The Antiquarian’s House, 2020

Early in 2019 I was thinking about a new series of beaded works, which I had titled Beaded Baroque. The original concept was to bring contemporary beading into conversation with the Baroque period of art history.  I’m interested in this period as a time when European nations were accumulating great wealth from the colonial project, which fuelled artistic production. I was thinking a lot about how the Métis fit into this, but are absent from the visual record of the time. Living close Venice, where beads prized by the Métis originated, when I thought about what my Grandmothers and Aunties would want me to bring back from this place, the answer was beads, lots of beads, and my stories. These where the first thoughts about this series of work, which evolved considerably after its inception.

As the first stage in the project, the final months of 2019 where spent conducting artistic research in the private collection Claudio Leoni, an entomologist from Brescia, Italy. During this phase, I photographed specimens and worked on preliminary sketches that would inform the works to be created. 

My next task was to find a studio space in which to complete the project. There are areas of Italy that are under recession, becoming depopulated as the youth leave for the cities and other countries in search of work. I was looking for a studio space for this project in such an area when I stumbled upon an old country house that had been closed for over a decade. The house was inspiring to me from an artistic perspective in that its last inhabitant was an antiquarian who had amassed an amazing collection of objects. The house had remained as he left it for many years following his passing, slowing undergoing the natural process of decay, reclamation by the land, and occupation by thousands of insects. I lived and worked in the house while I created this series of beaded works, allowing the objects, history and insects it contains to fuel my artistic practise. While working, I began to see parallels between the process of beading and various activities undertaken by insects. The project became more about relationship to the the site, the insects, the objects, and the process of beading and less about the Baroque period, so I now refer to the project as The Antiquarian’s House. Some of the objects I worked with can be considered instruments of violence, others are related to loss. Some of the objects have been encased in beads while others provide the support material onto which I’ve beaded. Can encasing an instrument of violence in beads change its nature? Will the destructive history of such objects contaminate my hands as I work? These were questions I asked myself as I was completing the works.

Of interest, a ceremonial mask was found in the house, they have been sent home to the Oneida Nation. 

All of the works in The Antiquarian’s House series were completed in Northern Italy between late 2019 and early March 2020. The works were in transit to Montreal, Canada for BACA 2020 when the Covid-19 shutdown took place. The video below documents the guiding ideas, the site, and the evolution of the project.

The Antiquarian’s House, 2020 by Corinna Wollf.

The works included in this series include:

Reliquary I, 2020, Reimagined Baroque period reliquary.

This work features a beaded dragonfly portrait in the upper compartment and a found wing encased in resin fills the lower compartment. The dragonfly is an expert hunter and a symbol of protection. 
Flail I, 2020, reimagined chainlink flail

This was a difficult object to work with and I sat with it a long time before deciding how I would proceed. I was washing the floors here at the antiquarian’s house when I chose the beads. My thoughts at the time were: I wash these red floors with the knowledge that generations of women before me have done this work. On their knees, as in prayer, drops of sweat mixing with soapy water. Comforting and smooth, cool and warm all at once, pulled from the red mountain, ground to dust, reformed and baked in the fire. Used to make a home, a hearth, a place to rest in the arms of the great Mother, an ownership claim to a piece of her. A tiny portion, something that can be stolen, to be protected, to die and spill blood for. These are the beads I’ve chosen for these floors, these walls and this object.
Reimagined Icon of the Virgin and Child, 2020

A beaded work on birch veneer depicting cicadas in various stages of life along with ripe and rotting pears has been inlaid over the original image.
Whip I, 2020, Reimagined crop encased in leather cording and Murano glass rosaries.

Can encasing an object of violence in beads change its nature? The Antiquarian’s House was a collaborative project with some of our kin from the Insect Nation. While working I began to see parallels between the process of beading and various activities undertaken by insects. I’m interested in the role the insects play in transforming objects, encasing them, eating them, moving them, and inhabiting them. Working to take them back into the land.
Flail II, 2020, Reimagined ball and chain flail.

Webs of metal netting surround the wooden balls and spike beads rise above the worn iron knobs. I brought this object up to the beading table in November of 2019 and began working on it in December. I usually work by instinct, choosing objects that somehow seem to belong together, and then let the pieces inform the work
Reliquary II, 2020, Reimagined Baroque period reliquary.

This work features a beaded allegorical/historical work in the upper compartment. The remains of a stag beetle encased in resin fill the lower compartment. While completing this work, I was thinking about the story of Heracles and Antaeus, the idea of drawing up energy from the earth, and the possibility that the story could be read in reverse and revised for our modern times. Could Antaeus be recast as the hero? What would the outcome have been if Anteaus had reached the earth and drawn up a wondrous strength from her?

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