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Get to Know | Emily van Lidth de Jeude

Emily van Lidth de Jeude (BFA 2001) is a social practice artist. Working through art and education to promote social and environmental engagement, Emily’s work is interview-based and her materials are often reclaimed. Her work opens communication about issues of human evolution and aims to give a voice to others. You can see more of her work on her website as well as through @emilyvanartist on Instagram. This is part of our Get to Know series, where we get a chance to learn about the amazing artists, designers, illustrators and creators in our community.

Featured image is Emily in the studio. Provided courtesy of the artist.

Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Emily van Lidth de Jeude. I’m a longtime resident of Bowen Island, with a few brief stints living in Vancouver, Victoria, and the Netherlands. My passion is making people look at life and make discoveries. I do this both as an explorative learning facilitator and as an artist. In fact, while those sound like very different occupations, they really do have the same goals: entice people to explore and discover the world! The more we see, the more understanding and compassion we have, so my general life goals are to build a better future by helping us look deeply at the present. In my art practice, this generally means creating immersive spaces where participants are confronted with other people’s stories and experience, and thus given a space to contemplate their own.

Describe your current practice/career in three words.

Social, emotional, change.

What inspired the creation and process for your (dis)robe project?

It actually began with a silent video I made. In the video, I ripped up a bunch of daisies, cut a wedding dress off my body, washed the words “not good enough” off my naked self, and put the ruined dress back on. This project left me with a wonderfully storied, ruined, used wedding dress, and I was immediately struck by the great opportunity of turning it into a story about marriage. So I sewed it all up and painted it and it became “Support Garment”, the first of the (dis)robe pieces. I’m always happy exploring our cultural stories and how we wear them, so then I began collecting used wedding dresses and other special white garments along with the stories of the people who wore them, and drawing the stories of other people onto them, as portraits. I guess the root of the inspiration is my desire to gather up stories and mash them up so they’re accessible in a variety of ways to a variety of people. This project just keeps on growing!

Is there anything in particular you look for when seeking out garments for this project?

I look for the story. It’s incredible how many people came forward with garments for this project, and wanted to tell me the stories associated. Within a few weeks I had enough to create quite a large collection. Now I just need to find time to make all the pieces!

Tell us a bit about the choice of imagery on the garments.

The portraits are of people who somehow relate to the story of each garment. For example, the man who posed for the back and front of the “Nursing Gown” dress (which is about codependency in relationships) is my own brother, who had recently gone through a divorce at the time I photographed him. The couple pulling apart the baby gown in the “Divorce Gown” is a couple very familiar with divorce in different ways. He was a child of a bitter divorce, and she is a mother who was going through a divorce at the time of the photo shoot. I ask my subjects to talk about their stories and channel them for the photo. Then I play music that I find suitable, and draw onto the gowns from the photos.

Your project, what.home, explores the universal search for a feeling of belonging and home. All your participants are from the pacific coast of Canada. How was this received in Amsterdam?

I was amazed at how well it translated! The protagonists of the projected video did talk about places other than Canada, including Mexico, South Africa, Germany and the Netherlands, but they all were residents of BC at the time I interviewed them, so that was the context they spoke in. I was a little concerned that Dutch people would look at it from a tourist perspective; an opportunity to see British Columbia’s landscape and people. However, multiple visitors commented on the universality of the installation, and how the things the interviewees spoke about, although specific to places and times, were really the stories we all share. Struggles to escape hardship, to find shelter, to find meaning in place and being, even the emotional challenges on both sides of colonialism – these things are stories we can all relate to.

Talk about your goals.

My kids are growing up and need less of me, so I’m finally dedicating more time to my practice and finding I need more work space! I’d love to do a nice fellowship or residency that gives me a dedicated space for one of my projects along with some more community connection. I’m set on continuing to work primarily in BC while my kids are still living at home, but I did enjoy bringing my work to Amsterdam, both for the adventure as well as for the opportunity to work with my friend Igor Sevcuk and his wife Go Eun Im – fabulous artists with a wealth of inspiration and great ideas. I’d be happy to spread out like that a little more!

Were there any professors or classes that influenced you?

Celia King. I took just one bookmaking class with her during my time at Emily Carr, and it seriously opened my mind. Suddenly everything was a book and everything had a story. It was at that point that I realized how much story mattered to my work, and how very many ways there are to express it. Bookmaking helped stitch up all the diverse directions my work was heading at the time, and allowed me to see them as one. Thank you, Celia!

Of all the pieces/projects you’ve created, was there one that changed your outlook on art?

The MAMA Project, which I first exhibited in 2010 really made me realize the emotional impact of sharing raw story. It was an installation of portraits of mothers on used bed sheets, and their recorded voices meandering around the space, telling about the joys and trials of mothering and being mothered. I realized on the first day of the installation that I had to provide tissues and chairs for people to sit and cry. It was very impactful for me to realize how much people need to be heard, and how much we need to hear each other’s stories. I’ve never done a show since that didn’t include some aspect of community story-sharing, and that’s always the most important part.

What’s a typical studio day look like for you?

My studio is a gorgeous little building that my husband built from reclaimed lumber and windows, just down across the marsh from our home. Cup of green jasmine tea, overalls on, hopefully some snacks. Some recording that suits the project and whatever appropriate supplies. Ahhh… relief! Then I emerge some or many hours later, exhausted and thirsty and famished because somehow these things never occur to me while I’m working. It’s a fabulous process!

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