Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood in the House of Commons on June 11, 2008 and apologized. His address was in regards to Indian Residential Schools in Canada.
“Truly, with the Stephen Harper apology, he was just the deliverer,” artist Cathy Busby says.
“Stephen Harper is apologizing as the Head of State. So it’s kind of wrong-headed to be thinking if he’s sorry or if he’s feeling it.”
For almost a decade now, Halifax-based Busby has focused on public apologies in her installation work of printed materials. Her exhibit, Sorry, was first displayed in 2005. Now it’s grown to include Harper for the first time ever on the walls of the Yukon Arts Centre Public Gallery.
“I had been doing work about pain prior to the work about public apologies and I was very interested in ideas about how you represent emotional pain,” Busby says, reflecting on the artistic journey of the show.
“At the same time, I was very interested in how the media cashed in on representations of emotional pain. So, people crying or reality television … those kinds of things.”
Sorry is a series of large-scale inkjet prints, each depicting actual apologies documented in the media.
A close examination of each five-foot wide image allows the viewer to see nothing but a rainbow of abstract pixels. Stepping away from the works reveals enormous mouths of politicians, CEOs and sports stars as they asked for forgiveness.
Busby calls herself an archivist at heart. In about 2002, she says she realized she’d accumulated a sizable collection of newspaper clippings of high-profile apologies over time.
“It was something that didn’t use to be news. So, I thought I was on to something,” she says.
“The mouth is where the words come from, and there’s the ‘read my lips’ take on it, and there’s Samuel Beckett’s Not I and many other references to speaking mouths,” she explains.
“I found it also very compelling because people read a lot into what is seen in the mouth.
Another new addition to Sorry is Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to Australia’s Aborigine population, also delivered in 2008.
Busby says, especially with these new works included, the show is about stirring up conversation.
“I find that they are a jumping off point for talking about politics and I think talking about politics is important,” she says.
No stranger to the Yukon, Busby worked with former YAC executive director Chris Dray in 2000 as a consultant on a research project to develop the territory’s arts scene.
Furthermore, she took on the role as curator for Bulldozer, a 2001 exhibition in Ottawa featuring Yukon artists like Meshell Melvin, Andrew Connors, John Steins and Doug Smarch.
Ultimately though, Busby’s artistic vision is concerned with socio-political actions and language, as well as the way society digests the attitudes and ideas that surround us. And that artistic niche is built from a perfect marriage of her studies in both communications and fine art.
“It feels like a vital art practice.”
Cathy Busby’s Sorry is on display in the Yukon Arts Centre Public Gallery until May 24.