The story of this artwork:
"I’ve always been an avid reader and like many readers I dreamed of being a writer. All through art school I thought I would also write. I took a lot of English classes, and Classics and Art History. I watched films constantly - at one point, for about two years, I was in the movie theatre almost every night. (Thank goodness for a couple of excellent repertoire theatres in Edmonton and cheap passes for student members!). And I have the mind of a collector - images, songs, words, phrases, scraps of information. I’m just inclined this way. But one thing I really love and respond to are certain turns of a phrase and often lyrics from songs. A lot of these “clips” show up in my work either in titles or as actual text - which is then sometimes/often times obscured or hidden beneath layers of paint or collage materials. I like this tension of communicating/not communicating, and ideas of erasure are of great interest to me both politically and psychologically.
As a child I was always interested in Russian and Slavic folk tales. I’m not sure how they came into my world, but perhaps as a young patron of the Public Library system I stumbled upon a lavishly illustrated book and that was that. Or perhaps something in a friend’s home in Edmonton (home to many Polish and Ukrainian families). Folktales and fairy stories have always intrigued me as a pre-literate pedological method of sharing warnings and of controlling behaviour. With the second wave of Feminism when writers such as Angela Carter began re-writing / re-making fairy tales to suit her own imagination, I read everything I could get my hands on. This idea of remaking historical /folk sources to one’s end has had a huge influence on my artmaking.
Simultaneously, I was also learning that women had traditionally told stories in their textile products. These “hidden’ messages crossed history and cultures and although we couldn’t always decode them precisely, there they were! I loved this idea.
The line from Ali Smith’s book (Spring) just jumped off the page like a piece of poetry. The rhythm of it stuck in my head and somehow reassured me. The idea of embracing not wanting, of not desiring, seemed embodied in those words (whether Smith intended that or not). All the time I was “hooking” this piece I was listening on repeat to Lou Reed’s song Sweet Nothing. I really like the tender melancholy of this song (and of course, its politics). I’ve also read Zen Koans and Buddhist writings for years and years and years, so my thinking on “nothing” is (heavily) influenced by that. This made the words of both Smith and Reed ring for me not as a kind of curse (sweet f* all) but as an invocation to calmness and groundedness in embracing “nothingness” (an end to desire). Putting the word “nothing” on the scroll was my turning this idea into a proclamation to others. Using Bilkin’s image of an Alkonost - a mythological bird with a woman’s head or woman with a bird's body(??) was not only a powerful source but fit my thinking about the fullness of nothingness. (From Wikipedia: “Alkonost makes amazingly beautiful sounds, and those who hear these sounds forget everything they know and want nothing more ever again.”) The words “Oh nothing, nothing, nothing” is the song Alkonost sings in this artwork.
When I briefly lived in Halifax in the mid-80s, I had a casual friend, Tom. Tom was a Shambhala Buddhist. I gave a party to which Tom came and got very drunk. I said to him, "But Tom, I thought Buddhists didn’t drink?”. And Tom, very sweetly, said to me: “Terri, Buddhists just try.“ This was/is one of my most profound teachings - not to aim for purity and to feel a failure, but to be engaged with “just try”.
So, Sweet Nothing is a complex piece. It pulls together a lot of different ideas and influences but in my artist brain they are all related and make a full and deep whole. Plus, there is an element of fun in it. Is it not radical in this world where people are driving themselves to distraction to proclaim “nothing” and call it sweet?
I’m telling you all of this (probably w-a-y too much) as the context for my approach to making art. What emerges / what interests me is following all these threads of storytelling, history, images, poetry, phrases, words (Oh my, I love words!), and layering them into something “other”/new. Sweet Nothing is probably one of my best examples of this (in addition to the Cartouche painting series). Deeply personal and yet, I think, accessible to others not only because it is a beautiful design but because who hasn’t felt those wistful words of Smith’s at some time?"
~ Terri Whetstone to R. Champagne, in a letter, May 2023.
Collection of R. Champagne, Halifax, NS
Sweet Nothing, 2021-22
Wool yarn on cotton monk's cloth
25.5 x 35.5 in / 65 x 90 cm.