Chosen by: Kathleen Ritter, Associate Curator
“I first saw Elspeth Pratt’s work at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the 1998 exhibition weak thought. I was still a student at the then-Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and I vividly remember the exhibition, and Pratt’s work in particular, as one of those moments that inspired me to continue in this field. Pratt’s work embraced failure, contingency and precariousness as values to uphold rather than hide. Her seemingly casual assemblages were like a list of the things one is taught not to do – pieces of orange foam loosely hinged to the wall, metal corner bead unevenly bent into a makeshift hut, a painted black cardboard target – material decisions that flew in the face of ideas of permanence, seriality and monumentality associated with modernist sculpture. I found the work profoundly funny and smart.
Years later, when I worked at Artspeak, an artist-run centre in Vancouver, we had a solo exhibition of Elspeth’s work. I remember meeting her in the lead-up to the exhibition. Her wit and modesty made an impression on me, as well as her distinctive laugh… a sound I heard many times as we installed her work. As part of the exhibition, we decided to show Adrift, a piece that had been recently acquired by the Vancouver Art Gallery. I remember filling out complicated loan forms (we had never borrowed art from a museum before) to bring the artwork out of the Gallery’s vaults to our small, under-funded exhibition space. A member of the preparatory staff of the Gallery came to install the work, which was carefully uncrated and handled with white gloves, and then placed into position on the floor with measuring tape and an exacting hand. At the time, the precision of the installation seemed entirely absurd to me, given the makeshift character of the work, with its ungainly tower of chicken wire and mound of laminated pink foam insulation. Of course, now that the work was in the collection of the museum, it had to be treated with utmost care. By contrast, the remaining works in the exhibition were recent creations from Elspeth’s studio. She and I shared many laughs as we installed them in the space, as casually as they were made, without gloves.
Meeting Elspeth and working with her on this exhibition gave me important insight into her artwork. Since then, I have followed her practice closely, with much admiration, and looked forward to the next opportunity when we would work together again.”