The Holding Centre

In Every Direction, the first artist’s book by Sylvia Matas, is a subtle, visual meditation on time, space and sensation. Simply printed in an edition of 100 copies, black-and-white and unpaginated, the 45 drawings, photographs and text pieces that make up the book focus on the idea of centering. That measure is taken in our being, and in the universe. WB Yeats famously declared, “the centre cannot hold” and, as a result, “things fall apart.” Matas has a different view: we just haven’t figured out how they hold together. “There’s the feeling that I’m at the centre while the universe is infinite and expanding in every direction,” says the Winnipeg artist. “Everything is moving away from me at an exponential rate, infinitely, in every direction, from every centre point. So my book moves back and forth between the micro and the macro and where we sit in that spectrum.”

One way of presenting the macro is through the numerous drawings of wind movements. Taken from the Beaufort wind scale, they are wildly divergent configurations of arrows indicating the direction, velocity and rhythm of wind. “There is something both interesting and absurd to me about mapping wind because it’s continually moving and always happening. I see a kind of windiness moving throughout the project.”

The wind maps may have been taken from the Internet but Matas insisted on recomposing them. Drawing is her touchstone and the range of drawings included in the book is impressive and surprising; a leaf eaten by a caterpillar, a stick-line tree, a combination of lines and forms that look like a schema for the connecting structures of bone in the human body. “I don’t have a particular drawing style, so the drawings are different. I try to draw in a way that suits the image.”

If time and space are the coordinates that shape the book, sight and sound are the senses that provide its content. Many of the charts she included are registers of sound, and the range is personal, natural and cosmological. There is a chart that tells us about the calls owls make, taken from a field guide, and there is a list of noises we might encounter in a day, from the soothing sounds of breathing and rustling leaves, to the aural assaults of chainsaws, gunshots and fireworks. “My vision is very connected to my body, so vision is the dominant one of all my senses. It creates what I see and what is the most obvious. Sound is a bit more slippery. We hear sounds and we’re not quite sure what they are, or where they’re coming from. There’s a sense of movement in sound. I find that it is more connected to an inner experience, with my mind and my sense of physicality in space, and with things that might be really distant from me.” For Sylvia Matas, sound is elusive and sight is dominant. What In Every Direction gives us is a glimpse of the vacillating certainty and ambiguity of those informing perceptions. ❚