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Kathy Gillis

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THE FRAGILITY of HUMAN RIGHTS

"And so I say that it is our responsibility, as Canadians from wherever we may be, to speak on behalf of those who cannot be heard; to bear witness on behalf of those who cannot testify; to protect those who put not only their livelihood but indeed their lives on the line; and to reaffirm and recommit ourselves to the values of Truth, Compassion and Forbearance not only as expressions and examples of the best in ancient Chinese values - but as universal norms that inspire us all, wherever we may be."
Irwin Cotler, McGill Professor of Law, M.P. for Mount Royal

Form: Sculptural installation
Dimensions: approximately 2.4 x 1.8 M diameter

Nothing has changed.
The body is a reservoir of pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin and the blood is just beneath it;
it has a good supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all of this is considered.
"Tortures"
by Wislawa Szymborska

Artistís Statement

As I walked out of the auditorium at the University of Ottawa the smile of a young woman caught my attention. She had set up a table display about a form of meditative exercise. Something in her urgency and intensity and sincerity alerted me that this was not an ordinary encounter but a still moment, a pivotal point.

Several days later I found the exercise site in a park and was taught the exercises. I knew I would do them for the rest of my life. This was the beginning of an ever deepening adventure.

I settled into sitting position one beautiful sunny
day and watched a tall slim practitioner cross the grass,
sit in the lotus posture and close her eyes. But her
eyes kept pouring silent tears. When we asked what
was the matter she explained that in China they were
saying horrible things about Li Hongzhi, (the founder
of our practice, which is called Falun Gong).

As a child in a little village school in Quebec we were shown movies occasionally . We were at war, and amidst the scenes of fighter planes a disembodied voice spoke of "the slant-eyed devils". Even then I knew that these people may be our wartime enemies but they are people. I became sensitized to propaganda and hate mongering at a very young age. I knew it to be the first step toward cruelty to others.

Our Chinese practitioners were suffering. The numbers
of those who died of torture mounted continually; eighty -nine,
one hundred and six, two hundred and thirteen, and today
as I write this, three hundred and fifty confirmed deaths.
Who knows how many really?

In China they are constantly inundated with anti-Falun Gong material. Since outside communications are controlled they have no way of knowing that in over fifty countries people are practicing Falun Gong and trying desperately to tell the world the truth. Oh yes, did I mention what our practice is about? It is about Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance.

 

Concept
This was a painful piece for me to do. Like most people I had assumed that our Human Rights are secure, with the entire force of our legal system behind them. Over the last four years I have learned that they can be gnawed away bit by bit. Yes, even in Canada! I am a Falun Gong practitioner, and as such am the object of a systematic hate campaign from a foreign government. I wanted to make a piece that gave the sensation of how vulnerable individual human beings are and how easily our rights can be eroded. As I write this four hundred and twenty two people have been killed in this persecution in China. These are only the confirmed deaths, the real number may never be known.

Physical description
I could not depict the actual torture and suffering, we could not bear to look at it, so I chose to deal with the more general and more abstract concept of Human Rights, but the burnt and torn flesh lingered in my mind as I worked. From the beginning I envisioned paper people around a pyre with a single match hanging over their heads. This was what the installation became.



Process
The figures were drawn on brown wrapping paper tacked to the wall, then the drawing was outlined in wire.



They were then cut out and all the wire was covered over with more brown paper and glued down. To make them more transparent and to make the paper more crinkled and skin-like I covered both sides with varnish.



By lighting them from the inside of the pyre I hoped to suggest the possibility of fire because I knew that few people would see the single match suspended overhead.

It is my habit when I am installing a work to use dowsing rods to find the most natural center in the gallery space for the work. The actual placement of the work is not an aesthetic decision then, but a response to the natural dynamics of the space.

About the Artist
Before graduating from the University of Ottawa one professor turned to me and asked,

"In two words, tell me what you want to say with your work."
"Pay attention!" I said
"That's not art." he said

I still stand by those honest words. Life is wasted if it is just a somnambulistic journey. Wake up! Look around you! PAY ATTENTION! In order to point out all the things folks seem to be ignoring I have participated in many exhibitions since that interview (I stopped counting at eighty). But there seems to be no end to what can be ignored.

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