Opening reception: Saturday, November 5, 2022 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Eddy Firmin : Pride and Prejudice
Text by Marsha Taichman
Eddy Firmin’s Punching Bags (2021) is a large-scale, multimedia installation. To say that it involves rotating ceramic heads and boxing gloves is an oversimplification, but both of those things are true. Firmin claims that the work is interactive, and the viewer is implicated in the experience. A family tree, a strange genealogy of thirty ceramic masks cast from two individual faces hangs suspended from the walls with mechanical parts which allow them to rotate towards and away from viewers. Their eyes are sometimes closed, shutting the viewer out, and while some faces are serene, others are squinting as if bracing for a punch, while others seem to be swollen after being punched. Some of the punching bags are cracked and broken, others have glaze dripping like tears down their rounded cheeks. The cords that power the heads snake against the wall, and are left exposed, drawing attention to the artifice of the piece. Covering the power source is a flat white box with a relief sculpture medallion depicting a painted face bookended with bells, which looks like a sconce, illuminating the scene.
While there are naturalistic elements in this piece, like the realism of the sculpted heads depicting Firmin and his daughter, many parts at first seem whimsical, and then dangerous. Punching bags are necessarily heavy, but these ones are breakable, so the forms and uses of the objects are subverted. They are finished with different coloured glazes and decorative adornments. The ceramic casts evoke colonial times: bone china teacups, and the strings holding the punching bags together look corseted. Included in the piece across from the suspended heads are boxing gloves, weathered from use, torn open to reveal brown and blonde human hair.
A theoretical framework and practice that is integral to Firmin’s work is creolization, which is the process of creation through the merging of cultures to create new cultures. Creolization allows for transitions, transformations, and a multiplicity of perspectives. There is no fixity in culture, and ambiguity should be embraced, where cultural boundaries blur and hierarchies collapse. Firmin examines and questions his identities as someone from Quebec, the Caribbean, and French societies. He is blending the past and the present with Punching Bags. It is a message of resistance; a work that is beautiful and brutal. The seduction of formal elements pulls the viewer in and then engages us with a racist past that is still present.