Vera Greenwood: The Whole Enchilada

Vera Greenwood: The Whole Enchilada

By Vid Ingelevics

Vera Greenwood
The Whole Enchilada
Self-published with assistance from Le conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec
262 pages, 102 colour images
Hardcover ($100), softcover ($85) + shipping
Available through Blurb.com (Canada), on-demand printing
Limited edition of 20 signed, numbered and boxed copies also available
2011

Vera Greenwood’s recent bookwork marks a significant step in the evolution of her approach to the use of narrative and the printed text over the past decade, moving it from supplement to centrality.

I first encountered Greenwood’s work at the Ottawa Art Gallery in 1999 through her powerful exhibition High Ground, which was about life with a father suffering from mental illness. This exhibition, which utilized a museological installation strategy, took the viewer on a narrative journey that recounted telling moments in the family’s life with father.

The accompanying publication functioned as a conventional catalogue through the inclusion of exhibition documentation and essays by art writers. However, one could detect the artist’s creative presence through the careful situation of the documentation and her own texts throughout the book, resulting in a sense that each mode of exhibition interpretation complemented rather than illustrated the other.

Vera Greenwood: The Whole EnchiladaIn her next project, L’Hôtel Soficalle, also carried out in the late-90s, Greenwood attempted to turn the tables on noted French artist Sophie Calle by following her around Paris during Greenwood’s residency at the Canada Council studio. This resulted in an exhibition and two publications. The first of these was, again, a more standard catalogue that included essays and exhibition images. The second, though, published in 2002, appropriated the cheesy paperback novel form:  L’Hôtel Soficalle: The Whole Story is a detailed recounting of the quotidian progress  – or lack of it – of Greenwood’s surveillance mission. The tone here was markedly different from that of High Ground, almost slapstick, as the artist became a cultural Clouseau, the famously inept comic detective of 1960s films.

L’Hôtel Soficalle marks a notable shift in Greenwood’s approach to the text as the journal form began to assert its artistic possibilities, as did the development of her literary self into a slightly dizzy comic character (presciently described in the High Ground catalogue by Sylvie Fortin as displaying “competent incompetence”). The book, though, remained a supplement to preceding artistic events – her residency, exhibition and catalogue. The Whole Enchilada, however, takes this form of diaristic tell-all to another level as, a decade after L’Hôtel Soficalle, it becomes the “event”.

The new book again concerns an artist’s residency, now in Mexico City in the fall of 2001. This time, however, the assumed raison d’être of the residency, an exhibition of new video work, occupies a minor place in the narrative as the book has become the artwork. Most of it is concerned with the oddly entertaining but banal detail of Greenwood’s chaotic daily life and social relationships during her time in Mexico City (her “madcap Mexican adventure,” she calls it).  Accompanying the text are many snapshots, most complementing the text’s rigorous focus on the ordinary. The bookwork thus assiduously avoids the epic in order to construct an anti-heroic account that functions both as a personal 'journal' of Greenwood’s Mexican experience and, in its more universal contribution, as the presentation of an artist’s everyday life experience – by an artist herself – as an often absent aspect of the social history of art.