Leave: of Absence

If any of you are in the Vancouver area from now until Feb 16, I highly recommend seeing this play:

Leave of Absence posterIt’s at Pacific Theatre in the basement of Holy Trinity Church on W 13 and Hemlock:

Pacific Theatre in Vancouver

By Vancouver playwright Lucia Frangione, the synopsis reads:

A community is blown apart when an audacious young girl challenges long-held views of spirituality and sexuality. The world premiere of a searing drama of bigotry and transcendence by the author of Espresso.

In the play, four adults wrestle with their beliefs, their contradictions, their prejudices, their hurt, their anger, their doubt, and their questions in response to a 15-year-old girl and what is going on in her world. A theme linking their reactions is absence (hence the title). They all embody this word in their own ways and extents: an absent priest, an absent teacher, an absent mother, and an absent father.

What does absence look like?

Van Gogh, Pair of Shoes, 1886

For me, there was no clearer picture than the sight of these shoes.




A scene in the play involving a pair of shoes brought this van Gogh painting so vividly to mind.

When I first came across this painting – an art history class in undergrad – I remember looking at it in the textbook and moving on quickly. There wasn’t anything particular special about a faded, worn-out pair of shoes. Then I read the description of it and if I could trace my first moment of “art appreciation,” I think it would be to that moment where I then realized this was so much more than a still life painting of shoes. Sometimes (most times I’d say) you don’t need to explain art to appreciate it, but other times, it really helps. It helped me see differently.

[read about the philosophical debate these shoes inspired over here]

Van Gogh, Pair of Shoes, 1886

Van Gogh, Pair of Shoes, 1886

Here is a picture of absence, a still life of what is left behind after a person’s life – their holes, their soles/souls. There is a sacredness to this ordinary pair of shoes. The laces are freshly untied, the leather is weathered. They are men’s shoes, worker’s shoes. Sitting there after a long day’s work or after life itself? They smell like him, they look like him. Like sadness? Like exhaustion? Holes for two feet to slip in or out of. The absence of what should be there makes the person’s presence stronger. Your mind mentally fills them in. That’s what holes do.

A letter (not one of St. Augustine’s). This one is actually from Bess Truman to Harry

When I was at UVic, a girl I knew in the Classics department was writing her thesis on presence and absence. Not in van Gogh’s work, but in St. Augustine’s. What medium did she use to explore this? His letters. When St. Augustine wrote a letter to somebody, his presence was all over it – it was signed by him, he wrote and penned the words, and his  state of mind came through in the way he expressed himself. The same could be said for us if we were to take up this lost art. Yet Augustine’s absence was everywhere in those letters. The written words remind the recipient that the living person isn’t there. They speak for him but they’re not him. A substitute at best. Ink for flesh.

Three arts.

Three ways of showing absence.

Three ways of fighting it.

2 thoughts on “Leave: of Absence

  1. Aw, I want to like this post, because I had never reflected on presence and absence before, so this post brings something fresh to me and presents me with other concepts I can use to make sense of my life. Thanks!

  2. i wish i was in vancouver to watch that play- it sounds like a great one to catch.

    art as a representation and an antidote to absence- i love that.

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