Elisabeth Belliveau Alone in the House (Still Life with Clarice Lispector)
It wasn’t until she tried reading Clarice Lispector for the second time that the author’s work really resonated with Edmonton-based artist Elisabeth Belliveau. Lispector was a Brazilian avant-garde short story writer and novelist, who began writing in the 1940s. In her narratives, which centre around the lives of women, time does not exist as a linear chronology, but as an almost tangible, flexible material that inconsistently folds into and out of itself. Like Lispector, Belliveau is interested in exploring the pliable nature of time. While Lispector builds her worlds with words, Belliveau creates hers through sculpture, stop-motion animation, and more recently, lenticular prints.
Two silent, stop-motion video works anchor Belliveau’s exhibition at Gallery 44. In Still Life with Fallen Fruit (after Breath of Life, Clarice Lispector) (2019), an array of carefully placed objects—including figs, water beads, shells, flowers, and drinking vessels—pulsate with life. The objects oscillate between ripening and decaying, growing and wilting. The still lifes move neither forward nor backward in time, but are instead encased in the present. In addition to Lispector, Belliveau also references 17th-century Dutch painter Clara Peeters. Both the writer and the painter were transgressive in their respective fields, Peeters shaping Dutch tradition through her meticulous and mesmerizing paintings of food and simple vessels. In one scene of the video Belliveau incorporates some of Peeters’ signature objects—a pretzel, a silver knife, almonds, and clear containers—as an homage, and reproduces it as one of her lenticular prints. Here, the artist’s still lifes remain imbued with a similarly compressed range of movement; trapped within a slice of momentary change, they are animated through the motion of the viewer’s body.
In the video portrait Studies for Pure Movement (2020), Belliveau melds stop-motion with time- lapse techniques to visualize the death and growth of flowers. The flowers are arranged in everyday vessels such as 7-Eleven Slurpee cups—a convenience-store aesthetic that extends to the inclusion of convex mirrors, generally used in shops for surveillance. In Belliveau’s work the mirrors conceptually collapse her practice with those of Lispector and Peeters. In keeping with the Dutch tradition, Peeters often painted herself in the reflections of metal cups or surfaces, while Lispector’s focus on mirrors was one of interiority. In A Breath of Life, she writes, “Trying to possess Angela is like trying desperately to grab hold of the reflection in the mirror of a rose. Yet all I had to do was turn away from the mirror and I would have the rose itself. But then there enters a chilly fear of owning the strange and delicate reality of a flower.” This Romantic articulation of the unbridgeable gap between subject and object, maker and viewer, made more acute by the awareness of time’s passing and the imminence of death, is further exacerbated by the cheap materiality of Belliveau’s arrangements. Gatorade bottles and yogourt containers are far from hand-blown glass goblets, and yet their flimsy disposability belies a toxic permanence very much at odds with the flowers they hold.
Through these connections to Lispector and Peeters, Belliveau’s contemporary still lifes conflate notions of femininity, work, and domesticity from different eras into the present moment. Lispector writes, “From now on, time will always be the current moment,” and for Belliveau, lives are not still and separate, but exist as a multiplicity of “nows” that articulate the intensity of being fully present and alive. The three artists are not alone in the house at all, but exist in synchrony with one another.
- Published posthumously in the 1970s, and published in English in 2012.