I needed somewhere to put my grief. Not to hide it away and forget, but to articulate it, record it, preserve this “preciously awful” time. It was the grief before mourning, the grief before the death had occurred. Anticipatory. A thing in itself.

Oubliette, a book centred on the vicarious gardener, Ericca Godfrey—my mum. The experience of anticipatory grief is woven with scraps of conversations and memories that were shared over several years between us: two people who loved one another wonderfully and irreplaceably. Published by Nevermore Press, autumn 2023.

Reviewed by Madeline Bogoch for The Uniter.

“The stuttering of fragments from Top Gun to Tracy Emin to Cicero renders a moving present-tense of grief in this text. Godfrey’s keen ear and vivid memory cast shadows that are deftly traced to form an outline of what has been cleft from the writer.” Rebecca La Marre, editor Apophony Press.

Buy your copy here or here.

The Lights of my City

An essay commissioned by Winnipeg Arts Council, October 2022

Hannah Godfrey (hannah_g)

I carry an image in my memory of a place that is real but does not exist. It’s a cave, a sandstone-ish cave and I don’t know how big it is. It’s dry, hospitable, and its walls are uneven, full of nooks, cracks, scoops, and sheers of many sizes. Ultimately, it’s a cave that will not ever be fully known, some of its surfaces will remain forever in the shadows and that’s no bad thing; it’s not always for the good to have absolutely everything in sight. This cave is, of course, within me. When I speak or write about it my hands go to my chest and stomach, so I think that’s where it lives.

I first became aware of this cave at the Fort Whyte Nature Centre. I was with my friend, Azzy. We’d gone there a few weeks after we’d stopped dating and started our friendship. She asked me how I felt about our relationship. The cave swam into my mind as I tried to put into words how she made me feel. As I described it to her the cave grew into a real place, I could see it so clearly. She had been like a lantern held up to reveal beautiful peachy-almond colours and depths I hadn’t seen before. To experience that had been wonderful, a true marvel.

The cave’s illumination is not limited to friendship, romance, or family. Fleeting exchanges—glances, gestures, brief words—those lights may be remembered for years. And it isn’t limited to people either, places can be lanterns too.

For months last year, I walked along the stretch of the Assiniboine River that flows through downtown Winnipeg. Close to the water, I watched seeds sprout into saplings that grew optimistically. I began to recognise the people I passed each morning. Most days I’d see the silver slip of a fish as it broke the water’s surface with a tight flip, and once I’m sure I saw an otter floating on her back. I enjoyed the rogue gardening of a lady who planted cosmos and sunflowers near some unused ornate steps where she hauled water from the river in large ice cream pails. We didn’t share a language but we shared delight in her flowers’ progress. It’s only looking back that I understand that the river and all of the activity around it were lanterns, surprising with me with new patterns of light and movement.

The walks stopped this year with the prolonged flooding of the river path. I made a few half-hearted attempts to reroute through the parks perched atop its banks. In one of these parks is a reflecting pool but in the late spring it was dry with only grit and litter rustling around it. Near one end is a plinth, an empty rectangular cube about a metre high. One morning when passing by I saw a grimy duvet bundled on top of it. I continued for a few steps before the realisation sunk in that there was a person in there. I backtracked and watched for small movements that would tell me the being in the bundle was ok. It remained perfectly still. After a few minutes, I asked softly, “Hallo? Are you alright?” A head with short brown tousled hair suddenly appeared and a face with barely open eyes nodded at me and gave me a sweet, sleepy smile, the kind that’s usually only seen by a lover or a mother.

A lot has changed for me this year, although the river is presently at its more usual level. Maybe the changes are why the cave and lanterns have been in my thoughts and conversations more—it’s an evocative way of describing the effect that people, places, and experiences have on us; as well as their absence. We illuminate different aspects of each other: giddying and gorgeous, it can happen with a new friend or falling in love or visiting somewhere new. The honeylight soaks our stone and illuminates the depth and colour and shapes within us that in turn reflect back onto the lantern bearer. We find ourselves capable of great things, of experiencing the fullest sensations of life, of understanding ourselves in a way different to the one we are habituated to. Amazing, humbling gift of fullness and joy.

From the beginning of our lives we encounter lanterns. It’s not simple at all. For unlucky folks, the lanterns bore down too harshly or cast more shadows than light. I was very lucky. I had a big, beautiful, steadfast one shining on me with an unceasing sunny light as soon as I popped into the world. My mum filled me with such golden love that the walls of my cave are forever glowing with it.

My mum is one the greatest loves of my life and I was one of hers. With her death, the quality of her light within me has changed. Although it is still there, I have to concentrate and close my eyes to feel it instead of giving her a call and hearing her talk. I know her light will always be within me but I miss her gentle lantern, the me-with-her. I miss her so much.

When I reached my home in the UK, I learned she had died before I’d even boarded my flight and terrible mourning fell upon me like a curtain made of treacle. As days passed among the loving lanterns of my family, I was barely aware of some other tiny points of light in the overwhelming darkness that cloaked the future, but by the end of two weeks there was a scattering of persistent white pinpricks poking through. The celebration of my lovely mum’s life took place in the English countryside with those who loved her so very, very much and then—I was back on a flight crossing the gloomy Atlantic again, bound for my other home in Winnipeg, the home where I live.

This city, where many of those tiny, powerful lights twinkled from across thousands of silent miles grew into a quiet chorus of mismatched lanterns held by kind, steady hands, that have been helping me find myself again.  

An Apartment In Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

By hannah_g

With thanks to Derek Dunlop and Bossy & Jayme Spinks and Helah.


Last month I found myself in a dim café off Platform 1 of Stroud railway station. After getting my coffee, I stood by a window that repelled light, and idly listened to the chatter of the other passengers waiting for the 9.04 to London, Paddington. I soon realised that the woman who ran the place had quite a few regulars: “Going to the dentist again, John?”, “… you’ll enjoy looking out the window, Barb.” It’s a cosy though chilly nook, with old railway memorabilia on the walls, and newspapers presented on a table. The woman (flyaway hair escaping from a grey-white topknot) dispensed coffee, tea, and bacon sandwiches. Framed cartoons depicting rail service scenes from the 1930s lined one wall, romances and mysteries lined the shelf beneath them. The stuff in this place looked like it had been accrued over time, its purpose only becoming apparent when this café was acquired by the current owner. Or perhaps not its purpose; simply an opportunity.

A partial meaning

Being near strangers and also apart meant that we imagined each other’s company. A new space was formed by the act of communicating. Exchanging thoughts, memories, opinions, snippets of ourselves we furnished this apart space and dwelled in/used it for moments of consecutive days. Like any private place, you have to be there to know, but your there and my there will remain separate. If we should share a space it will simply be another space, related to, perhaps informed by, that which we previously created in our respective minds.

An apartment- a place to shelter from the weather and other people. A place to share an incomplete praecie of who you are, what you know and value, and sometimes who you love and have loved. A home. Above, below, or beside other apartments containing other people using the space in ways most likely similar to you. A place to fulfil the private necessities and luxuries of life in comfort.

Exhibition / exposition / exposure

The original properties of the word ‘curate’ such as caring for, stewarding, sharing thoughtfully and knowledgeably I hold in regard. And I love looking at art objects and object objects and visiting places in which they have been collected and presented with intention. It will not be surprising that, for the most part, I rather like contemporary art galleries and believe in their purpose as places to encounter objects, experiences, texts, bodies, and ideas. They are places to think intimately and usually solitarily, despite the presence of other visitors. Seeing art and objects in a person’s home is a kindred experience though different in important ways. Depending on one’s relationship with the home one is in, one might cast surreptitious glances at things or confidently ask after them. One is exposing one’s level of interest.

A few days ago I asked an artist, “Where would you like people to see your work?” And via the tumble of conversation, I wondered about the setting up of circumstances for people to see art in a home without them realising that that was what was happening. Using cruising apps was my initial thought because of the nature of the artist’s work. The moments of being in unfamiliar domestic settings that precede sex, what would one see in that heightened state? What would one remember? And what about the act of cruising the art itself? The artist described doing this when he visits a gallery. Looking within the mists of intention when anything is possible.

Abigail’s Agenda

Strangers, acquaintances, neighbours, pals, friends are the components of a certain kind of community, usually one defined by geography. How do we get to know one another and when do we want to do this? How can we see what each other does? What if it isn’t on neutral ground? What if we become a guest as well as an acquaintance? What if we become a guest as well as an old friend? What if we become a host as well as an artist?

Let’s find out.

Typesetting and design by Jayme Spinks.

Interview published for Derek Dunlop’s exhibition End Forms at Lisa Kehler Art + Projects 2015

Published by Lisa Kehler Art + Projects.

The following interview took place between Derek Dunlop and Winnipeg-based writer, artist, and dj, Hannah Godfrey.

hannah_g: Let’s start with the basics: paint. The paint that you are using for these works is important and particular. Could you talk about the manufacturer of this paint and what makes it unique?

Derek Dunlop: For the most part, these paintings were made using Williamsburg Handmade Oil Colours. I started using them in the summer of 2014 when I was artist in residence with the Golden Foundation for the Arts in upstate New York. During the residency, I was able to experiment with all the material that GOLDEN makes. Williamsburg Oils are all handmade in small batches. They were developed by the artist Carl Plansky in the 1980’s and GOLDEN took over producing them in 2010 after Plansky passed away. The paint is produced in a very traditional way. The grind of the pigments in each colour reflects how best that colour will appear when mixed with the binder. As a result, each colour has a unique texture, mass, sheen, density, brightness, and depth. The paint is close to what early paint manufacturers would have produced before the over-commodification and industrialization of artist supplies in the 20th century. In my experience, only oil can achieve the subtle effects of colour that I seek.

hg: These particular paints with their individual textures and properties are fundamentally anti-generic, and this seems in line with a queer practice. Taking and then queering colours is subversive and expansive: what does it mean to queer colour? 

DD: I’m not entirely sure what it means to queer colour. And I’m not entirely sure that I am queering colour. I started producing work for this show by researching colour. I’ve produced about a dozen different colour charts. Some of the paintings have up to seventy-two colours on one canvas. I do think a lot about the historical value of colour and its materiality. I think about how our feelings towards colours have histories, how they are subjective and yet still specific. Many of the paintings in this exhibition explore ambiguous colours with a paired-down palette. These colours are created by mixing complementary colours in order to create shades of grey, and then altering the tone.

hg: These works have more overt emotion in them, there’s a different kind of search happening. What has influenced your trajectory to this point? 

DD: My process is becoming less systematic and slightly more poetic. I give myself more room to move. Many of the paintings in the show deal with a very basic compositional strategy of creating a square out of a rectangle, and then improvising with materials in order to express a thought or feeling. It isn’t predetermined. In terms of abstraction, I am interested in process and form equally. How can a way of working complicate and expand our ideas about subjectivity?

hg: The emotion in the work is rooted, of course, in your body which also contains your deep engagement with art history and the history of painting in particular, queer theory, social politics. Your gestures with paint and your choices of colour are intuitive here but that intuition is grounded in rigour. Was it difficult to adopt this process? What were the stakes?

DD: I am constantly responding to my materials, and often there is a compromise between how I want my materials to perform and how they are performing. My most successful paintings go through moments of creation and destruction. I acknowledge the double bind that exists within contemporary painting practice: the desire to paint mixed with the recognition of the limitations of the material. My desire to paint is guided by how it relates to my drawings, and where drawing and painting overlap. Both practices represent a kind of longing and a desire for transformation: a longing for visibility and a longing for invisibility.

hg: What role did your body play in these paintings?

DD: Touch is important to my process. I often think about embodied knowledge. How do we find value in other forms of knowledge? What does this knowledge look like? How are social forces embedded in the body, and how do they find material form?

hg: The space which the paintings create within themselves and within the viewer demands conscious involvement in both spheres. It is a complex experience that involves a degree of surrender and of trust. Does this mirror your state when you produced them?

DD: Trust is very important when considering a work of art. There are so few common registers these days for determining value in art. That’s probably a good thing.  I put a lot of trust in my process.  I trust my instincts. My process has developed over time. Each series relates to the one before.

hg: Are you asserting a radical approach to the tangled act of looking?

DD: I value difficulty. Which is probably more closely linked to a modernist project than what is happening in contemporary art. Cultural information, including art, is communicated in simple ways. The concept of difficulty has an important role to play in the creation and reception of artworks. Not difficulty for the sake of isolating the viewer, but as a technique for interrogating how objects generate meaning.