SFU Gallery’s latest exhibition leaves us questioning the implications of physical materials from our past

Lyse Lemieux draws inspiration from Franz Kafka’s The Cares of a Family Man to create a visually stunning exhibit

Photo: Blaine Campbell / SFU Galleries
SFU Gallery - Lyse Lemieux: No Fixed Abode

by Kim Regala, Staff Writer

Drawing inspiration from Franz Kafka’s short story The Cares of a Family Man is Lyse Lemieux’s No Fixed Abode, SFU Gallery’s latest exhibition. It borrows its title from the book’s character Odradek, an abstract figure that blurs the lines between subject and object. When asked “where do you live” it simply responds by saying “no fixed abode,” indicating its lack of origin or source. Similarly, Lemieux takes on a rather surrealist approach that attempts to understand and uncover the narratives of artifacts that belong in the past. Constructing her pieces through two-dimensional and three-dimensional drawings, No Fixed Abode begs us to question the larger implications of materials that we hold close in our memories and how they have constructed our own identities.

Hung up on the walls are the Odradek Bundles, three-dimensional drawings which may only be described as compacted clumps of assorted textiles and materials. Curator Melanie O’Brian describes how, “the bundles, or beings, bind together thrift store finds — wool tartans, cotton madras, gingham and plaid — with personal items — a cow hide stiletto once worn by the artist’s mother, a racoon coat — and lines ‘drawn’ with the deft snip of the scissors.” 

All of these seem arbitrary at first; however, these artifacts draw deeply from Lemieux’s memories. The patterns connect to the pleated plaid skirts that she wore in private schools for most of her childhood, while the stiletto hints at a looming feminine presence within her past. In constructing these pieces, Lemieux creates something tangible, giving form to materials that once appeared meaningless and inconceivable to her. At the same time, there is a sense of confinement that can be interpreted from the way that these textiles are tightly bound together.

Extending the Odradek Bundles’s narrative are Lemieux’s Odradek Drawings. Unlike the bundles, these tall black and white canvases immediately establish an overwhelming and alluring presence in the room. We may recognize that these pieces bear a close resemblance to the wrapped materials, and this is by no coincidence. O’Brian further explains that “each of the ten works on paper references a bundle, not as a sketch but as a subsequent work where the flat drawings follow the three-dimensional ones.” As a result, the patterns and silhouette of the materials dominate the overall structure and outcome of the drawings.

Viewing them up close, we are able to admire the intricate details that imitate the various textures, linings, and shadows that come from the bundles. From afar is an even more desirable view, as Lemieux makes it clear that these pieces are in dialogue with one another. While each drawing exists individually in their own canvas, felt lining crosses the borders, weaving across each piece to physically connect one another. Like the Odradek Bundles, the textured drawings take on an abstracted form, leaving us with deep uncertainty — yet more liberty — regarding how to interpret these images. 

Frankly, even as someone who has had experience interpreting artworks, I still find myself lost in attempting to unfold a clear narrative within the piece. However, it seems that this was Lemieux’s intent all along: to constantly keep us questioning the implications and impacts of the artifacts and materials from our past.

No Fixed Abode is a free exhibit that can be found in the SFU Gallery at the Burnaby campus from January 11 to April 25.