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Blankety Blank

“Blankety Blank exists as a reflective and evocative record, generating contemplation about our tenuous relationship with our physical world and simultaneously our deep connection to it.”

By Candice Tarnowski, Text: Susannah Wesley

Packed with energy, Candice Tarnowski’s installation Blankety Blank presents a landscape on hold. Sliced and trapped behind glass, it sits like a geological specimen, raw, crisp, and precise. Layers of textiles press up against one another like tectonic plates, building to the surface, forming rolling beds of earth. The landscape is barren and bleak. It is formidable. It seems uninhabitable. The only sign of life is a delicate string of severed telephone wires, telling us that communities do exist—but elsewhere, not here.

Charred and black, the landscape invokes the aftereffects of wild land fires, agricultural burnings, or even the geography of Alberta’s oil fields. However, rather than harboring the black molasses-like lube of oil beneath its plane, the energy below this surface is much more intimate and varied. Scarves, bonnets, mittens, sheets, towels, linens, ribbons, and rags lie snugly dormant, pressed together, unreachable but not invisible. Pushed down underneath the ground, the physical remnants of the place have been lying fallow, storing fuel and waiting.

There are communities preserved in the buried remnants: bonnets signal babies, a mitten signals a child, blankets conjure up a caregiver. The small pockets of color embody a presence and social vitality. But the items themselves also embody human energy; handmade, they perform as sources of comfort, protecting people and providing warmth. They represent an alternative form of fuel, ensuring survival through their own physicality and the possibility of collective memory they represent.

As such, Blankety Blank acts as a holding place. Not only do the submerged layers hold communal energy, but the black surface ground’s reference to fire and controlled agricultural burning also signals a human adjustment for the production of fuel, refreshing the soil and making way for the regeneration of crops. Even the decrepit telephone lines represent a form of social energy. However, despite all of these indications of hope and possibility, the materialization of renewal seems fragile, illusory, and ambiguous.

The world of Blankety Blank is perforated with ambiguity and paradox. Those slumbering underneath blankets may appear still, almost dead, yet their minds are alive with active dreams. Similarly, the landscape of Blankety Blank appears desolate and spent, while the fabric of its topography hides mounds of sleeping histories and memories—remnants of lives embrace one another in soft eternal rest. Whereas the above-ground exists like a limbo world: communication is happening but we cannot hear it, communities exist but we are in-between them, fires were actively burning but now the land is black and barren.

Blankety Blank exists as a reflective and evocative record, generating contemplation about our tenuous relationship with our physical world and simultaneously our deep connection to it. The work reinforces that we not only exist within the world, using it for our own means, but that we are made of it, sustained by it, and eventually in death we become a part of it. It challenges us to consider how we are choosing to spend our own individual and collective energies. In tandem, the work also asks us to question how we are harnessing the natural physical resources around us. Within this emptied landscape we can imaginatively impose our own narratives of the past, present, and future. Landscape is an inherently subjective construction, but the paradoxes and ambiguities within this work invite additional slippages and flexibility, heightening our consciousness of our own subjectivity. We, the viewer, have the power to fill in the blank with whatever text we would like. With this realization, the pedagogical nature of the work’s installation—as a geological cross-section—is abolished. Fears of misreading the work are nullified because the artist has openly invited us to impose on her creation. This results in an abstract and comforting moment of interaction between the artist and the viewer. It is as if the artist herself has handed us a sweater or a blanket: we can burrow under the cover and create our own imaginings for the space. It provides a place for respite, rehabilitation, and the possibility of seeing this world as a place where we, as individuals, have influence and agency.

Blankety Blank provides an ecological perspective on landscape and community. It describes the persistence of life in the face of obliteration, and the importance of relationships—between the artist and the viewer, the viewers and their community—in maintaining this dynamic. The work provides a model and a metaphor for our actions and relations within the real world. It supplies the space for reflection, the jolt of realization, and the fuel to act.

—Susannah Wesley

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