Tearing love apart to take a closer look

This month’s art exhibit at the Sleepless Goat centres around old Joy Division song

A quilt with brightly-coloured patches of material spelling out “Love will tear us apart” is part of Lisa Visser’s exhibit by the same name currently on display at the Sleepless Goat Café.
A quilt with brightly-coloured patches of material spelling out “Love will tear us apart” is part of Lisa Visser’s exhibit by the same name currently on display at the Sleepless Goat Café.
Photo: 
Lisa Visser’s Drawings of Truth series, which follows the heartbreaking conservations between birds, is part of Visser’s show, Love Will Tear Us Apart.
Lisa Visser’s Drawings of Truth series, which follows the heartbreaking conservations between birds, is part of Visser’s show, Love Will Tear Us Apart.
Credit: 
Saji Chagpar

Love Will Tear Us Apart, the infectious title of Lisa Visser’s new collection of work at the Sleepless Goat, brings with it connotations of Joy Division’s hit single—heartbreak and musings on a bleak life outlook.

The dark and obsessive notion of the song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” intrigued Visser, so she created an exhibit to explore the meanings of this phrase and the history of the song using different media including photography, video stills, book-based artworks and textiles.

Originally written and recorded by Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in 1979—shortly before his suicide—Love Will Tear Us Apart has been covered by more than 30 bands since.

There’s no shortage of melancholy in the lyrics: “When the routine bites hard/And ambitions are low/And the resentment rides high/But emotions won’t grow/

And we’re changing our ways/Taking different roads/ Then love, love will tear us apart again.” “The phrase is never really clear, it can mean so many different things,” Visser said.

She explores these meanings in the show with varying degrees of seriousness to create an intimate and thoughtful exhibit.

Video stills from a performance titled “Heaven Is The New Hell” are craftily framed by pages from one of the two books created for the exhibit. One book explores the song’s history, statistics about musician suicide and categorical reasons of how love really can tear people apart.

Visser distills a song about love and loss, coolly pointing to statistics regarding musicians and depression. These lists and statistics Visser incorporates as part of the art exhibit demonstrate her interest in obsessively categorizing art and emotions. Obsession as a theme in Love Will Tear Us Apart arises again in Visser’s performative element. Visser will be wearing one of four different versions of Love Will Tear Us Apart printed T-shirts daily for one full month—the duration of the exhibit.

“It’s like listening to a song on repeat,” Visser said.

Bringing her art into her everyday life, Visser emphasizes the daily dialogue aspect of art, allowing for another route for her to connect with others. The art isn’t just hanging in the Sleepless Goat; she’s literally carrying her work and ideas with her wherever she goes.

Opening up ideas and creating an ongoing dialogue with the viewer is something Visser values in her work.

The exhibit’s centrepiece is a hanging quilt emblazoned, of course, with the show’s title. The quilt provides a beautiful contrast to other works in the exhibit because it’s handmade and evidences the care that was taken in its production. Influenced by Joyce Wieland’s “Reason Over Passion” quilt, Visser’s own quilt conveys a powerful statement in the form of vibrant fabrics lovingly patched together in a collective effort by friends. Also an interactive piece, the quilt includes pockets holding photos and the other bookwork including personal musings and the artist’s statement about the show.

This show is the first time Visser’s ongoing Drawings of Truth series has been exhibited. The series of pen drawings features the poignant reflections of a cat and a bird, offering the exhibit a sense of humour. Although they are cartoonish and simply drawn, the pieces offer quotes that feel sincere and truthful in their minimalism.

“It’s a conversation between either a cat and a bird, or a bird and a bird,” Visser said. “The one bird is always saying ‘Love will tear us apart,’ in response to whatever the other animal is saying, which are usually saying things like ‘I love you.’”

These pieces contrast the other somewhat bittersweet and cynical elements of the exhibit.

Love Will Tear Us Apart is part of a larger body of work by Visser like which includes two shows from earlier this year, A Very Imperfect Rendering and And Though You Die, Bird, You Shall Have A Fine View, two exhibits which also explored the demons behind everyday relationships and events.

Visser’s approach to making art is to play with familiar concepts but twist them to have them say something new. Her work often tries to blur the distinctions between fiction and reality.

In that vein, Visser distinguishes between the artist Lisa Visser and the persona expressed in much of her confessional- and personal-feeling work. Often, exhibits broaching the topics of love, loss and personal histories can become too personal a look at an artist’s vulnerabilities. A good deal of critical self-analysis and preliminary self-editing of her work prevents Visser’s work from lurching into the abyss of sentimentality.

Visser’s exhibition is refreshing in that it deals with these universal topics of love and loss in a balanced way, walking a fine line between becoming maudlin or overly hopeful.

A master of the paradox, Visser’s work tells us that comfort can be found in the shared fragility of human feelings—and through finding humour in these same feelings.

—With files from Meghan Sheffield

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