Artist Vivian Gottheim’s Soft Shapes Series opens at Glendon Gallery

What if the world as we know it had come to an end at the turn of the millennium? What if no evidence of human existence remained? What if a future life form came to Earth searching for the history of previous intelligent life on this planet?

As the year 2000 approached, these questions preoccupied some thnkers, resulting in a host of millennium projects. Visual artist Vivian Gottheim (left) was one of those who considered these possibilities and, in response, undertook a project in 1999 with the intention of cataloguing the shapes that symbolize human existence. Her idea was to create a visual dictionary of the forms representing humankind, a sort of Noah’s ark of human shapes. Gottheim’s Soft Shapes Series, a collection of forms encompassing her work from 2002 to 2008, grew out of that desire.

The artist amassed close to 1,000 forms with a special interest in soft shapes as they are the closest in contour and essence to human forms. The 22 pieces exhibited at the Glendon Gallery belong to a collection of 24 in this series; two have already been sold. Marc Audette, the gallery’s curator, grouped some of the smaller pieces together in logical clusters, while the larger pieces stand alone. They draw in the spectator to experience a personal interaction, an emotional reaction.

Right: Glendon students at the opening night of the Soft Shapes Series

“I was originally thinking of presenting these shapes in colour, but the colours detracted from the symbolic images I was searching for; they were almost pornographic,” says Gottheim. Instead, she chose graphite drawings on textured paper as well as scanned and enlarged drawings on photographic paper. Gottheim created outlines of various shapes – a tooth, a finger, any part of the body or abstract images – then used increasingly thicker pencils, up to 6B, to fill in the shapes by brushing the pencil’s lead on the paper’s texture. The resulting black-and-white works are abstract. Their depth and three-dimensionality invite the viewer to participate in deciphering the forms and their meaning. “I wanted to synthesize the senses through signs, shapes and symbols that are subjective and open to interpretation,” says the artist.

Left: Glendon Principal Kenneth McRoberts (left), Glendon coordinator of artistic & cultural affairs Martine Rheault and Vivian Gottheim at the opening night of the Soft Shapes Series

Many students and faculty members attended the exhibition’s opening night, Jan. 13, at the Glendon Gallery. “I want to get really close to examine the textures and details. And I see other visitors doing the same,” said Cécile Berodier, a third-year Glendon student in linguistics, international studies and education.   

Born in São Paulo, Brazil, of German origin, Gottheim has a BA in visual arts from Fundação Armando Alvares Penteado in her native city, a master of fine arts from Syracuse University, New York, and a PhD in art from New York University. Although she has had a traditional artistic education, she also espouses the use of new technology. Since 2000, she has been living and working in Montreal, but brings her multicultural background and a deeply philosophical bent to all her work.

Right: Glendon student Cécile Berodier in front of Vivian Gottheim’s work Heart

The Soft Shapes Series will go on the road after the Glendon exhibition. “I work on several projects at the same time, sometimes six or seven in tandem,” says Gottheim, a teacher at Montreal’s Marianopolis College who has lectured and taught at various institutions over the years. “Students learn so much from working artists, understanding their techniques and receiving their insights. It is our legacy for the next generation.”

The Soft Shapes Series will run until Feb. 6. The next exhibit at the Glendon Gallery will open on Feb. 10, Un monde à raccommoder – A World in Need of Mending, displaying the work of Quebec artist Josette Villeneuve. For details and gallery hours, visit the Glendon Gallery Web site.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny