14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes
On December 6, 1994, a sculpture was dedicated at London’s Brescia College1 to honour the memory of the fourteen women who were murdered on that date five years earlier at the École Polytechnique in Montreal. Entitled 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes,2 the work was created by the Windsor artist Elaine Carr on a commission from The Centre for Women and the Sacred, a community group based on Brescia’s campus and familiarly known as the Circle. The piece raises important issues for the study of memorialization, especially in regard to its physical and ideological differences from traditional monuments. One of the most radical of these differences is that, rather than celebrating the achievements of an extraordinary public figure or group or honouring the sacrifices and nobility of a people, Carr’s sculpture commemorates what is essentially the victimization of fourteen individuals who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, fourteen women who espoused no glorious cause and who, indeed, had no particular association with one another except that they were female and engineering students at the same institution.
The Montreal Massacre is a highly charged memory in the Canadian consciousness, dividing the public into two factions, one which labels the event a random act of violence by a madman and another which perceives it as anti-feminist terrorism, representative of the violence done to women everyday in cultures worldwide. The question that these disparate views suggest vis-à-vis the sculpture is whether or not the memorialization of fourteen "average" women romanticizes them as heroes, as martyrs to a feminist cause. If so, we must then ask whether this is or is not a misrepresentation. I suggest that the work commemorates women’s solidarity as much as it speaks to the actual tragedy itself, and could, in fact, be read as a monument dedicated to women generally if it were not for the specifics of its title and supporting text. I also suggest that this emphasis on solidarity is a deliberate strategy chosen by the artist in order to honour the memory of the fourteen in a positive, life-affirming manner. For this reason I will devote considerable space here to an explanation of how the sculpture embodies feminist thought. I will interpret the piece through an examination of the process and ideology by which it came into being, focusing on notions of organicness, of community, healing, and process, all of which are central to the work and its history, to feminism in general and particularly to the ritualization of loss, of which the work constitutes a concretization. I will consider the piece both as memorial and as art, bringing to bear relevant theory on both of these topics.
14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes is a work in bronze fixed on a limestone base consisting of an imposing unhewn rock approximately 1.2 metres high, one metre in length at its longest, and weighing four hundred and fifty kilograms. The bronze sculpture is in the shape of a bowl or vessel, and itself measures approx-
imately thirty centimetres in depth and thirty in diameter. Around the outside circumference of the bowl, fourteen female dancers are sculpted in relief facing inwards, hands or arms joined and garments flowing as if in motion. The inside of the receptacle has a slight fissure down one side, and at the bottom in the centre is sculpted a small seedling with its sprouts spreading outward. Accompanying the sculpture, hanging on the wall adjacent to it within the library foyer in the Saint James Building at Brescia College, is a metal plaque bearing the name of the piece as well as the names of the fourteen women it memorializes, three framed pages of text hand-written by Carr which describe and interpret the work and its evolution (see note),3 a framed list of the project’s financial supporters, and a collection of photographs depicting various stages of the sculpture’s development. For the purposes of this analysis, all of these elements will be considered part of the work. Documents provided by The Centre for Women and the Sacred relating to the The Circle Memorial Art Project, as it is generally known, will be considered as secondary texts.
The preceding introduction hints at the importance of the organic in the realization of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes, and it is in this context that I wish first to consider the history of the sculpture’s nascence. As I have intimated, it emerged organically from the work of the Circle, and is completely in keeping with the ideology praticed by the group. The Centre for Women and the Sacred opened on December 6, 1990 with the first of what would become an annual ritual commemoration of the Montreal Massacre (McLean ). The Circle may be seen, in this context, as a direct response to that tragic event. That these annual rituals form the basis out of which the desire for a permanent artifact grew is evident from the call for proposals for the memorial and from many of the Circle’s other documents on the project. In all of these, the "Rituals to Re-Member" are discussed as a forum for the communal expression of both grief and hope for the future based on a "collective repudiation of a society which tolerates violence against women." Significantly, the term "Re-member" itself is a semiotic dissection used by Gayle Greene in "Feminist Fiction and the Uses of Memory" (1991) in reference to the power of memory to repair or recreate the dismembered, both in terms of the desecrated female body and of the community of women whose membership has been dismantled. In the 1993 "Call for Proposals," the above statement concerning the expression of grief is followed by a declaration of intent: "next year as part of our December 6 ritual, the members of the Circle would like to dedicate a memorial work of art which symbolizes the spirit of the event" (Hazard)—explicit evidence of the group’s desire to create a physical and lasting extension of their living commemorations.
The concepts of collectivity and especially of hope for the future that subtend the "Rituals to Remember" are integral to the theme of Carr’s work, as are other elements of the Circle’s governing principles. This may be demonstrated through a comparison of the piece, including Carr’s written text, and the "Call for Proposals," drafted by Laurie Hazard, a member of the Circle’s board, and directed at women artists in the southwestern Ontario area. The fact that only female artists were invited to submit proposals is commensurate with the Circle’s mandate, which includes a commitment to the "exploration of women’s spiritual nature through their individual and shared experience of ‘craft’ and ‘art’" (Hazard). The call for proposals begins with a poeticized form of the Circle’s mission statement of which only the first (and most relevant) verse paragraphs need be quoted:
The key themes here—community, celebration and spirituality— are consciously reflected by Carr in her sculpture, particularly in the dancing figures. Carr’s 1994 letter accompanying her submission indicates that the purpose of her proposed work is to "celebrate the li[ves]" of the fourteen murdered women, rather than merely to mourn their deaths. This is a perspective that echoes the Circle’s emphasis on the future and on healing, and also suggests a defiant triumph over violence. The annual December 6 ritual is founded on principles that position this kind of forward motion as its goal; the program for the first ritual is emblazoned with the words, "to honour, to cherish, to heal, to restore wholeness, to move on" ("A Ritual").
As the dominant structure of the sculpture, the figure of the circle may be read as a direct response by Carr to "the Circle," a name presumably chosen by The Centre for Women and the Sacred for its connotations of inclusion and continuity, as well as for its use by many feminist thinkers as an emblem of femininity based on the cyclical nature of women’s sexuality. The phrase "the Circle" appears eleven times in the two-page call for proposals, and the graphic spiral which is the Circle’s insignia appears twice. Carr’s proposal letter and wall-mounted written text echo this by describing the sculpture’s female figures as "dancing the circle dance." It is also worth observing that the Circle’s call for proposals stresses the trope of "the seed of the sacred" by repeating the last lines of the second verse paragraph quoted above, and that Carr picked up the emphasis and reproduced it visually in her work. Carr’s proposal letter (and her wall-mounted text) interprets the function of the seed in her sculpture in these terms: "[i]n the centre of the vessel is a seed in the process of splitting and sprouting. As the new life sprouts it breaks into the outer wall and entwines itself between the women, creating a new bond." That the Circle perceived the affinity between Carr’s vision and theirs is apparent in the selection committee’s letter of March 29, 1994 to Carr, offering the commission, and in its letter to Dolores Kuntz, principal of Brescia College, a week later (April 5), announcing Carr as the successful candidate. The selection committee states in the letter to Kuntz that Carr's sculpture "embodied all the elements we were seeking," as it had earlier in the March 29 letter to Carr: "in addition to its beauty and creativity, [the proposal for the piece] embodied the elements and themes we wished acknowledged, serving as an uplifting visual reminder of the senseless slaying…."
In their letter of commission, the committee also expressed satisfaction with the materials that Carr proposed. Carr’s original "Plan A" envisaged a bronze piece with a granite base, costing between four and five thousand dollars, but she also submitted an alternate plan that consisted of a clay or terra cotta piece and a wooden base, estimated as costing between nine hundred and one thousand dollars (Carr "Cost"). In this proposal Carr demonstrates a preference for "Plan A" based on the criterion of permanence, a consideration that the committee clearly appreciated.4 A tension exists, however, between Carr's flexibility with materials in her proposal and the rhetoric of her wall-mounted written text which seems to suggest that only bronze and limestone would have been appropriate to the theme of the work, especially since the first page of this text discusses the stone as granite and the second refers to it as limestone (Carr "Memorial"). Moreover, on the first page of this text Carr adds that she chose to use bronze and granite because they are "strong and durable" materials "often used in building," a statement that foregrounds the fact that the women killed were engineering students. The proposed alternative of clay and wood would have negated this thematic continuity and compromised any attempt to convey a sense of timelessness or permanence. A wood base might (for example) have suggested a coffin and, if so, undermined the vitality of the piece, a consideration that also lay behind Carr’s ultimate choice of limestone over granite as a base for the sculpture; granite "became inappropriate since the association with tombstones had rendered it static for this piece" (Carr "Memorial").5 The choice of limestone is yet another organic connection between the Circle and the sculpture because it is the material with which Brescia College is constructed: it serves thus to connect the women at Brescia with the women at the Polytechnique and to reinforce the sense of solidarity and community with the slain women that is also, as will be seen shortly, established through other media. Finally, in her wall-mounted text, Carr states that the stone "resemble[s] the shape of the stone cairns in Scotland where [she] was born." As well as referring the stone to the materials of other monuments, this allusion to Scottish cairns speaks to memory and monuments in general, and the admission of the personal into the artistic reflects the Circle’s concern with sharing women’s individual experiences through art.
The organic nature of the sculpture’s genesis is not related only to the growth of the piece from out of the "seed" of the Circle, but is also evident in the Circle’s praxis regarding organizational matters. The sculpture’s insistence on the energy generated by a hopeful, active community is echoed perfectly, for example, in the Circle’s fund-raising efforts. When their first attempt at fund-raising, a standard mail-out soliciting donations, failed to stimulate much response the approach was rethought and a new package, prepared by Dr. Carol Brooks, a member of the Circle’s board, was circulated. This document is extremely interesting as a secondary text supporting Carr’s piece, for it reinforces the feminist ideology at work within the sculpture. Both the appearance and the texture of the package are organic: consisting of a folder with several pages of enclosures explaining the project in detail and including the artist’s drawings of the proposed sculpture, it is printed on paper that is linen in colour and composed of rough, recycled fibres. Moreover, its rhetoric and format are designed to operate on personal relationships between members of the community, and to foster a similarly personal relationship between individuals in this community and the sculpture. The package’s detailed explanation of the project affords the prospective contributor an insider’s knowledge, and its appeal for funds is phrased in terms that are personal rather than business-like: "[i]f you wish, please take an enclosed form and add your name to this list before you pass this folder on to someone you feel would be interested in supporting this sculpture." On the contribution form, the supporter is given a choice as to whether or not her/his name will be publicized. The result of the exercise of this option is the mounted list of contributors adjacent to the sculpture. In the context of the appeal’s communal strategy this list constitutes something like a genealogy of friendships and acquaintances, constructs a community with a shared vision. It is not only, as has been suggested, an integral part of the monument, but is also a supplement that, in structural juxtaposition with the plaque listing the victims’ names, makes the supporter a subject of commemoration along with the fourteen slain women. In this way, the list nourishes a sense of solidarity between contributors and victims as individuals whose lives are effecting change and progress in the effort to end violence against women. The subtext here is that the supporters, as well as the sculptor, are responsible for the memorial, that 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes has emanated from a creative community. Indeed, in a letter dated October 4, 1994, Carr refers to this idea explicitly: "[m]y conversation with Carol [Brooks] regarding the fund-raising only confirmed my belief that this piece is definitely emerging from the community."
It is significant that the word "contribution" is used in the fund-raising package rather than "donation." As well as being attractive in its anti-commercial tone and fully commensurate with the Circle’s dedication to alterity, the "quiet and intimate request" (Brooks) for a "contribution" further suggests the supporter’s participation in the commemorative project. Even the Circle’s approach to fund-raising follows the principle of organicness in that it is "naturally" self-generating; requiring no authoritative solicitation, it functions horizontally, with an egalitarian emphasis. This ideal is reflected in the text by the prominence of the words "kinship" and "community," and by the excerpt from Carolyn McDade’s song "This Tough Spun Web" which heads the list of contributors. Since McDade’s song is sung every year at the December 6 ritual as a kind of anthem, the excerpt chosen for the list serves the double purpose of connecting the contributors to the ritual and to the murdered women, and constructing them poetically as social and spiritual community activists: "We are the wind-filled song that sounds of joy / and cries from dungeons cast away. / The deep sung dreams of those who labour on / to shape a just and caring way" (McDade).
This spirit of community and organicness is seen, finally, in the manner of the dedication of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes during the course of the 1994 "Ritual to Re-Member." Described in the event program as the "one element [that] distinguished this year’s ritual from those past and marked this 5th anniversary of the Montreal Tragedy in concreteness" (1), the sculpture was clearly envisaged, as previously posited, as a natural extension of a tradition. Its dedication took place at the heart of the ritual. This was preceded by a period of rhythmic drumming (to focus those gathered), a ritual listing of the names of the fourteen women and the lighting of candles (a fifteenth candle was lit in memory of all women who had suffered violence that year), a brief reading and a spoken reflection. As a prelude to the dedication and at the exact mid-point of the ritual Carr delivered a statement on how the piece was conceived entitled "The Sculpture ‘Fourteen Dancing Women’: a Symbolic Presence." On the completion of this presentation, she led the entire assembly on a "Pilgrimage" from the auditorium to the foyer outside the College’s Bishop Michael Francis Fallon Memorial Library to view the work ("A Ritual"). Participants then joined hands and, accompanied by drums, proceeded through the various corridors, around the sculpture and then back to the auditorium to continue the ritual. Moving in a human chain around the sculpture, the participants echoed the "activity" of its female figures, reinforcing the bond between the dead and the living and positioning the sculpture as a ritual object charged with the power to invite engagement and interaction ("Re-Membering" 1).
That Carr’s work is a sculpted piece is a factor in its capacity to articulate feminist concerns, and one which contributed to the success of her proposal. Of the four submissions that the Circle’s Memorial Art Project Committee received, only Carr’s planned a sculpture; two of the others proposed paintings and the third an embroidery piece. All of these were beautiful and expressive works, according to Sister Patricia McLean, the director of The Centre for Women and the Sacred, but it was felt that the physical presence of Carr’s work would make a more prominent, "powerful statement."6 The committee’s opinion coincides with that of many theorists of aesthetics; as Herbert Read observes in The Art of Sculpture (1956), sculpture is unique among art forms in that it demands attention as "a three-dimensional object in space" (46; Read’s italics). This characteristic of sculpture makes it an extremely appropriate medium for the memorialization of the fourteen victims of the Montreal Massacre: the sheer physical presence of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes makes their involuntary and violent absence visible, and demands, further, that the percipient attend to the issue of violence against women, a crime often otherwise marginalized.
Carr’s mounted text speaks to the integrality of the connection between medium and theme in the sculpture:
Once again, a sense of participation and community is evoked here. Carr’s reference to the sense of touch echoes a statement made by Read in which he claims that sculpture is an art of "touch-space," as opposed to "sight-space" (terms borrowed from early psychologist William James), an art of palpation rather than observation (Art of Sculpture 48, 49). This concept is particularly relevant to an analysis of feminist uses of sculpture, for many feminist theorists de-privilege the (masculine) scopic in favour of the haptic or the tactile.7 Carr’s text, as well as the response of percipients to her work, bears out the suggestion that this shift is in evidence in 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes. Both the sculpture and the written text invite touch, and some percipients express a sense of unease in looking into the depth of the vessel, as though this act constitutes in some sense a violation of a private space through the receptacle’s association with the womb (and perhaps through the Freudian association of the eye with the penis). The privileging of the tactile over the scopic thus becomes an effective strategic device in Carr’s memorial for the very reason that it unsettles the concept of the autonomous and dominating male gaze.
Particularly useful for this approach to Carr’s (and other feminist) sculpture is Elizabeth Grosz’s reading of the French phenomenologist, Merleau-Ponty, in Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism (1994). Grosz interprets Merleau-Ponty as destabilizing the primacy of the gaze by re-evaluating the importance of the other senses in relation to how people identify and position themselves in the world. In this reconsideration, the sense of touch emerges as a median between the senses of sight and sound, which are often constructed as binary opposites because of the active nature of the former (one chooses voluntarily what one looks at if one chooses to look at all) and the passive nature of the latter (sound penetrates the ear so that one has no control over what one hears). The key to this median is Merleau-Ponty’s theory of the "double sensation," which states that when one touches, one is always necessarily also touched; he provides the example of two hands touching each other to illustrate that the hand that touches becomes both subject and object, a condition that problematizes the traditional hierarchization of activity over passivity.8
The application of Merleau-Ponty’s "double sensation" theory to feminist art is extremely productive, because it suggests that the "objet d’art" possesses a form of agency. This idea is especially appropriate for sculpture since it involves both the tactile and the visual modes of the trope. It may also relate to the traditional patriarchal association of women and art: a woman, like a sculpture, is an "object" in space, occupying three dimensions, and is a focus of the gaze. Read writes that from its beginnings, sculpture has been fixated on the human and particularly the female form (Forms 171), and in Ways of Seeing (1972) John Berger goes further to posit that the sexualization of the female nude throughout Western history is a result of the fact that the intended spectator has always been male, and the object designed to flatter him (64). One implication of this theory is that a woman sculptor’s representation of the female form is inherently and inevitably politicized, the corollary being that the genre is a highly charged site for the expression of feminist themes. In 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes, the focus on the female forms is one on energy and movement, rather than on overt and passive sensuality. As opposed to the traditional depiction of the female in a nude and vulnerable state, often in a recumbent posture, the women in Carr’s piece are active and joyful, as well as fully clothed. Their physical beauty is not an issue, but their sexuality is not negated, for the regenerative power of reproduction is figured in the presence of the seed within the vessel. The women dance with their hands joined or their arms around one another’s shoulders in gestures of mutual support that override any sense of vulnerability to the male gaze, a point which relates directly to the ideology of strength through female solidarity espoused by the Circle and by all forms of feminist activism. The male gaze is, in fact, rejected by the fourteen female figures, for they turn their backs to it and direct their gazes at each other. Berger claims that women are, in a patriarchal order, both surveyor and surveyed, and are, therefore, in a sense, continually watching themselves (46); Carr gives this phenomenon a positive connotation by representing women whose full attention is given to a supportive female community. In this, her sculpture reflects the feminist conviction that in order to heal wounds inflicted by the patriarchy, women must, temporarily at least, remove themselves from the patriarchal order to a matriarchal one. Such an ideology is present in the praxis of the Circle, especially regarding the December 6 rituals, which men are welcome to attend, but not usually invited to act in in any prominent capacity. Successful though it may be in negotiating an extremely vexed issue, this practice nevertheless raises questions as to the effectiveness of rejecting the masculine and, by so doing, suggests the possibility that the circle of women in Carr’s sculpture may be perceived as closed or exclusionary. But as is expressed in the text from which the theory underlying the Circle’s rituals is drawn, Charlotte Caron’s To Make and Make Again: Feminist Ritual Thealogy (1993), the purpose of feminist ritual is to share common female experience (including grief), to meditate, and to heal. Moreover, the ritual’s transformative power is always directed outwards in order that its participants may put this affirmation of strength and community to work in their daily lives in the world of women and men. This strategy is articulated by Carr’s sculpture as well, through its invitation to all spectators, be they male or female, to participate imaginatively in the activity of the dance (192).
The method by which 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes encourages this participation is also related to the medium of sculpture, and to a theory of art that opposes Read’s description of sculpture as a tactile form. In his Semiotics of Visual Language (1990), Fernande Saint-Martin argues that while there is a tactile element to the apprehension of sculpture, the visual remains the dominant perceptual sense. Saint-Martin maintains that the more significant difference between the participant’s perception of sculpture and of a two-dimensional art form is sculpture’s appeal to the other modes of sensation, particularly the kinesthetic and the postural; in his analysis, the full apprehension of sculpture requires "numerous points of view, in order to construct its rotundity. The perceiver must occupy multiple positions around the object in order to obtain the data with which he [or she] can construct the global object…and from these, look at it from a multiplicity of angles" (154). In other words, the sculptural object demands movement, activity, from the participant, as opposed to two-dimensional art forms that sanction a more static viewer position. The participant is not only required to circle around a sculpture, but also to contort his/her body according to its dimensions. Indeed, in Carr’s memorial, participants are required, depending on their size, either to bend down or to stand on their toes to see the seed in the bottom of the vessel. The effect of this phenomenon is considerable; in observing the sculptural object, the participant’s body is manipulated by it. (S)he is confronted with her/his own physicality as much as that of the work, and obliged to become aware, for example, of her/his own size in relation to it. Of course, this concept is not unrelated to Merleau-Ponty’s "double sensation," since in perceiving the object in space, the participant is made to realize her/his own status as an object. This recognition is similar to that stimulated by the sense of touch in Carr’s work, as is explicitly suggested by a statement that resonates with the ideas of both Merleau-Ponty and Saint-Martin in the text that she wrote to accompany her drawings in the Circle’s fund-raising package: "[t]he sculpture invites us to touch it as we move around it, allowing it to touch us at the same time" (Brooks). The written text adjacent to the sculpture makes a similar suggestion in its reference to the transformation of the bronze sculpture’s colour through the cumulative touch of many viewers (see the quotation at the beginning of this section). Not only does this observation imply that the participant is involved in the creation of the work (which, in itself, is ideologically apposite because it coheres with the idea of communal creativity) but it also throws the participant’s physicality back at him/her; the chemical properties of the oil secreted by the skin become a matter of visual evidence.
The implications of the above principles for Carr’s piece are many. Firstly, as has already been noted, the viewer’s circular movement around the sculpture echoes the represented movement of the sculpted ring of women in a kind of ripple effect, stimulating an identification that encourages the participant to feel involved in the consequences of violence against women, whether female or male. Secondly, the subject-object hierarchy that traditionally characterizes the male-female relationship is collapsed by the sculpture’s power to manipulate the gazer, thus suggesting the existence of a kind of object agency in the work. Thirdly, the living participant/percipient (whose animation is inscribed in the piece by its manipulation of chemistry) is contrasted with the inanimate women. This last effect is complex because the sculpture thematizes vitality but also materializes absence, paradoxically commemorating the deaths of the fourteen murdered women by conveying a sense of life and movement. Finally, the sculpture becomes an exhortation to participate in the fight against violence against women by necessitating action on a literal level. That this stimulation of movement is intentional on the parts of both the artist and the Circle Memorial Art Project Committee is evinced by the adjacent text in which Carr writes that she "designed the work to have walking space around it," and by the committee’s choice of a display location in the Bishop Michael Francis Fallon Memorial Library foyer, as explained in a letter from Sister Patricia to the principal of Brescia College: "[w]e think that the sculpture, its medium and subject, is congruent with the space. It can be placed so that people can walk around it, touch it and see into it; it can be fully appreciated" (McLean April 5, 1994).
The committee’s decision concerning the memorial’s exact placement within the foyer is also worth pondering in this context. 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes stands at present in the north-east corner of the foyer, which was one of three options presented to the Brescia administration, the other two being the southwest corner and the centre of the room. The rejection of the southwest corner option is not significant, since the reason for it was simply that that corner is a repository of posters and notices— visual clutter that would detract from the sculpture (Nicholson). The choice between the other two options is more intriguing from an ideological perspective because it may be read as a decision between, on the one hand, forcing physical confrontation with the sculpture and through it with the Montreal Massacre (and, more generally, the issue of violence against women) by placing it in the centre of the foyer, and, on the other hand, creating a more restful, but possibly marginalized space for the work in a well-lighted corner.9 It is true that the central position would have been politically satisfying in that every person passing through the foyer would have been compelled to move around the sculpture in some way, mimicking the movement of the memorialized women. The corner location is even more ideologically sound, however, since to see the statue closely requires purposeful movement from most points in the room, which itself constitutes voluntary action, and since the quietude of the area allows for focused contemplation. Additionally, the northeast corner of the foyer is immediately adjacent to the large windows of the north wall, affording the sculpture plenty of natural sunlight, and permitting visibility from outdoors as well as from inside the room, an important means of sharing the sculpture with the public outside the feminine community of Brescia.
Two other points concerning the relevance of the medium of sculpture to Carr’s theme are suggested by Saint-Martin’s discussion of sculpture’s appeal to the kinesthetic and postural senses. He argues that "[e]very time the perceiver modifies the angle or the direction of his [or her] view or positions himself [herself] differently before or around the work, he [or she] is confronted with an ever-changing disposition of stimuli with respect to their structure, their density, their energy, and so on, which modify their spatial interrelations" (153). Multiplicity, the key concept here, is integral to feminist thought, in terms of both theory based on physiology, and the opposition to what is often seen as the patriarchal monolith. The Circle’s adherence to an ideology that valorizes plurality and alterity is explicitly reflected in Carr’s wall-mounted written text, where, in reference to 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes, she writes of a "plurality" that is "sacred." The various perspectives that the participant is obliged to assume in order to focus on each individual female figure in the sculpture make the work appear, as Saint-Martin claims of three dimensional art, to change in structure, density and energy, which here reflects the variance and "richness of women’s experience" (Hazard). This idea of constant transformation is also relevant to the piece’s celebration of life, for the participant’s mobility and consequent continual modification of perception, when added to the depiction of the women in various stages of movement, animates the dancers through an optical illusion. It is a fitting metaphor that awareness and, especially, action on the part of the living in regards to violence against women serves to imbue those who have died with a kind of dynamic living presence.
Perhaps the most obvious starting point for a more detailed analysis of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes itself, including Carr’s wall-mounted written text, is an analysis of the use of the symbol of the bowl or vessel in the work. "In their dance the women create a vessel; an object found in the home which is often symbolic of the female," observes Carr in the mounted text; "[i]n the centre of the vessel is a seed in the process of splitting and sprouting. As the new life sprouts it breaks into the wall of the vessel and entwines itself on the outside between the women, creating a new bond." One intriguing feature of this description is the conspicuous absence of the analogy of the baptismal font that appeared in the letter of proposal from which, with some revisions, the explication is drawn. This change reveals a careful religious neutrality in the monument’s presentation, and, particularly in light of the fact that Brescia is a Roman Catholic College, constitutes yet further evidence that inclusivity is of the essence. The choice of the receptacle to symbolize the female is fraught with tensions, but is common in feminist writing. Metaphorically Carr’s "vessel" alludes, as has been stated, to the womb, and is employed in a positive light; the female body is celebrated without any hint of sexual exploitation. Focus is on the female capacity to regenerate even after the devastation caused by the Montreal Massacre, and the community of women is seen to be the locus of rebirth and growth. It is thematically significant that this growth extends out to incorporate the dancers, signifying that their lives and deaths have not been in vain.
Nevertheless, the motif of the seed in the sculpture, however it may relate to the diction of the Circle’s mission statement ("the seed of the sacred"), does bring with it some contradictory and disturb-
ing connotations, especially in view of the rhetoric that Carr employs in describing it. The symbolic tension emanates from Carr’s representation of the seed itself: while in her drawings it is proportionally quite large and the sprouts of the seedling make its shape unmistakable, the seed in the actual bronze casting looks distinctly spermatozoic or even testicular. This representational ambiguity colours Carr’s description of the seed’s activity in an unsettling manner. Consider, for example, the idea that "there is a crack in the bowl" (Brooks), a fissure in the vessel. If the vessel represents the womb and the seed is perceived as a sperm, this crack inevitably becomes vaginal. This trope may be read as a reclaiming of the female sexual reproductive function. Unfortunately, it also suggests that a masculinity which can only be seen as violent in the context of the event memorialized by the sculpture and Carr’s choice of the phrase "breaks into the wall" (Carr "Memorial") has succeeded in penetrating the female body and in reproducing its violence through the "breaking," or destruction, of the feminine. The negativity of this idea is then only heightened as the "sprout…entwines itself" outward around the dancing women, suggesting strangulation and death rather than vitality. Alternatively, we may choose to view the vessel as ovular, in which case, the penetration of the sperm into the vessel may be interpreted as life-giving male-female interaction, a rebirth out of destruction. But even this reading cannot negotiate satisfactorily the violence of the penetration metaphor, or the figure of passive femaleness being acted upon by aggressive maleness. Seen through a critical perspective the "crack in the bowl" thus constitutes a gap through which intended meaning escapes.
No such representational difficulty exists with respect to the sculpture’s female figures. It is important to note that no particular racial bias is observable in their depiction. Although most of the women are shown only from behind, the characteristics of those few faces that appear in profile exhibit a racial diversity that speaks, once again, to the idea of a solidarity of pluralities. The dancers also demonstrate varying degrees of energy: while the posture of most of the figures suggests strength, other dancers appear to be leaning heavily on their neighbours and at least one seems to be only just balancing, as if barely keeping up with the dance. Not only is this physically realistic, imitating the irregularities in formation and differences in ability of ordinary women dancing in a circle, but it also metaphorically acknowledges the variations in emotional state, strength, awareness and engagement of women in relation to a feminist spirituality. As well as representing the women who died in the Montreal Massacre, the sculpture’s female figures thus stand for (dance for) all women.
Universality is also implied in Carr’s wall-mounted written text, which is particularly significant in the context of an analysis of the piece because it explicitly delineates the sculptor’s own perceptions of and intentions for the memorial. On the third (and last) page of this text, entitled "Litany of Naming," Carr articulates a more poetic interpretation of the sculpture than she does in the first two pages, which are primarily descriptive. "Litany of Naming" engages in a heavy rhetoric dominated by the personification of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes as "She," the feminine singular indicating, as posited above, that the piece depicts a kind of universal "woman," rather than simply fourteen "particular women." Personification here is not limited to the use of the personal pronoun, however, but is distinctly active in nature: the sculpture is said to "dance," to "bless," to "speak," to "invite," and so on—diction that insists on the object’s agency, and relates especially to the "life" of the sculpture and the lives of the fourteen women whom it commemorates specifically. But the most pervasive concept that inhabits the verbs used to describe the piece—indeed, the primary subject of this section of the written text—is that of "resist[ance,]…refusal." The sculpture is said to "def[y]…naming," where to name is first defined as "to capture" a work's essence and later as "to tame it." Once again, the obvious emphasis here is on the power and agency of the object, but of more theoretical interest, perhaps, is Carr’s insistence on the resistant and the uncapturable. This insistence reflects the theory of Irigaray’s "Plato’s Hystera" (1985), her reading of Plato’s Myth of the Cave, in which she seems both to propose and reject the idea of direct symbolization of the feminine by the cave on the grounds that the feminine is unnameable within a masculine language system.10 Carr deals with this concept by rejecting the three prospective titles that she appears to have considered ("Release from agony," "Dancing the crucible’s edge" and "Reclaiming the dance" are listed at the beginning of "Litany of Naming") in favour of a focus on the fourteen women themselves.11 Of course, the title of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes resonates directly with the list of fourteen names on the plaque adjacent to the sculpture, but it also evokes ritual by recalling the naming of the women at the Circle’s annual December 6 event. Further gestures towards ritual are made in the text by Carr’s iconization of the memorial, her attribution to it of an inherent spirituality, her description of it as a "sacred" object, and her treatment of it as oracular: "[s]he waits to converse with all who approach as she dances on her swollen stone. May she bless us with the word we need to hear in that moment" (Carr "Memorial").12
The tension in Carr’s wall-mounted text between the conception of the vessel as "an object found in the home" and that of the sculpture as an object that "refus[es]…domesticat[ion]" raises interesting questions concerning the relationship of feminist art to the traditional distinction between "art" and "craft." This distinction is investigated in the Circle’s Fall 1993 newsletter and also in R.G. Collingwood’s The Principles of Art (1938). The newsletter article, "More Than Meets the Eye?: Women and Craft," discusses women’s traditional involvement with various kinds of craft, and the prevailing attitude to it—namely, that craft occupies an inferior, feminine position in relation to high art, until recently considered a male domain. In his essay, Collingwood describes the distinction between "fine art" and craft as based fundamentally on whether or not a work has a practical function, which craft does and art does not (36-7). In an equally germane article, Octavio Paz observes that this differentiation of art and craft into the beautiful and the useful is a modern development, and questions the belief that what is artistic cannot also be functional: "A glass jug, a wicker basket, a coarse muslin huipil, a wooden serving dish," are all "beautiful objects," Paz asserts in In Praise of Hands: Contemporary Crafts of the World (1974), "not despite their usefulness but because of it" (17).
Carr’s feminist memorial engages with this issue in several ways. Although 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes is designed as a sculptural piece, it is also essentially a bowl that could ostensibly be used for a practical domestic purpose. The memorial is, therefore, both art and craft, and, as such, valorizes craft and woman’s association with it by suggesting that the practical, the domestic, can also be an object of beauty, a fitting commemoration of the fourteen women, who were studying to be practical creators themselves. Collingwood writes that art can have the purpose of stimulating action (31), and this is another integral function of Carr’s memorial, indicating perhaps that craft, as a "woman’s pursuit," can have the purpose of stimulating feminist action. By creating functional beauty, Carr denies the fetishization of art (Paz’s topic in the chapter from which the quotations here are excerpted). And through their mutual traditional status as "object," woman’s fetishization is here denied with art’s, an hypothesis supported by Carr’s treatment of the female form.
Paz’s reference to the homogeneity of craft and art in ancient societies (17) also points to the connection between Carr’s piece and ritualism, which, as I have claimed, is central to the sculpture and its function. His statement can be related to Carr’s expressed interest in "icons of the past" (Carr "Proposal") and what may be perceived as the "primitiveness" of her representation of a spiritual, ritual dance of women, a dance recalling perhaps the ancient Muses, or such archetypal figures as goddesses and witches who also use circles for their rituals (Caron 46). In refusing the distinction between art and craft, Carr may be seen to valorize an ancient aesthetic that is consistent with the theme of timelessness and permanence represented by the stone base of her sculpture. In relation to the issue of craft, it should also be noted that 1993, the year in which the Circle Memorial Art Project was commissioned, was officially designated by the Circle as a year in which its events would focus on women and craft ("More"). Given her connection to The Centre for Women and the Sacred,13 it may be assumed that Carr was aware of this theme, and deliberately incorporated it into her work.
Finally, I would like to quote one other statement by Paz that encapsulates the issues of craft, celebration, ritual and community at work in 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes:
Carr’s wall-mounted written text bespeaks just such a "communal experience" ("Memorial"), a sharing not unlike the Christian bread-breaking ritual in which a community gathers to re-member a loss of life and to rekindle hope.14 Carr’s handcrafted ritual object becomes, thus, a sign of a communion of women, the physical symbol of this loss and hope, a complex form of memory.
To this point, 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes’ feminist project has been considered in relation to memory for the purpose of demonstrating that the kind of memory it involves is forward-looking, in the sense that it treats the commemoration of the Montreal Massacre as a catalyst for present and future activism. This form of memory appears to travel in two directions: first, the sculpture traces the usual pattern of memory and memorialization by recalling a past event in a permanent manner; and, second, in a distinct departure from the function of most traditional memorials, it attempts to present a tragic memory in an unmitigatedly positive light. This second characteristic raises the critical issue of whether the joyfulness of Carr’s sculpture serves to whitewash or even to elide the Montreal Massacre by omitting explicit reference to violence and loss. Once again, Gayle Greene is helpful on the use of memory in feminist art when, in discerning what she perceives as a lack of nostalgia in the work of women writers, she posits that this is due to the fact that women, as a sex, have little to be nostalgic about: while "going back is advantageous to those who have enjoyed power, it is dangerous to those who have not" (296). One possible reason for the refusal of Carr’s sculpture to recall the tragic event itself, then, is that to do so would come dangerously close to merely memorializing the destructive power of one man over fourteen women, or perhaps even of men over women. The question that must be asked at this juncture is, "What exactly is being commemorated in 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes?" As the introduction to the present essay suggests, the women who were murdered were not feminist heroes per se; in fact, according to Francine Pelletier’s documentary on the tragedy entitled "What Has Changed?" (1994), many of the women present at the shooting shouted, "We are not feminists" in response to the murderer’s tirades against feminism. Memorialization of these women, however, seems to position them as emblematic of all women who are attempting to pursue their goals in a society that still opposes them. As women following non-traditional career paths, the fourteen engineering students may be seen as feminists and their memorialization as similar to the commemoration of soldiers who died in wars of which they may or may not have fully realized the import. Carr’s sculpture does not, of course, celebrate the event, but rather stands as evidence of a victimization that the work, through its emphasis on community and participation, suggests extends beyond the event itself. Greene writes that "[m]emory is especially important to anyone who cares about change, for forgetting dooms us to repetition; and it is of particular importance to feminists" (291). This principle is present in Carr’s sculpture which, though it does not directly recall the event—but, rather, the lives of the murdered women—still exists as a deterrent to repetition through the creation of awareness.
Carr’s sculpture positions itself as contributing to a dynamic healing process through this focus on awareness, among other elements. The memorial also speaks to a process of healing in that it represents a stage in the artist’s and in the Circle’s emotional re-memberment of the Montreal Massacre, a re-memberment that allows them to draw hope and inspiration from memory rather than simply despair and desolation. It is reasonable to assume that this particular work, with its joyful, hopeful tone, was made possible only by the passage of time. Greene theorizes the past as "changing in response to the present" (292): as emotional scars are healed, and active, constructive responses to the Montreal Massacre are being evidenced, people’s memory of the event metamorphoses so that while they remember it, they are also able to conceive of it as a turning point which involves them in a positive way. That the lapsing of time is a factor in the desire and emotional ability to memorialize a tragic event is illustrated by the fact that the first of the major monuments to the Montreal Massacre—those in Brescia College and London’s Victoria Park, and in Vancouver, B.C.—were dedicated in 1994, the fifth anniversary of the murders.
The function of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes may perhaps be best summarized in relation to Freud’s distinction between melancholia and mourning, melancholia being an incomplete mourning that results in the identification of the ego with a lost person or object and a consequent morbidity, loss of self esteem, and expectation of punishment (124-40). These symptoms are extremely disturbing, especially as they resonate in the present context with the pattern of response frequently observed in women who have been victims of repeated violence. 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes transmutes the great potential for melancholia in the death of the Montreal Massacre victims into a seemingly unusual, but, according to Freud, healthy process of mourning. Participants are invited to acknowledge and objectify their grief, thereby helping to ensure that, rather than constituting a source of melancholia, it becomes a stimulus to action.
Carr’s memorial on the Brescia College campus was met with some small criticism from individuals within the campus community (McLean ), but virtually no opposition from the London public, a factor that distinguishes it from the London Women’s Monument in Victoria Park, which is also devoted to the Montreal Massacre, and to which a significant section of the public took strong exception (Richer A3; and see Essay 14: In No Uncertain Terms in the present collection.) The reason for this difference in reception is partly one of visibility: it seems that to many people, a feminist commemoration of the Montreal Massacre is acceptable only if it does not intrude upon their daily lives. For example, in 1995, London’s Scene magazine wrote that while the Victoria Park organizers were stridently forcing an inappropriate monument on the public, the Circle was approaching their commemoration in a fitting manner, and conducting it "without rancour" (Downe 2). This commentary angered the Circle committee for several reasons, not the least of which being that it implied a patronizing underestimation of the impact of Carr’s sculpture on the community because of its location within the confines of a women’s college (Reynolds 3). Another reason for the difference in the reception of the two monuments may be the disparity in tone between them. The London Women’s Monument organizers decided on a more stark, perhaps confrontational, statement for their memorial, choosing an installation that resembles tombstones.
Since the original tragedy took place on the campus of a post-secondary institution, it is extremely appropriate that a memorial be dedicated on one, as well as in such a highly public location as a downtown core. Hilde Hein observes in "Is Feminist Art Aesthetically Regressive?" (1994) that feminist art is often seen in "unusual public and private places that are not conventional display spaces" (25). In an interview with the London Free Press, Carol Brooks acknowledged the relative obscurity of Brescia’s monument but suggested that this was by design. She described the purposes of 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes and the London Women’s Monument as similar, but contrasted their approaches, saying that while the downtown memorial was meant to be very public, "[i]t seemed important that ours was here, to preserve the quiet dignity of grieving. We chose a quiet reflective place for it" (Richer A3). The exhibition of Carr’s sculpture at Brescia (as opposed to a public thoroughfare) means also that some effort on the part of (most) Londoners is required to see it—deliberate ‘action’, in other words. The sculpture is, nevertheless, easily accessible and its placement in a window demonstrates the Circle’s will to openness. The only conceivably more fitting location for the monument might have been the University of Western Ontario’s Engineering Building; however, the commission of the Circle was for Brescia and for a hopeful, woman-oriented piece. A memorial for such a contextually highly charged atmosphere as an engineering building necessarily would be a much different piece in consideration of its audience, and also would be at much greater risk of vandalism, a factor taken into account by the Circle Memorial Art Project Committee when choosing its own location for display.
As we have seen, 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes is a memorial that operates on the consequences of memory, rather than limiting itself to the production of it. Feminist action, community, and hope constitute the essence of its mission, and the narrative of its coming into being from practical to artistic concerns is an example of the synchronous practice of feminist ritual ideology: Hein describes feminist art as often exhibiting such a "collective or collaborative character in both its authorship and its relation to the public" (25). Carr’s sculpture works on many levels precisely because it is not a funerary monument; rather than simply commemorating finality or loss, it is a dynamic piece that assumes the possibility of a new beginning. This is central to the Marxist conception of art’s function, as explicated by Hein, who writes that changes in art (such as new feminist initiatives) reflect a process of development that is oriented toward human liberation. Art, therefore, becomes a means of nourishing that liberation: "great art reflects a critical sensitivity to the human condition and thus contributes to the betterment of human society even as it manifests aesthetic advancement. Thus development in art is equivalent to the development of human freedom and is an anticipatory expression of it" (Hein 18). Carr’s work anticipates a spiritual feminine freedom without forgetting one of the most dramatic illustrations in recent years of opposition to it. The most fitting words of conclusion that I can imagine to describe the message of Carr’s work are borrowed from Andrea Dworkin, a poet active in the cause of violence against women, whose poem "The Bruise That Didn’t Heal" is quoted on the cover of the Circle’s program for the 1995 December 6 ritual:
In our hearts, we are mourners for all those
I would like to thank the Circle for allowing me to research the archival material concerning 14 Dancing Women / 14 Femmes Dansantes at the Centre for Women and the Sacred. (All bibliographical references to the "Circle Archives" assume the Centre for Women and the Sacred at Brescia College as their location.) Special thanks must go to Sister Patricia McLean for her time and assistance.