Displacement

– Karen Cornelius & Peter Tittenberger

Displacement a reflection on a personal family history of displacement and a reflection on the plight of displaced peoples more generally. It is based on the idea of the unwanted, people that have been cast out of their homes for political, economic, social, cultural or religious reasons. The exhibition also probes what is physically carried when forced to leave home and the emotional and spiritual baggage you bring with you in your body such as memory, familiarity, cultural identity, grief, sadness and loss.

Karen Cornelius’ small suitcase that as young children she shared with her brother when they had to flee from the Congo became the inspiration for her work. Karen and her brother had to make difficult choices encountering conflicting emotions when compelled to decide what to take and what to leave behind when they were forced to leave home. Karen put her favorite doll’s clothes into the suitcase, but in the tension of the moment she had to leave the doll behind. Her brother chose a number of small plastic farm animals but had to abandon his favorite painted metal barn that housed them. Each time they played with their treasured items they were reminded of what they kept and what they lost.

Karen’s experience of involuntary displacement from a volatile, dangerous political situation was dramatic and emotional. Through this work she provides points of connection with viewers as many people have experienced physical and emotional upheaval related to being displaced due to many causes including natural disasters, economic imperatives or physical danger and insecurity. Most people in Manitoba have connections to someone or have a personal memory of displacement. No journey is certain when one’s world is turned upside down; everyone carries physical and emotional baggage.

In this body of work the items of clothing that are reminiscent of what Karen’s mother packed for her are etched into the metal plates, recording the highs and the lows, the mountains and the valleys as a metaphor of the experience of leaving home. The nuanced slightly out of focus, photographic like translation of the front and back of the clothing, records the physical outside and emotional inside, marking uncertainty, unpredictability, fear and trauma.

Peter Tittenberger’s installations references his heritage – as the member of a family displaced by war – a family that could not return home after a war ended. A family that came to a new land carrying nothing but a suitcase. It is the too often told story of leaving a familiar ancestral homeland to start a new life in a new land. It is a story of sorrow and heartbreak for what is lost, and fear and apprehension for the unknown new.

The journey from the old to the new is the crux of the working methodology of the Peter’s project – taking apart and building anew. Peter primarily used discarded pianos as a metaphor for these historical displacements. These pianos are salvaged from homes where they are no longer wanted, pianos that are freely given away in exchange for being removed. Peter salvaged what he could from these pianos, stripping them down to their component parts, and then building new objects from these constituent parts.