Marisa Portolese, Antonia’s Garden – Isa Tousignant, Tending the Garden

Marisa Portolese, The ordinary Instant 1, de la série / from the series Antonia's Garden, 2011, épreuve chromogène / c-print, 30 x 127 cm

Marisa Portolese, The ordinary Instant 1, de la série / from the series Antonia’s Garden, 2011, épreuve chromogène / c-print, 30 x 127 cm

Walk around in early winter and you may just spot a dash of colour peeking through from under the first coats of snow that blanket the front gardens. That’s a carnation. Long after the peonies, lilies, and daffodils have gone, this sturdy flower still shines its bright hues, in defiance of the season of death. It’s fitting that it is one of the flowers most commonly used in funeral wreaths, but it’s also a mainstay in Mother’s Day bouquets and prom corsages. Its eternal will and refusal to wilt make it the ideal marker for our rites of passage.

When Marisa Portolese came across a patch of pink carnations in Italy, while she was shooting her autobiographical project Antonia’s Garden, she couldn’t help but capture it, because the light was right, the palette was soft, and it was an irresistible image. But she had no idea that it would ever be a part of the profoundly personal body of work she was in the midst of producing. Over the course of the four years that went into Antonia’s Garden, though, as she made images, sifted through images, discarded images, and reconsidered images until she ended up with the ultimate selection of thirty-five, she also did research. She read that pink carnations are said to have first appeared when the Virgin Mary cried for Jesus as he carried the cross. The flowers blossomed where her tears had fallen and became a symbol for a mother’s undying devotion. As a lapsed Roman Catholic working on a project that has matrilineal relationships at its core, that symbolism could not have been more apt for Portolese. The image was selected and became Carnations: A Mother’s Tears, one of the most poetically potent photographs in this watershed project.

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Marisa Portolese is of Italian origin but was born in Montreal, Quebec, where she currently lives and works. She is an associate professor in the Photography Program in the Faculty of Fine Arts at Concordia University. Her practice includes photography and video, as well as curatorial work for several institutions. After graduating with an MFA from Concordia University in 2001, she has produced many photographic projects that have received critical acclaim: Belle de Jour (2002), The Recognitions (2004-05), Breathless (2007), The Dandy Collection (2003-08), Imagined Paradise (2010), Pietà (2010) and Antonia’s Garden (2007-2011). A monograph of Antonia’s Garden was recently published by UMA-La Maison de l’image et la Pho- tographie. Portolese is represented by Lilian Rodriguez (Canada) and Charles Guice Contemporary (USA).

Isa Tousignant is a contributing editor to the magazine Canadian Art, a blogger on the Montreal arts scene for, and a freelance writer on culture, lifestyle, design, and travel. After working as a newspaper and magazine editor for over a decade, she recently left the land of cubicles to write her first book, about animals in contemporary art.

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