How Dominique Blain Blends Art and Protest

Heather Corcoran
Aug 20, 2014 2:50PM
Vessel, 1993
Bentley Gallery

Artist Dominique Blain uses art as a tool to plumb the depths of human experience. Memory, perception, history, war, exploitation, and oppression are all open to her artistic investigations. Her work often begins with archival source material and takes form in the gallery as photographs, videos, sculptures and site-specific installations.

If, as Winston Churchill once said, history is written by the victors, this is something that Blain attempts to equalize through her work. The Canadian artist sometimes uses a single symbol as a stand-in to bring the viewer into the issues explored in her work, as in the case of Missa (1992), a grid of 100 pairs of army boots arranged as though on puppet strings, sculptures made of fused-together steel helmets, or her ball gowns made of images of children rummaging through garbage or from layers of dirt-stained overalls. In other works, she uses existing cultural material to make a statement, combining layers of image and graphics in the visual language of advertising or appropriating text in ways that call to mind the work of Glenn Ligon

In addition to more overtly political concerns, Blain explores the history of culture—including way it is shaped by politics—in works like the series “Mirabilia,” in which etched glass plates act as memorials in a graveyard to looted and lost cultural masterpieces.

Despite her intentions, Blain’s choice of source material has sometimes found critics. “I may be accused of aestheticizing horror, although I reject having my work associated with images of horror. But this is the way in for the viewer,” Blain has said. “Often, we’re attracted first by what we see, and on second reading, we wonder what we’re looking at.” By shining light on these dark corners through her work, the disenfranchised, the lost, and the voiceless are resurrected and allowed to speak.

Heather Corcoran