services Canada, I created an interactive sculpture installation, 15 Minutes of Fame — featuring a prison bed; a standard-issue prison suitcase containing a variety of permissible personal items; and an individual — in memory of him and conceived Parallel Lines.
ABOUT THE PAINTING SERIES
I commenced a series of performance happenings featuring the prison bed, suitcase, and myself in various environments to explore: How much does context affect meaning? How much does the viewer affect the outcome or the interpretation? How much does our personal ‘baggage’ colour the lens through which we see the world and influence our choices?
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I hired a photographer, saying: "I want you to shoot me with the bed and suitcase in different environments around Toronto — the brickworks, a cemetery, downtown, Beaches, etc. Then I'm going to paint over and beyond the photographs with encaustic."
The photographer looks at me strangely; says: "I'm professional. You won't need to retouch my photographs."
Grinning, I reply, "Photographs are a depiction of reality. In painting over them I will impose my subjective interpretation of reality over the photo version — as the Cree youth did, and as we all do in life."
• • •
Archival photo prints (16 x 20 inches) of these events are mounted on birch panels, creating the substrate for the encaustic paintings. Sometimes surreal, sometimes disquieting and deliberately undetermined, the work leaves viewers to decide for themselves what they are seeing and what emotions they arouse.
I used myself as the model in the photographs and paintings in order to represent Everyone — within an imagined reality or dreamscape. Situating myself in various locations, I imagined being someone else — and put myself into that alternate reality.
The works are not self-portraits. While my own experiences inevitably inform my work, the artworks are not autobiographical. I seek to express the universality in our experiences. When I look at the artworks I don't see myself — I see everyone else I've been thinking about and the various issues/ worlds revolving around them.
When painting, I examine ‘reality’ as seen through the camera lens; then, mine the photo for implications, suggestions of line, gesture, mood and content which may be extrapolated and manipulated to suggest an alternate reality or dream-scape.
Together, the paintings and the interactive installation become an outreach project in which the viewer plays an integral role. Viewers share their impressions and the stories the work brings to their minds, often enacting them before other onlookers—creating an ever-shifting narrative of imprisonment, freedom, isolation, community, self-sufficiency, dependence, desperation, and hope.
Viewers bring their own ‘baggage’ to the work mentally or physically when they sift through the contents of the suitcase or project their own histories and perceptions atop the paintings, much as I applied the pigmented beeswax onto and beyond the underlying photo. What, hence, is ‘real’ or original, what manufactured and ‘imagined’? The lines blur . . . or are, in fact, parallel: we can never fully step out from behind the bars of our own perceptions.
Our perspective, inevitably limited, ‘frames’ us, affecting and reining in our life choices. These limits of freedom, too, find representation in the paintings themselves: white ‘corners’ in each one indicate the edges of the photograph underneath; allude to how we frame ‘reality’; and refer to the photo corners one finds in old photo albums.
Parallel Lines provokes, disturbs, questions, embracing the undetermined and the indefinite. But it is precisely this open-endedness that inspires debate and interaction across the barriers —cultural, economic, religious, linguistic, and political — that usually separate us. And from these debates and interactions spring possibilities and new perspectives.
The Prison bed
Correctional Services Canada gave me approximately 30 prison beds — from the now closed, former Kingston Penitentiary for Women, an institution itself loaded with history — with which I created the sculpture series LockDown. They also gave me the orange, standard-issue, get-out-of-jail suitcase which inspired the interactive installation 15 Minutes of Fame — featured in Parallel Lines.
what's been said
"As a person who attended an Indian Residential School — the bed triggers memories from those days. I'm kinda scared of it — but at this point in my life, I also have to be aware that healing would only be a good thing." — Darlene Angeconeb, Residential School Survivor
what the people do . . .
TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION — COMMISSION of Canada
What I did not know, at the time I met the Cree youth, was the depth of horror and degradation to which his people have been subjected. I did not know the history of cultural genocide that had been perpetrated upon his peoples. I've since learned that he had very real cause to feel isolated and unloved.
As I have come to know more and more people in the First Nations community and heard more of their stories, especially those regarding their experiences in the Canadian residential schools, I am deeply saddened and moved to help in any way I can.
For over 100 years Aboriginal children were removed from their families and sent to Residential Schools. The government-funded, church-run schools were located across Canada — established with the purpose to eliminate parental involvement in the spiritual, cultural and intellectual development of Aboriginal children. The last school closed in the late 1990s.
More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend these schools — some of which were hundreds of miles from their homes. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has determined that the cumulative impact of residential schools is a legacy of unresolved trauma passed from generation to generation and has had a profound effect upon the relationship between Aboriginal peoples and other Canadians.
A disproportionate number of Aboriginal people are imprisoned in Canada. Aboriginal children account for a much larger part of the child welfare system's caseload than their share of the population. Both those trends are consequences of the residential school system.
The TRC found that people raised in the residential schools sometimes found it difficult to become loving parents. Those who were abused went on to abuse other people as adults or fell victim to substance abuse.
Students who were treated and punished like prisoners in the schools often graduated to real prisons. For many, the path from residential school to prison was a short one.
A small brown suitcase — packed with sacred medicines and a poem — was placed in the TRC's Bentwood Box by residential school survivor Marcel Petiquay, as a symbol for healing and reconciliation.
This suitcase represents the many suitcases packed by parents of the children, filled with ceremonial clothes, dried meats and beaded moccasins.
Most of the suitcases were immediately removed the moment the child got through the front doors — and returned empty, upon leaving.
I offer the installation — 15 Minutes of Fame — as a vehicle for healing and artistic expression.
If you or anyone you know would like to share your story; participate in the installation; and/or would be interested in having me paint your story so that you might be heard and understood, and so that others may also know and learn — please contact me directly at:
amanta (at) amantascott.com