A Puzzle, and Some Rules

Throughout time, the stories of women have been obscured and hidden.  A pack of 34 cards that contained a catalogue of 32 paintings and one film of women were found hidden in a volume, and are now being contextualised through a modern lens, and created as site-specific hidden stories in downtown Kitchener.

The Rules

Puzzles always have rules. With a crossword, the word has to be the right length and also line up logically to fit the other words across the spectrum of letters it contains. Wordsearches indicate the paths one is allowed to follow. Jigsaws are precisely cut to fit together to form an image.

In this mystery, there are a few puzzles. Questions are asked, but the rules are revealing themselves.

Why were these 34 cards assembled? Why are they all works representing women? Why were the cards placed in The Chronicles of Harris Burdick -a mysterious book meant to push the imagination? And even more elementary: Who assembled these, where are they from and why did they do this? How did they have access to a museum, and which museum are these from?

There are definite patterns that emerge as we arrange and rearrange the cards. They can be sorted by topic, by era, by artist, by number (they are catalogued and there is a whole mathematical question we haven’t looked at yet).  We can build assumptions – such as a Canadian origin or of Canadian interest due to the amount of Canadian art described.They can be sorted over and over again, but within them lies some limits.

A few considerations in the project

The project is about revealing the untold to unlock the mystery of the discovery of the cards themselves. In the meantime, the paintings, and indeed the biblical character of the woman from Samaria are all open vessels for interpretation. Because their stories are not recorded, other than likenesses and meagre descriptions, it is possible to use these artifacts as tropes to contain stories.

We live in a society where we are not only encouraged but also pushed to tell our stories, and stand behind them even if we are not comfortable with painting the context of these stories onto ourselves. In this project, the characters in the paintings will become the containers for pain, joy, difficulty, and the multidimensionality that has not been included in the description of women throughout history.

In current context, the stories described will be written, researched and crowdsourced.  The paintings describe women from primarily white, and assumed heteronormative backgrounds, created mostly by male artists. A single short film by Colin Campbell challenges the concept of gender, as the artist himself presents a story whilst dressed in drag.  The male voice is present in the depictions as the primary creator of the paintings but only as the author of the work – leaving himself out of the picture. There are a few works by women, and only a few describing women of colour. But perhaps also important, is the lack of representation of diversity within the paintings.