Jennifer Small : I found Jesus at the flea market
With Arms Wide Open
Text by Anaïs Castro
Collected at various flea markets around the belle province, the objects recuperated by Jennifer Small are chosen first for their beauty, for the excellent craft they exhibit and for the patina of time that embellishes them. These re-claimed items are orphaned objects, relics from the past that testify to a nostalgic time in which the detailed work of the artisans were the standard and were of great importance.
Nicolas Bourriaud described the Flea Market as a place where “past production is recycled and switches direction. In an involuntary homage to Marcel Duchamp, an object is given a new idea.” On the stalls of the flea market, objects find new potential. This is precisely what Jennifer Small does; she confers a new reading to former devotional religion objects by propping them for a contemporary audience.
Small’s conceptual repurposing of these devotional articles unveils simultaneously how Quebec’s catholic past evolved in our neo-liberal culture, but also the complex relationship that subsists towards this catholic heritage: one that seem to taste bitter since Quebec’s Duplessis dark ages and that has been almost completely discarded after the Révolution tranquille. As such, they are physical and conceptual links between the past and the present. Through her use of humour, Small manages to address a loaded cultural history and allow a new and fresh perspective.
Small’s manner of working falls under the large umbrella of assemblage as described in 1961 by William Steitz who noticed the emergence of conceptual sculptural collages in which non-art objects were recuperated, often transformed and combined to art and/or non-art items. More as a reflection than as an attack on the Catholic Church, Small’s clever juxtaposition of religious symbols with elements of popular culture addresses Quebec’s contemporary culture: one in which Marvel superheroes have replaced Christ in the collective imagination, a culture in which religion was washed down the drain. It is a culture that has systematically replaced all religious holidays by consumerist celebrations: Coca-Cola owns Christmas and chocolate companies have the monopoly on Easter. It is a culture in which St-Viateur is not a religious figure, but a bagel bakery in Montreal’s Mile End.
1. Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction New York : Has & Steinberg : 14.
2. Julia Kelly, « The Anthropology of Assemblage » in Art Journal, vol 67, no. 1 (Spring 2008) : 25.