Destinations: A Work by Barbara Layne

By Lorraine Oades, 1993

“The city - a bounded infinity. A labyrinth where you are never lost. Your private map where every block bears exactly the same number. Even if you lose your way, you cannot go wrong.”
- Kobo Abe, The Ruined Map

In this exhibition, objects are selected from the Museum's collection, replicated in wax, and placed within a network of lines and directions sewn directly onto the carpeted gallery floor. The objects are luminous and yellow in colour to evoke the feeling that they were made in warm hands - handmade - like the original objects they reference.

The framework in which these objects are placed is a replica of a map depicting the Toronto International Airport; a codified territory that may seem unfamiliar; a series of signs and directions intended for specialists. The pre-coded map and series of duplicated objects form two seemingly oppositional systems of signs and codifications: one system is abstracted and technologically based, the other concrete and oriented towards craft. The first points inward, towards a contemporary Western tradition, the latter, outward, towards different cultures and time periods.

The objects chosen for reproduction reflect a diverse geographical sampling. They are utilitarian, have a close relationship to the body, and are often ornamental. The objects make us think of the people who originally made them. And because they have a human quality, the objects speak to us in an immediate and temporal manner in terms of their daily usage, their limited life span, and the time and craft it took to make them.

The raison d'être of a museum is to focus on prolonging the longevity of its collection. This process involves isolating the objects physically from the public sphere and separating them from their original utilitarian purpose. By selecting and duplicating objects from the Textile Museum's collection, Layne both mimics and comments upon museum systems. She is interested in the effect of movement on objects as they are removed from their original context. By replicating the objects she further empties them of their original signification, a process already begun within the museum system. And like the objects in a museum, these reproductions become abstractions, or systems of signs, which stand in for the periods and cultures where they originated.

Creating copies of objects is a means of knowing them; a way of being with them in a direct and physical manner, and a way of understanding and mapping subtle characteristics in their form and design, which is not possible through observation. The work of Barbara Layne has a particular physical nature; as viewers, we must enter the perimeters of the work in order to gain access to it. Yet the work's physicality is deceptive. The objects and materials are transitory, specific to the time and site of the exhibition. The work is not as much about the objects as it is about transition and process - a process particular to object making, based on time and repetition.

To demarcate a territory is a way of both knowing and possessing that territory. A map can function as a type of social contract that denotes ownership. The housing of artifacts in a museum is another way of laying claim through the tangible evidence of having been to their place of origin. This is something we do even as tourists; documenting our travels with photographs, objects and stories - we find this reassuring as if to say “yes, we have been there.”

© 2007 Textile Museum of Canada