For the last few years Cameron has been working on a series of large scale embroideries based on the Codex Canadensis, the first natural history of Canada, created by 17th C. French missionary Louis Nicolas. Nicolas drew the flora and fauna he encountered in the New World in a naïve, fantastical style that reflects his awe and subconscious fear of nature. He did not draw from life, and, obviously, there were no cameras. Instead, Nicolas relied on the engravings in reference books such as Conrad Gesner’s Historiae Animalium as source material for his depiction of animals he had seen or heard of. Following the principle of analogies, he used quill pen and ink to illustrate creatures that often bore little resemblance to the actual animal.
The gestural quality and limitations of Cameron's medium of stitched thread both amplify and simplify the pen and ink lines of Louis Nicolas. She has strived to be true as possible to his original image, just as Nicolas endeavoured to accurately copy Gesner’s engravings. Yet, with each generation of the image, change occurs. Cameron sees this as an inevitable aspect of the process of translation between art forms.
To this end, she adds elements of my own devising, layering systems of framing and classifying the world around us with the more oblique systems of symbol, dream and storytelling.
As translator Norman R. Shapiro writes:
“(The aim of translation) is to create a self-contained, self-standing work, one that has an almost mystical connection with the original, but a work that, ostensibly independent, transmits to whatever degree it can, its music as well as its message.”
From the time of Louis Nicolas and European exploration, Canadian culture has been fraught with the tension between attraction to the wild, dark unknown of nature, and the urge to tame, civilize and profit from it. Cloth and the homey, comforting associations we have with domestic embroidery are well suited to mediating this tension, being both a means of keeping frightening ideas at a safe distance, and, because of the painstaking process of stitching, to enable close examination and ultimately, both wonder and understanding.