Quality is the first norm for art, but its final norm is love and truth, the enriching of human life, the deepening of our vision.


Spackman, Betty - VM - Karen Mulder

Betty Spackman: Found Wanting
Click here to first view the documentary by Kate Bradford on the exhibition before you read the text.
Dry Bones and Fatted Calves
by Karen Mulder
If forced to take on the unenviable task of summing up Betty Spackman’s work in one phrase, a serviceable response might end up sounding like this: this is an art that juxtaposes perverse and sometimes perversely humorous objects, statements and ideas with a sense of wonder and care, producing a dialogue salted with paradox. Her recent installation work, FOUND WANTING: A Multimedia Installation Regarding Grief and Gratitude, exhibits, among many other things, a cradle gently rocking a disjointed skeleton, fleshless cow shanks gussied up in bridal lace, and various bone compositions.
Such juxtapositions animate a dialogue that Spackman discovered to be ‘found wanting.’ Unconventional reliquaries generously offer their antiseptically cleansed relics to our gaze, as mute testaments to lives left behind. Beyond their metaphorical or prophetic projections, the bones translate into beautiful aesthetic forms in a purely visual sense. Gleaming and naked, the bones are, in effect, found wanting. They want for the bodies, souls, spirits, and lives that once animated them; they want for the marrow, blood and flesh that encased them. The justifications they provoke in us may also be found wanting. 
Spackman’s work is multivalent, polyfaceted, many layered – but such qualifiers merely muddle the clarity, integration and wisdom behind her ideas. Some may find it difficult to believe Spackman’s assertion that FOUND WANTING amounts to the most concentrated exposition on redemption that she has ever attempted, to date. The silent relics on display are donations from beings that not only experienced the awful eventuality of death firsthand, but have moved beyond it to some realm beyond the grasp of human knowing which, if we are honest, produces fear, trembling, anticipation, and awe. While Spackman rationally surveys the cruelty and carelessness of our species, she also anticipates the very real possibilities of redemption and transformation. Yet in Spackman’s universe, what we call transformation or redemption never assumes conventional forms; there is no tract, cleric, or church big enough to contain them.
Spackman reminds us that feasts never occur without sacrifice, and prompts us to consider sacrifice from many angles. One famous feast with a sacrifice surfaces in the well-known parable of the prodigal son. After recklessly squandering an entire inheritance, and being reduced to eating pig slop in the troughs with porcine acquaintances, the humiliated prodigal is surprised to find himself lavishly feted upon his return, with a fatted calf. The prodigal is entirely relocated by forgiveness, not only after being lost to the family, but after completely losing a sense of self. Paradoxically, Spackman gifts us with a fatted calf in an exhibition made of dry bones, welcoming us to enter a place of understanding and reconciliation between the squandering of life and the selflessness of sacrifice. 
The artist readily admits to her own carnivorous transgressions as a meat eater, yet presses on about the addiction to convenience that drives our consumerist economy, and the generally unacknowledged suffering this drive produces for animals as well as humans. Yet, she is not an editorialist, nor a humorist, nor a demagogue, nor a cultural critic, nor a silent witness regarding matters of conscience. And yet again, as an artist, she generates thoughtful responses that sidle up to all those arenas. “I am usually caught in a place somewhere in between the stance of opposing ideologies,” she reflects.

This place between opposing ideologies generates enough creative energy to fuel Spackman’s open-ended dialectical approach. She has never shown interest in simple pairings or obvious binaries, like “good” versus “bad.” Destruction and restoration co-exist in Spackman’s cosmos. FOUND WANTING plies the gray waters between enjoying and exploiting, between satisfaction and indulgence, between compassion and ruthless efficiency. Complexity is expressed in the simplest, most reduced terms (bones), and the most economic juxtapositions (cradle and bones).
This kind of art leaves the viewer grappling with a broad selection of possibilities. Sometimes, the viewing experience is reminiscent of a very annoying scab that itches, irritates, hurts, or just won’t go away. Although itching signals the beginning of healing, its persistence may chafe those thinkers who prefer everything fully healed and zipped up. Spackman’s personal take on faith allows for the possibility that this life cannot supply the complete resolution we long for, but that resolution nevertheless persists in a realm beyond our present sightlines. This gives her just enough strength to reside in the between zone, and compels her to make art that always attempts to start rather than finish a dialogue. In short, it gives her hope, which she generously shares.
Adapted from the introductory essay “Vivisections” in the exhibition catalogue Found Wanting: A Multimedia Installation on Grief and Gratitude.
Betty Spackman is an international multi-media installation artist and painter who has lived and exhibited in Canada, Europe and the US. Her work focuses on cultural objects and the stories connected to them. Currently based in Langley, British Columbia, Canada, she co-founded The Fort Gallery, an artist run gallery now in its 6th year. She has taught studio art at various universities for over 15 years and since moving to BC has been involved in community education and part time teaching at Trinity Western University. Spackman has been a guest speaker at many conferences and retreats including The Greenbelt Festival in England, the IAM Conference in New York City, and “Art Talks” at the Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, Canada. She is the author of A Profound Weakness. Christians and Kitsch, Piquant, UK 2005.
Karen L. Mulder is an art and architectural historian, who has spoken, taught, and written internationally on the connectivity between art and spirituality since 1981, focusing on the history of art and architecture after studies at Yale University, as Menil Scholar of Visual Arts. Her doctoral research at the University of Virginia provided the first analysis of a postwar German movement in stained glass design in its full cultural and psychosocial context. She currently teaches graduate studies at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington, D.C., writes in various venues, continues to lecture at professional gatherings, and does curatorial work.
Kate Bradford worked for many years in Toronto as a Senior Production Editor at the CBC. Since 2000 she has turned her attention to sculpting. In 2006 she began to re-establish herself back into video work. These days, Kate focuses on camera but continues to edit as well as work in producing and consulting. As an artist herself, Kate continues to sculpt with different mediums and has had 4 successful exhibits. Kate is an active member of the BC Professional Videographer’s Association and also sits on their Board of Directors.
Read Karen Mulder’s complete introductory essay “Vivisections” in the exhibition catalogue Found Wanting: A Multimedia Installation on Grief and Gratitude, click here
Read about Betty Spackman’s book A Profound Weakness. Christians and Kitsch, Piquant Editions – Carlisle, 2005. In this ‘image journal’ and textbook, the contemporary artist Betty Spackman takes us on a guided tour of her collection of images and objects that represent the Christian faith in popular culture. Having set out to critique these poor relations of ecclesiastical art, she finds herself torn between being deeply moved and outraged by their sentimental appeal. Read more
‘Play Time,’ an article by Betty Spackman. “I have often been asked to talk about the relationship between my faith and my art and have spent a great deal of time attempting to make sense of that relationship to myself, my students and the public, through my work, my teaching and my writing. However, I have come to realize that the question itself tends to perpetuate the rift many of us as are artists of faith are trying to heal.” Read more
ArtWay Visual Meditation September 5, 2010