So this convent and this whole place as it existed for 40 or 50 years is gone. It only exists now in this replica you see in the gallery.
—Dominique Rey, artist
As part of the Winnipeg Now
exhibit, Rey has constructed a replica of a basement greenhouse that was in a convent on Moore Street in St. Vital.
She has been working on a major project with the order of nuns, Les Filles de la Croix or the Sisters of the Cross, for seven years. She's travelled to Brazil, Argentina and France but has spent the most time with them in Winnipeg.
This work comes out of the first chapter of her time at the convent, painting portraits of daily life and using a medium-format camera to capture everyday moments. Her "Greenhouse" installation was inspired by one of the photos she took, of a basement greenhouse where plant rejects were kept and tended to by one of the nuns.
Dominique Rey, Les Filles de la Croix, 2012. Video installation. (Dominique Rey)
On a recent walking tour of the exhibit with Information Radio
host Terry MacLeod, Rey explained what motivated her to recreate this particular structure. "For me it's a kind of metaphor for the life these women have lived," she said. "They are out of the spotlight, they spend their whole lives serving others. It's not really something the vast majority of people know about but in reality they have cared with so much gentleness, humility and generosity. So these plants stand in for a greater picture of the kind and loving nature of these people."
Another motivation to capture and display this bit of history is that the convent where the nuns lived no longer exists. Too few residents and a greater need for care prompted the convent to be put up for sale, and the nuns relocated to St. Boniface. "So this convent and this whole place as it existed for 40 or 50 years is gone. It only exists now in this replica you see in the gallery," Rey explained.
To get the recreation as authentic as possible, Rey worked with a greenhouse and botanist to make sure the plants growing inside it were right. And she hopes to bring one sister down to the WAG each week to help care for the plants. As she says, "It's a sculpture, it's an installation but ultimately it's a stage for this performance where we will come and water the plants, prune the plants and check up on them."
When asked why she has devoted so many years to this project at the convent, Rey had an easy answer. Her work often explores groups of women who exist on the periphery of society. But this one has a deeper, more personal connection too. "I had two aunts who were members of the order. One passed away when I was a teenager. In some ways she's the first person who acknowledged me as an artist."
Winnipeg Now runs September 29-December 30 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery