From art to ashes

Tammy McGrath offers little explanation to viewers on the meaning behind her new exhibit Voir Dire

Tammy McGrath’s Voir Dire depicts bat-like creatures floating above the ashes of 1,400 burned books.
Tammy McGrath’s Voir Dire depicts bat-like creatures floating above the ashes of 1,400 burned books.
Photo: 
All the books were donated with the owners full knowledge that they would be burned.
All the books were donated with the owners full knowledge that they would be burned.
Photo: 

Over 1,400 books were burned for Tammy McGrath’s latest installation, Voir Dire, in the main gallery of Modern Fuel.

Three strange animals made of feathers, hair and petrified claws hover over the piles of singed pages.

“It’s up to the viewer to decide whether these creatures act as protectors of the book or whether they were involved in the carnage,” McGrath said at the opening night gala on Saturday.

The work is dark and twisted — influenced by McGrath’s work with access to information issues throughout history.

“Over the course of time, there have been attempts to wipe out portions of history,” McGrath told the 20 person audience at the gallery on Saturday.

“I was also thinking about digital books and how the beauty of a book’s form may not exist in the future.” Books used in the installation were donated with the owners’ full knowledge that they would be burned.

The work offers no explanation. There are no hints, except a pink handout which only provides a brief artist background. The only other hint to the exhibit’s meaning is its name, Voir Dire, a French term meaning “to speak the truth.” Voir Dire is also the term for a court proceeding where lawyers question potential juror members to determine the best members for the trial.

The installation is fully open to interpretation, revealing little about the artist’s thought-process aside from the unavoidable references to the violent history of book burning. The undertones to the work are complex, with the creatures at once repulsing and drawing the viewer closer to them — a duality of push and pull.

Voir Dire is open until Feb. 18 at Modern Fuel in the Main Gallery.

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