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Vivian Gottheim’s Glendon Exhibition a Record of Human Shapes


What if the world as we know it had come to an end at the turn of the millennium? What if no evidence of human existence remained? What if a future life form came to Earth searching for the history of previous intelligent life on this planet?

Right: Vivian Gottheim at the Glendon Gallery

As the year 2000 approached, these questions preoccupied many individuals and resulted in a host of millennium projects. Visual artist Vivian Gottheim was one of those who considered this possibility and, in response, undertook a project in 1999 with the intention of cataloguing the shapes that symbolize human existence. Her idea was to create a visual ‘dictionary’ of the forms representing her civilization, a sort of Noah’s Ark of human shapes. Thus the Soft Shapes Series was born, a collection of forms encompassing works by this artist from 2002 to 2008.

Lively interest on opening night

Gottheim amassed close to a thousand forms, with a special interest in soft shapes, because these are the closest to human forms, both in their contour and also in their essence. The twenty-two pieces exhibited at Glendon belong to a collection of twenty-four in this series (two have already been sold). With a deep understanding of the synergy of these works, the gallery’s curator, Marc Audette grouped some of the smaller pieces together in logical clusters, while the larger pieces stand alone - as all of them draw in the spectator to experience a personal interaction, an emotional reaction to each.

Left: L-r: Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts, Glendon Coordinator of Artistic and Cultural Affairs Martine Rheault and the artist at the opening night

“I was originally thinking of presenting these shapes in colour”, says Gottheim, “but the colours detracted from the symbolic images I was searching for; they were almost pornographic.” Instead she chose graphite drawings on textured paper as well as scanned and enlarged drawings on photographic paper. Gottheim created outlines of various shapes: they could be a tooth, a finger, any part of the body, or abstract images. She then used increasingly thicker pencils, starting with a B thickness, all the way to 6B, to fill in the shapes by brushing the pencil’s lead on the paper’s texture. The resulting black-and-white works are abstract, with depth and three-dimensionality, inviting each viewer to participate in deciphering the forms and their meaning. “I wanted to synthesize the senses through signs, shapes and symbols that are subjective and open to interpretation”, says the artist. Her chiaro-oscuro effects succeed in giving form to the essence of these shapes, rather than offering a photographic representation.

L-r: Glendon Associate Principal, Student Services Louise Lewin, Vivan Gottheim and Martine Rheault

The exhibition’s opening night at the Glendon Gallery welcomed many students and faculty members who displayed lively interest in the works and the artist. The large digital image of a symbolic heart at the entrance attracted several visitors, who confirmed that they would enjoy having it in their homes. What did the heart represent for them? “Vivre avec le coeur – that is, living with heart, with emotions, which is such a basic human need”, says Cécile Berodier, 3rd-year Glendon student majoring in linguistics, international studies and education. “I want to get really close to examine the [pictures’] textures and details. And I see other visitors doing the same.”

Right: Glendon student Cécile Berodier in front of the Heart

Born in São Paulo, Brazil of German origin, Gottheim has a BA in visual arts from Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado in her native city, a Master’s of Fine Arts from Syracuse University, New York, and a PhD in Art (D.A.) from New York University. Although she has had a traditional artistic education, she now espouses the use of new technology as well. Since 2000, she has been living and working in Montreal, but brings this multicultural background and a deeply philosophical bent to all her work (for more about Vivian Gottheim, please read the announcement of this exhibition). The Soft Shapes Series is going on the road after the Glendon exhibition to other locations, including a possible showing at the University of Sherbrooke’s gallery in the near future. “I work on several projects at the same time, sometimes six or seven in tandem”, says Gottheim. She is also a teacher at Montreal’s Marianopolis College and has lectured and taught at various other institutions as well. “Students learn so much from working artists, understanding their techniques and receiving their insights. It is our legacy for the next generation.”

The next exhibition at the Glendon Gallery is Un monde à raccommoder – A World in Need of Mending opens on February 10th displaying the work of Quebec artist Josette Villeneuve. For details and gallery hours, please visit the Gallery’s website.

Article submitted by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny

Published on January 20, 2009