Content warning: This article contains discussions of sexual assault and violence against women.
“I was Wearing Golden Clamshell Earrings” is part of the impact statement that Laura Magnusson, interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker, was not permitted to give during the trial regarding her sexual assault.
The featured exhibition on display at the University of Waterloo Art Gallery (UWAG) now bares this statement as its title. The exhibit is on display from Jan. 12 to Mar. 4, 2023.
As an artist, Magnusson explores felt experiences of trauma through the discipline of sculpture, installation, drawing, performance and video.
“And that was when I started to explore my own experiences, [of] sexual violence and then not just the events themselves, but the afterlife,” Magnusson said.
In 2013, Magnusson was sexually assaulted. The perpetrator was tried in the Court of Queen’s Bench and was acquitted of all charges.
The works in this exhibition, which include video, installation, sculpture, drawing and archival materials testify lived experiences and their impact on Magnusson over time.
“The drawings that you see in the show are 74 drawings representing each minute of the perpetrators testimony and the drawings aren’t composed. I held a pen and my arm was shaking because that’s one of my trauma responses,” Magnusson said.
When the perpetrator was delivering their testimony, Magnusson’s counselor sat with her. Every minute that passed her counselor would pass her a new sheet of paper to draw on as her hand shook in response.
These drawings, now on display at UWAG, became a visual testimony.
It was an embodied experience at a time when Magnusson was not permitted to speak.
The exhibit also includes a silent video shot 70 feet under water in Cozumel, Mexico.
The parka which Magnusson is wearing in the film is also featured in the exhibit, as it is hung in the middle of the room surrounded by her testimonial drawings.
“I wanted to use this archival wall to highlight like structural issues and victimizations and different obstacles that you can encounter. Above and beyond the violence experienced,” Magnusson said.
During the trial, Magnusson was required to compartmentalize her experiences over and over to provide particular information to the court.
Magnusson felt that her embodied knowledge and experiences was actively excluded from the proceedings. The exhibit inclusdes a recreation of a sexual assault evidence kit.
After making the model, Magnusson treated the kit as if it were a clam ready to be examined for growth rings. She had it encased in resin and cross-sectioned. The six sections of the kit are now on display.
“The process is really, really invasive. Not all people experienced it as such, but recently, [there has been] lots of discussion around the backlog of evidence that fit in my case,” Magnusson said.
“The Crown didn’t even enter my kit into evidence so it wasn’t even able to be used,” she said.
By having the clam cross-sectioned, it helps scientists determine and archive the climate conditions of the clam. Magnusson made the kit look like it was dredged up from the bottom of the ocean and examined.
Expressing her trauma across different media helped Magnusson speak from and through her body, and reclaim agency over the representation of her own story.
As an artist she invites the viewers of her exhibit to bear witness to the complex nature of trauma and the ongoing process of healing.
Magnusson earned a Master’s in Fine Arts (MFA) in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Michigan in 2019. Magnusson’s work is now based in Montreal, Quebec (Tiohtià:ke/).
She is a trained scuba diver who has filmed underwater in both Iceland and Mexico. She uses the medium of water as a site for healing and reconnecting with her body.