The Field Hospital
Vie des Arts, Fall 2006

The title of the exhibition is both misleading and accurate. Anne Lewis’s works have nothing and everything to do with human casualties, and this unusual show at Dollard des Ormeaux Centre for the Arts is bound to strike a cord with the public.

Wearing the double mantle of an artist and medical reporter, Lewis has found a way of weaving the two careers into a profound and poignant comment on our present times. Seeking a release from the barrage of distressing news we are all subjected to on a daily basis, she approached the issue in a direct way, by literally excising the negative information from the pages of newspapers.

Once she was done, Lewis was left with a mere skeleton, a frail outline which she soaks in plasticized medium, giving it “life support” as it were, before placing it on delicate archival tissue.

The resulting image has its own unique visual aesthetic, and combined with its inescapable emotional component, transcends from conceptual to narrative.

At first glance Lewis’s Newscuts resemble somewhat abstracted graphic compositions, but that impression quickly gives way to an uneasy feeling that something much deeper is taking place beneath the frail web of strips of newsprint, twisted, almost contorted in the creative process.

Suddenly, the gaping empty spaces where articles once appeared, become echoes of unknown horror, of pain and suffering that lives just outside our comfort zone. Newscuts are being shown together with Lewis’s series of videocassette boxes titled Knowing Too Much. An integral part of her Field Hospital, these original bas-reliefs are yet another attempt at transforming the bad news contained on the tapes the boxes once held.

Placed side by side, either in situ, or in a gallery setting, they are like tiny universes filled with myriad objects and images aimed at uplifting and inspiring.

As with the newspaper cuttings, the boxes are both messengers of hope, and art objects with their own visual vocabulary.

A unique sensibility permeates these works. A dispassionate compassion may best describe Lewis’s approach. At once engaged and impartial, she has created a fascinating body of work, a powerful visual commentary that imparts its message without sacrificing the artistic, plastic demands of the compositions.

If the above-mentioned series leave the viewer longing for a sense of resolution, some kind of emotional closure, Lewis has the answer, and it can be found in the final component of her virtual Field Hospital, the magical Water Drawings.

Unwilling to discard the negative articles cut out from newspapers, she decided to use them in a healing ritual cum performance art, by gluing them onto a roll of wax paper. She then floated the thus created ‘banners’ on waterways, from Irish lough to the Hudson River.

Some 200 feet long, they follow the currents, disappearing into the horizon, releasing, cleansing the terrible message their lettering hides.

Conceptual art with heart is a rare phenomenon, indeed.

Dorota Kozinska/Art Critic