Private life, public art

By Laura Copeland

The public and private spheres may be a common idea in contemporary art, but Cheryl Pagurek takes them to a new level.

Using images taken from print and TV news, Pagurek layers, folds, glues and even sews these photographs into three-dimensional models of things found in the home, such as a crib or a kitchen sink. In this way she combines the public sphere of the media images with the private sphere of the domestic. The title of each work refers to a specific date with the object’s name in brackets. One piece is entitled April 21 (diaper shirt).

Pagurek’s exhibition, A Day in the Life, will be the subject of a new show at the Ottawa School of Art that runs for most of February.

“The concept is a juxtaposition of the domestic realm and the public realm, co-existing levels of reality and simulation and the play between the physicality of sculpture and the illusion of photography,” says Pagurek.

Pagurek’s work documents a struggle that women have faced for many years, connecting their domestic life with public life. In fact, Pagurek has experienced firsthand the difficulty that women face in having children and being relegated to the home. At 31, Pagurek has a two-and-a-half-year-old son, David.

“I didn’t do art work for a year after I had my son,” says Pagurek. “I didn’t have the support. I had no idea I would be so taken up with the care of this baby.”

Yet Pagurek, who holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from Queen’s University and a masters in fine arts from the University of Victoria, says women can still have a political voice even if they do all of their work in the home.

“Sometimes the actual process of running the house takes all your energy,” she says. “But women can be active on a community level. It’s important to know other people at the same stage as you. It’s important to make links with other people when you’re at home.”

Pagurek acknowledges it’s not only women who may be confined to the private sphere.

“I assume that these things would be the same for men who are at home,” she says. “In fact it’s sometimes harder for men. Some men at home are not as comfortable attending playgroups.”

François Dion, artistic and managing director of Gallery 101, says that Pagurek’s sculptures are unique.

“Her work can be described in a philosophical context,” he says. “Formally, Cheryl’s work is interesting because it’s like two very, very different practices that she takes and plays with.”

Gallery 101 displayed Pagurek’s work in an exhibition last fall, and Dion says Pagurek is the type of artist his gallery welcomes.

“We are always looking for something challenging. We are trying to show practices that are much more contemporary,” says Dion.

The Ottawa School of Art seems to share this vision. Pagurek’s work was submitted to a jury before being chosen to be displayed, according to the School’s gallery director Anna Carlman Parker.

Pagurek hopes that her work will make people pause and reflect.

“We tend to get caught up in everyday life. Artwork can make people stop and think. Artwork can help one situate themselves within a larger context.”