Critical Writing Index

Ethel on Fire, What Wants to Be Spoken, What Remains To Be Said

by Pam Patterson

RFR, Aug. 18, v. 21, no. 3/4

Pam Patterson reviews the novel ‘Ethel on Fire’ by Helen Humphrey’s, alongside it’s sister work, a film collaboration with Su Rynard titled ‘What Wants To Be Spoken, What Remains To Be Said’. Through both works Humphrey’s puts forth questions regarding museums, history, and women. Starting with a quote from Sian Jones’ ‘The Female Perspective’:

“Museums appear to present a whole picture, while their evidence and their interpretation is only partial. They present, as natural and timeless, social systems that are culturally constructed and constantly changing. They present a past which gives the illusion of authenticity. (Jones)

Putting forth critique of the museum space itself, Patterson discusses the contribution of Humphreys to this dialogue, understanding her work to successfully “.. question the notion of a single true meaning and looks to the contradictory, the incomplete, the imagined...” (Patterson). She highlights that the strength of Humphreys' work is within her stories, which exist within imagined spaces of history. “It is these histories which challenge, in different ways, what feminists critique as the museum’s static, incomplete notion of history..” (Patterson 1)

To focus on her video work, ‘What Wants to be Spoken...”, Humphreys, in collaboration with director Su Rynard, question the museum in regards to it’s truth claims. By adopting visually evocative tableaus, Rynard and Humphrey’s develop a “...fictional framework within which real and imagined histories are presented.” (Patterson 1) By developing a narrative following the life of a Canadian pioneer woman, we witness her imaginative links to the legendary figure Marguerite de Roberval, and her place represented within the contemporary heritage museum. Rynard and Humphreys exercise their ongoing interest in the role of imagination in relation to museum display. “...Imagination, history, personal realities and fantasy interweave within the museum context and are played out on the stage of the museum exhibition.” (Patterson 2) Both the novel and the video provoke a “responsive, relevant and inclusive” attitude (Patterson 2) toward museum research and practice, while demonstrating it’s potential assistance to contemporary research on culture and education.

Videos, Artworks and Artists Cited

Ethel on FireHelen Humphreys

What Wants To Be Spoken, What Remains To Be SaidHelen Humphreys

What Wants To Be Spoken, What Remains To Be SaidSu Rynard