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  • Alisha Piercy, Swampstills (détail), 2018.
    Alisha Piercy, Swampstills (détail), 2018.

an installation with chapbook by Alisha Piercy
Sound by Copenhagen-based sound artist Mikael Tobias

“He appears in a robe covered with stars, with an uprooted tree over his shoulder…and with his dog beside him: a savage hunter and dark god.”
- Chiron by Károly Kerényi, in The Gods of the Greeks


Dogs and Gods.

Both circle mythically inside the Deep South morass of SWAMPSTILLS, a conceptual swamp delivered in snapshots by artist and writer, Alisha Piercy. Playing with the irony of a swamp in its apparent stillness, or a swamp captured in a still photograph, this re-creation swamp, seen as if through a peephole, features totemic-like objects poised on a platform. This carry-over raft from Piercy’s ongoing investigation into the nature of human water-dwelling and escape, is no longer a horizontal flotsam. Here, at CLARK, we are grounded inland after the journeys at sea of previous works, You have hair like flags (2010) and Bunny and Shark (2014), to be immersed—eerily, vertically—inside one of the most fertile and mysterious organisms on Earth.

Papier mâché track hounds and a black Afghan dog; a large-scale ultraviolet drawing of Taxodium Distichum, a red needle tree native to the swamp parts in the American South; cascades of live melting crystals as hurricane trigger symbols of a faraway ice cap melting; flooding and disaster grade sandbags, tie dye swaths, clay swamp waves—the first churnings of natural disaster—with a sound piece by Copenhagen artist Mikael Tobias (Swampsong, 2018) and an adjacent reading station where viewers can recline among several copies of Piercy’s chapbook, Hush, this story doesn’t belong to you (silkscreen cover, limited edition of 50, 2018)—sit suggestively conjuring a possible backstory.

Swamps, we are subliminally reminded, are complex transition areas, neither totally land nor totally water. Underworldly bacteria proliferate and scheme inside them, forming slime, primordial ooze that nourishes, frightens, destroys and offers possibilities of the sublime. Things transform in their muddy bottoms. Gods and reptiles appear and disappear, it seems, in feverish intervals. Time too, sinks under this spell. We are in the Antebellum era, the pre-hurricane of 2005, pre-history and infinity, all at once. Hush, fills us in about the dogs; how they moved into this demi-monde as avengers of, and sometimes allies to, human slaves who fled from plantations to swamps for freedom. We imagine the dogs as in-between creatures—dark ferrymen, fairy companions—at one with the amphibious agenda. In the unstill stillness of this ecosystem, Things speak silently to things1, and the water that we feel but can’t see, fulfills its own prophecy.

- Caia Hagel

[1] Quote from Hush, this story doesn’t belong to you


Alisha Piercy is a fiction writer and visual artist in Montréal. Her large-format, live drawing performances, publishing and conservation projects have been shown in Canada, Iceland, Spain and Malaysia. Piercy works with the material auras of history crossed with interspecies interdependencies to make speculative fictions in technicolor, Her stories are for un-thinking patterns of ruin and re-dreaming new freedoms. In her worlds, sharks feed humans lost at sea and hurricanes show the way.

Piercy has a BA in Literature from McGill University, an MA in Fine Art from Concordia University, and an MA in Art Conservation from Queen's University. Her second book, You have hair like flags (Your Lips to Mine Press) won the bp Nichol Chapbook Award in 2010. She is currently writing her second novel, Hush, set in The Great Dismal Swamp of the Deep South (US).

Swampstills was assisted by many but mainly by: Kathy Piercy, Duncan McDowall, Caia Hagel, and my swamp guide, Chris Staudinger. Special thanks to Mikael Tobias for reading Hush, and interpreting how it all might sound. Hush, this story doesn’t belong to you is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress. The chapbook was produced for the exhibition Swampstills with support from Canada Council for the Arts and Centre Clark, with design and layout by Your Lips to Mine Press.

Room 2
  • Alisha Piercy