Leslie Bellavance

Rockford Art Museum

Using photographs, drawings, paintings, and books to examine issues of looking at and reproducing nature, Leslie Bellavance created four installations here with the collective title “Natural Wonders.” Three of these works were situated along one of the museum's wide corridor galleries while the fourth was placed around the corner in a windowless room. The nature in question is as much human nature as that found in the wild, and the mediation of her images reproduces a wilderness whose proportions are those of our own lives.

For Natural Wonder, 1987, which was installed in its own room, Bellavance painted two facing walls black and then worked directly on the walls. On one side, she wrote 30 lines of text in white chalk: “If only the creeks would stop sparkling. If only the trout were not insomnolent. If only the climb was not impossible. If only the view was not awful, etc.” On the other side she painted four female silhouettes, in blue against the black, showing the stages of an acrobatic high dive. The scrawled litany of wistful complaints could be read as a river of language considered in relation to the diver.

Destiny, 1986–87, featured four wall-mounted panels of varying sizes, in front of which stood a black-painted lectern displaying a large, handmade book. The four wall works were a photograph of a plaster cast of a small rectangular section of a face (showing only the eyes and the bridge of the nose) against a larger black ground; a small painting that Bellavance did in the style of one of Albert Bierstadt's mountain landscapes; another photograph, seen through red plexiglass, of hands holding open a blank book; and a large photostat of a halftone reproduction of a snarling coyote, in the format of a round image against a black ground, as in a telescopic view. To make the book, Bellavance coated loose pages of vellum with photoemulsion, exposed them with fractured images of wilderness scenes, of ethnographic portraits of Native Americans, and of a page of printed text from a 19th-century explorer's notebook, and sewed them together. Destiny's inventory of mediating effects refers to the domestication of images in reproduction as well as to the fetishization of perception in cultural iconography.

Desire, 1986-87, also consisted of four wall works and a lectern bearing a handmade book. The book in this installation, however, contained red-emulsion reproductions of human figures drawn to look as if they were done by children, while on the wall Bellavance arranged a photograph of a plaster hand, a photostat in red of a dead woman with a rope around her neck, another photograph of a young man staring through a pair of binoculars, and an enlarged biology textbook view of mating locusts. The scopophilic references are both humorous and unnerving, making the viewer all too aware of his own status as a privileged observer.

The fourth installation, Despair, 1987, consisted of three wall works that Bellavance made using similar images and techniques. The last of these, showing the stages in the flight of a locust, drawn in white chalk on a black-painted panel, serves as a counterpart to the arc of the diver in Natural Wonder.

Bellavance's wilderness is less natural than artfully cultural. She has examined the margins of perception by means of a wonderfully apt metaphor, revealed through a variety of sensuously textured surfaces. In critiquing the inadequacy of our means of “capturing” nature, she has shown how we are held captive by those representational means.

Buzz Spector