Artist Statement

Maman Disait

Dedicated to
Rita L. St. Germain Côté, 1919-1982

Writing on the proverbs as my raison d'être for doing the collages.

 I don't necessarily want or need the "book" definition, intellectual experience of the proverbs as my primary focus...not yet anyway.  The collages are the story of my experience of the proverbs, sayings, maxims that maman disait, had access to, from where I do not know, but without meaning to, passed onto me. 
 I have a memory of them being said both--French and English--heard culture, culture transference at the most-lived level--as ordinary, not extra ordinary, in the course of the daily doings of a day.  Cause and reaction--explanations by the hundreds of learned words, a mystery how or where she learned these, to explain, understand, express, observe, pronounce, sympathize, aggregate, observe the passing, daily world.
 Toward foibles, the fancy formidable, and frank she would pronounce the proverbs at will--I am shocked to find how many of the proverbs she knew that I remember having heard as daily fare.  Something would happen, she'd walk by and in rapid-fire French express a proverb in response.  I knew something special, something different had just been said.  I would stop what I was doing, and demand an explanation, a translation, because even though I understood French completely--no need for translation for most things said-- but here was a language unfamiliar to me.  Sometimes, she'd try to translate, or explain, mostly she'd say, "Oh, it's just one of those old sayings they always used to say."  And here she was repeating it to me out of her memory. 
 Who used to say this?  "Oh, les vieux."  How old were the vieux et vieilles?  I don't know.  All I know is that the proverbs lived in her, came to me, and I recognize them by sounds once spoken to me, and they prompted the visuals to match my own interpretation of them in the collages.
 A proverb, or saying, pronounces a final word or explanation--understanding, giving insight, to the situations of the world.  A way of ordering life--holding authority, or sway, over the uncontrollable--so that it becomes controllable.  Proverbs as pagan spiritual praying--in co-existence with the creator.
 I wanted to see these proverbs in print--in a frame--as home graffiti--kitchen art--or to experience the French in places one has seen in English.  To render the French on the wall as a way of marking the spaces as chez-nous pour nous.  To simply have French on the wall. 
 About the Frames and their place in the home.  Frames, historically being inconsequential--when a thumb tack or nail often sufficed as the way to hang a picture, calendars--the prime source of art in a home--alongside the religious artifacts of statues, rosary beads, holy fonts, etc.  Frames are a luxury.  Not always indulged in when hanging things on the wall.
 French proverbs as art now. 
 I want to know how she "knew"the proverbs, sayings, as told to her by the old folks.  The actual knowing of something to have it be your own.  The instance of transmission of the so-called "folk knowledge"...and for the time being, I want to resist a textbook explanation of the meaning of such a transference.  Because the textbook knowledge, explanation is an intellectual exercise, whereas, for me to come to understand the role of the proverbs, I believe the door to pass through has more to do with emotions--plus home-grown knowledge--to arrive at a shared knowledge.  Something different than formal knowledge which is helpful to explain the other kinds of knowing perhaps.
 Not that maman was unique, but just the opposite.  The proverbs, sayings, were ubiquitous--everywhere--and understood by many.  The point of exchange is unselfconscious understood culture transference.
 Where have the proverbs gone from our lives?  They played a part in the daily fare of maman's life and they have been replaced.  I'm interested to know why I do not know these proverbs/sayings at the same level as what my maman knew them.  Except for a few, but I don't say them on a daily basis as she did.  I recognize them when I see them, but I don't hear them as I once did.  Where do these artifacts of the cultures go when they become rare?
 She knew as many proverbs in English as she did in French, but I wanted to focus on the French proverbs because I wanted to see the French language in a "frame"hung on the wall--private/public displays of art which rewrites the view of defining the landscape of chez-nous, home.  To be surrounded by visuals that address the question of French language existence through artistic, problem solving.  To have things which maman disait à moé toutes les journées.
 This show is not simply an exercise in nostalgia, but how I choose to reclaim for myself, the proverbs, and to give meaning to them as I see them--part of the everyday magic of life. 

Rhéa Côté Robbins, Brewer, Maine
daughter of
Rita St. Germain Côté, Waterville, Maine
daughter of 
Victoire Gagnon St. Germain Daigle
Wallagrass, Maine


collage of french proverb plus de fous, plus on rit

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