A Mortsaf was a heavy iron cage or grille placed over the coffin or grave of a newly deceased person during the 19th century to deter body snatchers (primarily physicians and artists) and was thought to protect the sprit or soul of the deceased.
I created this as a Mortsaf for my father, who died in November, 2012.
The cedar canoe is reminiscent of the canoe we used at our cottage in the Laurentians. There was no road access to our cottage – you had to travel up a creek to the lake. When we were young, my father would always make us wear lifejackets in the rowboat or canoe, and they would be fastened with cotton webbing like that which makes up the “lid” of the Mortsaf. The rowboat had a two-horsepower motor, and because the beavers were always damming the river, the propeller was always getting snagged, usually breaking the cotter pin. Dad would often give me the extra cotter pins to hold in case we needed them. The silver coloured pins seen on the “lid” are cotter pins.
The 189 lbs of Laurentian rock in the bottom of the canoe represents my father’s weight when he died.
When you stand close to the canoe, you can hear the sound of the water in the creek ...
Mortsaf for My Father: Safe Passage, 40" x 158"x 24", Circa 1915 cedar canoe frame, cotton webbing, pine dowels, stainless steel cotter pins, 189 lbs Laurentian stone, Bluetooth speakers, recording of safe passage graphic score (Terri Hron - Recorder, Field recording, Norm Adams - Cello) 2014 – 2021
Installation views by Guy L'Heureux