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
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
Rita St. Germain Côté, Waterville, Maine
Victoire Gagnon St. Germain Daigle
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