lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

My Dad

In Uncategorized on August 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Charles Chitty

My dear father died on August 19 about 7:30 a.m. after entering the hospital the evening of August 11. This is an art blog and this writing will be filtered through that lens, although boundaries are only something I have achieved in later life after much effort, my inclination being to not see them or knock them down. But at a certain point I understood they were necessary for mental health and to make a living. So, through that lens, here is the story of my father’s death.

I took Yvonne Rainer’s Feelings Are Facts with me to Hamilton General Hospital and read it at times, especially when he passed the point where he was no longer “there” to talk to or touch. The book continues to feel very close to my life. I’m at the point where she breaks up with Bob Morris. It was with some relief I read of her unpleasant experiences while on international art performances! There are no parallels in our lives regarding our relationships with our fathers.

I have not yet recorded that soon after the opening of The Wheels on the Bus, I realized the garden was infested with a population of wood bugs of stunning proportions. I am very glad I have outgrown the skin-crawling feeling that once would have accompanied the very sight of them. I have crushed thousands and thousands of bugs with my gloved hands and sprayed and poured insecticidal soap on them. I had previously believed these insects to be benign and plodding creatures, however, they have consumed all foliage from the morning glories which now stand no chance of blooming and all that remains of the rudbeckia are stems and stamens. I attribute their presence to the mulch the City put down (I have never liked mulch!).

They have seriously upped the ante on required garden maintenance. I do my work around 7:30 a.m. each morning and I missed going for at least two mornings when my father was moved to Hamilton General Hospital. (The medical services and facilities in Niagara are appalling because the health dollars go to the close and larger Hamilton region. There is not one vascular surgeon in Niagara.) On August 16, I pulled a mattress into his room and slept on the floor beside him so I could touch his hand or speak to him when he cried out. August 16 was the last day he was himself, however, he was experiencing some hallucinations, probably from the morphine. On August 17, he had been moved into a semi-private with no other patient so that our family could use the extra bed and my sister stayed that night. August 18 I decided to not stay as my father had been in a coma for 2 days, his systems shutting down one by one but his heart and breathing still going strong. The 10 cm aneurysm in his lower abdomen they found August 12 never did rupture and he just suddenly stopped breathing on the morning of August 19. At that moment I was in the garden cursing and crushing wood bugs. This morning I returned to do the same; this time my father’s body was resting only a few hundred feet away at Passfield Mortuary Service. He will be cremated tomorrow.

When I was an adolescent and young woman, it pained me to think of my father in his factory job which he seemed to hate although he was highly conscientious and dedicated. He always had so many interests and passions and it seemed tragic to my baby boomer sensibility that he had to suffer the fires of the General Motor foundry. He retired in late 1979. When I performed History, Colour T.V. & You at a performance art festival in Lyon, France in 1981, my father announced he was coming too. It was slightly odd, having one’s father at an international performance art festival, but we were very close still in those years and we both enjoyed the trip together. At the time, René Blouin was a good friend, and we met up with him, then with Kate Craig and Hank Bull in Paris. I was working Kate’s job at the Western Front during this period of time, while she and Hank toured the world on Canada Council grants (back when you could do such things!). Carolee Schneemann was kind enough to seek me out after my performance but I was too weirded out and insecure to barely say a word to her. I remember that Gilbert & George were at the Pompidou Centre. My father and I ate Cœur à la crème for the first time in Lyon. (I made it for his 90th birthday in June.) I bought a Swiss Army Knife in Grenoble which I later lost while working at the Mendel Art Gallery.

Over the years, my parents have regarded my work with a combination of bafflement, disdain and pride. I have long thought that my father thought I was a bit daft to be engaged in such activities as I was always very bright at school and the first member of our family to get a university education. I can see that his perspective would be of someone who escaped the strangulation and limitations of the British class system to come to Canada for a better life for himself and his family, only for one of them to choose a life of hardship and financial incompetence because of a preoccupation with art he didn’t understand and which didn’t provide a living or have much of an audience. He had a great appreciation for classical music and literature and the arts filled his life. He was a wonderful wood carver and turner. His failing eyesight forced him to give up carving long ago but he went into his shop to turn wood and “mess about” until the end.

I am very grateful that I had the exhibitions at Grimsby Public Art Gallery late last year and that my father was able to see them and attend the opening of Fall and artist’s talk at which I thanked him for instilling in me the love of nature that influenced the work.

 The last “normal” day of my father’s life was Sunday, August 9 and on that day I took him for a drive out to Niagara Nurseries where I bought more alyssum for The Wheels on the Bus. We drove past the new building at Ball’s Falls and around the countryside. He hugely enjoyed the trip. I had said I would show him the garden, then forgot and headed to his home. “I thought we were going to your garden?”, he asked. “Next time Poppa”, I had replied.

P.S. on Sept. 27 – This past week Rodman Hall distributed their marketing for upcoming exhibitions and projects including an artist working in the garden and niche. I wept from disappointment and frustration. I’ve wanted to work in their garden since the 90s and started a project when Terry Graff was there which has not come to completion because of lack of interest in my work from anyone there since. Last year I submitted a proposal for the niche based on that garden work. It suddenly hit me how for so many years I had wanted my father to see an exhibition of my work at Rodman Hall. (I wish the artist well, don’t get me wrong on that.)

  1. Dear Elizabeth,
    I am so sorry to hear about your Dad.
    Very big love and hugs to you.

  2. Hi Elizabeth
    I loved reading about your father and also History Colour TV and you thats one of my favourite pieces of yours…
    best wishes and I’m sorry for your recent loss

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