The final project that husband-and-wife artistic team Deborah Moss and Edward Lam collaborated on before Lam's death earlier this year will be on display in Toronto this weekend at Nuit Blanche, the annual all-night arts festival.
The Somnambulist is made of large acrylic panels that feature passages from Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, both of which express feelings about the night, with each letter set in Swarovski crystals.
It's a tribute to Lam, who died of an undetected brain aneurysm in April at age 54, Moss says. "It's really sad and horrible, and it is upsetting for me because this is sort of where we were heading," she adds, referring to the pair's increasing interest in returning to their fine-art roots. Over the years, they had worked with a number of luxury brands in the hospitality and retail industries, from the Four Seasons to Tiffany, including the work that helped earn them international attention, a two-storey wall of plaster curves inside the Blue Fin restaurant that opened at the W Hotel in Union Square in New York in 2001.
The name The Somnambulist is a reference to both the character from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, one of the couple's favourite films, and the people in a sleepy state who will encounter it this weekend in the windows of the Joe Fresh Store on Queen Street West.
"We just like the idea of people walking by at night and stumbling upon this thing. They're sort of sleepily absorbing all this art around them," says Moss.
"Edward and I each chose text from a book that had personal meaning. I read Proust one summer when I was 16. I try to pick it up from time to time, but you need a summer. I can still get lost in one sentence and revel in that chaos. For Edward, A Farewell to Arms had similar resonance in his teens," Moss explained in an earlier e-mail.
Moss and Lam were inspired to explore the intersection of art and display, Moss said in that e-mail.
"Both texts express a certain private moment of morbidity. We ask the viewer to relate to this moment in a public arena. There is a displacement of context that we chose to explore. Will the viewer stop to read the text? Will they read it over a few times and try to relate? Will they move on and continue the dialogue in their heart and mind? We also chose to use crystals and black Plexi to somewhat interfere with the legibility of the text. Will the viewer be distracted by the simple beauty of the sparkling crystals or will they try to get past that and read the text?"
Over the phone, Moss said that collaborating with her husband was nurtured over the more than two decades since they met as students at what was then the Ontario College of Art.
"We kind of saw things through each other's eyes," she says. "It was a heady time. The art world was a bit more concept-driven."
While the pair made "pretty" things, whether art, furniture or interiors, "we always had to find some kind of meaning in what we did," Moss says.
The studio that the couple founded together in 1987, Moss & Lam, currently employs more than a dozen full-time staff.
Lam's death "still kind of feels like a bad dream," Moss says. But she is more energized and excited about the studio's work than ever, she says.
"Ed was this really pragmatic guy. I can hear him saying, 'What's your problem? Get on with it.'"