A Chapel for Light: Camille Jodoin-Eng

Plaza by Camille Jodoin-Eng
Gladstone Art Hut, February 23-26th, 2017

Interview by Darby Milbrath
Video by Brittany Shepherd

Sun Tower

I like to think about the transitionary nature of a space. This space was a cafe once. Then it was hollowed out and empty, waiting to become a shiny condo—one of those hurriedly built condo’s whose doors will always be ajar once they’re swollen from the first heavy rain. But in the in-between time, for a mere, shimmering three days it was transformed into Plaza. A chapel of light. A sanctuary of water and reflections. A safe place with mirrored staircases, a fountain, and secret symbols spiralling into infinity. A glimmer, a sliver of time and space, full of illumination. 

What is a plaza?

Where there are masses of people there are plazas. Open and wide! Plazas guide the public through empty space. Large cities are constructed similarly to how a body is structured; it makes sense that we build our cities to reflect our own familiar framework and systems. In this exhibition I wanted to distill the elements that compose a plaza. Throughout time there have been many versions: ancient stone courtyards, slick shiny malls or shabby town squares. This is the physical heart of the city, where the people are like organs inside an architectural skeleton—swept up by currents of electricity, oxygen and water. The nerve-core. By using a familiar framework and context as a means to change my perspective, I am trying to consolidate my own disconnect between physical and psychological space.

Install Night 2

Fountain Night

Large Stairs Night

Did you create a heaven? Could you talk about your spirituality or religion?

I wanted Plaza to be a chapel for light. I remember asking about our religion when I was young: “You’re a free spirit!” was my mom’s response. At the time this was unsatisfying, I was beginning to grasp ideas of identity and her answer was ambiguous. I realize now it was a privilege to have such choice. I still don’t know what heaven is… pure energy? I believe the spirit is the connection between the physical and psychological. I wanted Plaza to be a peaceful place; there aren’t many public sanctuaries that exist in Western culture simply for quietness and reflection outside of religion.

Are all of the symbols a secret language for you? How long have you been creating them?

Yes!  I love secrets. I remember inventing a secret language of symbols in grade school to pass notes in class. The symbols are a personal, visual language for the many instances every day that there are no words specific enough but also whole enough to contain the meaning I want to convey. These symbols are a language for intuition, emotion, and instinct. I’ve never been one for words. They first came into use a couple years ago when I was going through my work looking for recurring patterns, refining those elements into the simplest forms, and cataloguing them. The symbols function as visual reference points for patterns in my daily life, anything that echoes in my mind. When a biologist discovers a species they name it, dissect it to understand its existence—through doing this they’re trying to have power over it. As if, if you name something it belongs to you. When explorers would come to a new place they would name that place first to assert power over it. If you can organize something and give it a name, you are trying to control that thing, understand it, have domain over it. I want to bring power to the subconscious. Intuition is a well of wisdom rarely credited.

Fountain Detail

Sun Stairs


What do the recurring images of staircases and ladders symbolize for you?

Leaving the ground, the earth, taking off! Staircases and ladders both imply movement and transition, ascension or descension. They are in-between areas. They function as entry and exit points into the work, and they bring you into spaces real and imagined. Staircases symbolize a portal, for me, something that will take you elsewhere.

Water is a new element to your work, the water audio, fountain, trident and water droplets. What inspired this?

Water represents humanity to me. Our bodies are mostly made of water. Often the ocean’s tides are associated with cycles of female fertility. I spent time in the ocean this summer and, submerged up to my eyes in the water, a silly thought tugged at my mind: “I am the sea.” I smiled as I imagined myself proclaiming this while bearing a metal trident, the weapon used by Poseidon to control the sea. This phrase kept entering my mind, even in the bathtub or in swimming pools. I take note of patterns. Every good plaza needs a water feature! I wanted the energy of the moving water in the room; the sound, the splashes, the wetness.

What was your first memory of a mirror? What does the mirror represent to you?

The mirrored surface is an image made of light, a surface of vision. It’s infinite light. My earliest memory of a mirror was at my grandparent’s house in Montreal. My Mami was a hairdresser in her day and had a mirror with adjustable panels on the sides so you could see any angle of your head. I remember looking into the mirror and slowly folding the panels around my head so that all I could see was my tiny face reflected infinitely. This was my first time experiencing mirror feedback—it’s a magical thing. It has to do with linguistics and the way we recognize meaning. A baby’s first words are often a repetition of sounds, “ma-ma.” Once randomness is interrupted by recurrence our instincts recognize this and assign meaning. Infinite repetition has an undeniable uncanniness to it.

What are your dreams for your work in the future?

To show internationally. I have a longtime dream of being flown out to Japan to have an exhibition. That would feel like a success for me. I want to apprentice with a neon bender and work on my neon bending skills. I have a dream of designing a secret nightclub, the whole interior—all of it! That would be a treat. Nightclubs can be a sanctuary to me, the music is so loud you don’t have to talk or think. I would love to create that escape, a portal out of daytime life. I want to work on an entire building and create an enveloping space. I often imagine my works as miniature architectural models for large spaces you could walk around in, really get lost. I think this show was the first step in that direction.

What do you hope your art will achieve in the world today?

Art is merely a means of communication, articulating ideas and emotions through form and image. I want my work to be a bridge between personal experience and universal understanding. To bear the individual spirit outwards to the world. If people recognize a part of me in themselves I’m happy for the human connection. If I can inspire empathy, I have succeeded.