CANADA, MY HOW YOU’VE CHANGED: Shine A Light at the National Gallery of Canada illuminates landscapes dramatically transformed

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky, 1990 (© NGC)

“Shine A Light, Cast A Shadow”

Canada is known for its tradition of depicting resplendent and majestic landscapes but the inspirational legacy passed down by artists like those in the Group of Seven aren’t echoed by the contemporary artists featured in the National Gallery of Canada’s show of new acquisitions.

The vignette of Lawren Harris’ North Shore, Lake Superior, as seen from the Gallery’s water court and framed by rose granite walls, shares with us a vision of the Great White North as a pristine place. Now the more North you go the more you experience the impact of global warming. The Inuit populations located in Northern Canada are the canaries in the coal mine of climate change. The situation is dire and artists in Canada have responded.

I entered the Shine A Light exhibit at a different point each time and each time I was confronted by works that overwhelmed me with a sense of dread. Artists used to celebrate this land. Now artists like Edward Burtynsky, David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur scatter themselves across the globe to photograph how human populations are manipulating, extracting and polluting their environments often beyond the point of no return.

Edward’s work is by far the most familiar. His command of composition is always breathtaking, even exhilarating because of the scale of the photographs. They suck you in. They are cinematic making you feel a part of the terrain. He places you at ground zero, he’s like the Weegee of the environmental crime scene and you can’t look away.


Isabelle Hayeur, Death in Absentia II, 2011 (© NGC)

David McMillan and Isabelle Hayeur are lesser known but have equally challenging content. David photographs Chernobyl and Isabelle the dead waters of America. The discombobulating viewpoint of Isabelle’s photographs drown you. David’s work brings back the ghosts of the cold war, the stuff of children’s nightmares and threats of nuclear winters. Glasnost saved us from a global moment of disaster but nuclear technology was still devastating for many Russians. His work provides a document of disaster that irradiates how our modern material culture is forever stuck in some plastic purgatory that’s going to be hard to get out of.


David Hartt, Awards Room at the Johnson Publishing Company Headquarters, Chicago, Illinois, 2011 (© NGC)

The content of David Hartt‘s photography in Stray Light, also about location documentation, is aesthetically more palatable, you could even say seductive. Instead of cold war ghosts you feel a guilty sense of nostalgia for that time before the OPEC crisis, a time when North Americans thought there was no real harm in living large. The video component of Stray Light takes us into the building of the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) former home of Ebony Magazine. As the video transitions smoothly from room to room, accompanied by the lush music of jazz flutist Nicole Mitchell, because of what I witnessed en route to David’s work I can’t shake off a sense of foreboding.

The African sculptures made of wood and stone seem confined in the plastic fantastic world of JPC. People move in and out of the scenes hedged in by office structures that conflict with the softer movements of their bodies proceeding through the space. Watching the final moments of the iconic Ebony in it’s place of conception is like entering a crypt in a necropolis that lures you with its beauty. It feels like the oxygen is going to be sucked out of the building and eventually the space will become a time capsule shrink wrapped for the archive and searching for its final resting place.

Geoffrey Farmer, Leaves of Grass, 2012, Courtesy of the artist, Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver and Casey Kaplan, New York (© NGC)

My initial response to Geoffrey Farmer‘s Leaves of Grass was “this is obscene.” After more time spent with the work my response was still “this is obscene.” His process (a team spending countless hours cutting and pasting), the content (17,000+ cut outs from 5 decades of Life Magazine) and the final presentation (100+ feet of archivally problematic paper, grass and glue) illustrate the absurdity by which we hold on to the past. We collect, categorize and create hierarchies of meaning that allow for justifications of all kinds. We trap ourselves in a constructed story from which we can no longer budge. Leaves of Grass is an absolutely breathtaking piece but as stunning as it is, the work is suffocating. There is too much to take in with no place for the eye to rest; a well executed entanglement of wicked questions. Do our strategies for classification make perfect sense? Are they nonsense? How do they really help?

Junk culture. That is what we are left with and this is the legacy that many of the contemporary artists in this show are trying to illuminate.

David Armstrong Six, The Radiologist, 2012 (Courtesy of the artist and Parisian Laundry. Photo: Matthew Koudys)

The shadowside of Readymades

“Combining found objects with a variety of materials – plaster, plywood, steel, rebar – his sculptural explorations merge the raw and the readymade into aesthetically intriguing and ambiguous compositions.” (sited from Shine A Light catalogue)

David Armstrong Six continues in the tradition of the readymade but Duchamp and the Dadaists weren’t working at a time when people had to be concerned about an impending environmental crisis. Bricolage takes on a different meaning when we are at risk of burying ourselves alive in a rubble pile of our own making. Maybe ‘l’art pour l’art’ is no longer enough to redeem the materials.

An Te Liu, Aphros, 2013 (© An Te Liu. Photo: Dustin Yu)

This is the question that An Te Liu seems to be trying to tease out as he works with casting the materials that accumulate from our post-modern predicament with packaging. Arranged like collection of Brâncușis, the five pieces are beautiful to behold but lack the life force that Brâncuși’s pieces, made of wood and stone, exhale. Rendered in ceramic and metals they give the impression of impotence like the materials they reference, materials that will persist in the environment without the capacity to be generative.

From the room with the David Armstrong Six’s readymades and An Te Liu’s towers you can look out across the Donald R. Sobey Family Gallery and view Luke Parnell’s Phantom Limbs from above. Here yet another graveyard is encountered. The 48 wood carvings laid on the ground are made to represent the homecoming of the ancestors when the Haida Repatriation project succeeded in having ceremonial objects and human remains returned to Haida Gwaii from private and public collections. Luke gave each carving a different expression. Contained under cases of plexi some look understandably pissed.

The Shine A Light catalogue, arranged alphabetically with each artist’s name, ends with the work of Lawerence Paul Yuxweluptun and a 2 page spread of his painting Red Man Watching White Man Trying to Fix Hole in the Sky (see above). This work hasn’t been publicly viewed for nearly 2 decades. Now seems like the requisite moment to bring it out again to remind us that in those 20 years we haven’t transitioned forward with many solutions. Instead we see a global trend to become more entrenched with ‘pie in the sky’ ways of living. Suffering with the collective trauma of watching our world come to the brink of disaster do we brush off our artists as Chicken Littles? Because the sky is indeed falling, our ozone layer is literally breaking apart into pieces.

large abstract drawing of large round shapes in a dark background

On the back wall of the 2nd floor is The Arsenal, a work by Jutai Toonoo. It is a large scale oil stick drawing of T cells. He created the work at a moment when he was trying to understand the pathology of the cancer his mother was stricken with. The helpful T cells fight against viruses, bacteria and diseases.

Our material culture is replicating faster than stage 4 cancer. It metastasizes in places as topographically different as Chernyobyl, Nunavut and India. The micro T cells, as the subject of Jutai’s work, are metamorphosed into a macro landscape that covers a large expanse across the Gallery’s wall. The allied cells shine like a phosphorescence glow in an inky black sea. After the challenging content of Shine A Light his work highlights hope. We are in need of an arsenal of solutions to push back the chaos. Encoded in the DNA of the planet are the cellular memories that can transform a landscape in crisis.

Above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag unless otherwise noted.

ONE DAY GET AWAY FROM THE GTA: Edward Burtynsky @ The McMichael & Land|Slide @ The Museum of Markham

A mirror set in grass that reflects the country like scene around it and has the words WONDER.
Land|Slide Possible Futures exhibit at the Museum of Markham. Work by IAIN BAXTER&.

Tomorrow’s forecast in Toronto? Perfect Weather with possibility of plenty of art!

Lots of trees with clearing where there is a sculpture, a path and a group of children walking byMIXED BAG MAG recommends heading North of the city this weekend for 2 important shows that speak to our expanding urban centres / suburbs and promote dialogue around how to be more intentional around our future growth.

Due to popular demand Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s The Landscape that We Change is held over until Thanksgiving Monday at The McMichael in picturesque Kleinburg, Ontario.

“Burtynsky does not seek to position his images into the realm of political polemic. The artist has stated that they “are what they are.” His photographs engage the observer through what the artist refers to as a “duality” in the viewing process. In Burtynsky’s aesthetic interpretation, his images render the subject most often in rich colour, detail, and textural qualities. Simultaneously, the observer is made aware of the devastation and altered state of nature that is portrayed. The tension generated by mediating the dual nature of the individual’s response to the image is intended to provoke a thoughtful dialogue about the environment and societal attitudes.” Read more…

For more information on planning your visit to The McMichael click here.

Stone carving on large boulder with wood cabin and trees in the background
The grounds at The McMichael Museum in Kleinburg, Ontario.
Image of mirror in grass with words REFLECT on it and barn and trees in the background
IAIN BAXTER&’s “Markhamaze” at the Land|Slide Possible Futures exhibit.

Over in Markham is the much talked about Land|Slide Possible Futures exhibit that includes a large group of national and international artists covering the 25 acre grounds of the Markham Museum. Taking art of out the gallery space and plunking it into the perfect autumn setting of changing leaves, grass and blue skies was a pretty brilliant idea! Tomorrow will be my 4th visit. Green space + public art = My Idea of a Day Well Spent!

“Land|Slide Possible Futures is a groundbreaking large-scale public art exhibition which responds to a world in transition where the past, present and future collide. The landscape of Markham will be transformed by the work of over 30 national and international artists to explore themes of multiculturalism, sustainability, and community.” Read more…

 

FYI – FREE SHUTTLE SERVICE on Saturday from MOCCA & CSI Bathurst. Below info from Land|Slide’s Facebook page.

The Performance Bus ( Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) – Varley Art Gallery – Markham Museum):

MOCCA to Varley Art Gallery: 2PM
Varley Art Gallery to Markham Museum: 5PM

Regular Bus:
MOCCA to Markham Museum: 4PM, 6:30PM & 8:30PM
Markham Museum return to MOCCA: 7:30PM & 10PM

And NEWLY ADDED: An Urban Planning bus coming up from the Centre for Social Innovation at Bathurst and Bloor (720 Bathurst St) at 1PM.

This will take you up just in time for a talk by urban planners/artists Department of Unusual Certainties at 2:30PM, and a planning tour led by Land|Slide planning experts Lisa Hosale, Sara Udow and Katherine Perrott.



All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

Art work from top to bottom:
Inside the wigwam of Julie Nagam’s “singing our bones home” install
Close up at video for Camille Turner’s AfroFuturist performance “Time Warp”
Architect Frank Haverman’s install “Untitled” (I call it “Brilliant”)
IAIN BAXTER&’s “Markhamaze” at the Land|Slide Possible Futures exhibit.

Don’t miss these two really important exhibits!

Follow The McMichael on Facebook & twitter @LandSlide2013
Follow Land|Slide Possible Futures on Facebook & twitter @mcacgallery

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: “Edward Burtynsky: Oil” at the Museum of Nature, Ottawa

Poster for Edward Burtynsky: Oil at Museum of Nature with young man standing in front of beached oil tanker

QUESTION: “When we run out of oil, what will we lose? What will we gain?”

ANSWER: “We will lose what we know, what we are used to and comfortable with. We will gain the unknown, and the opportunity to create a new way of being.

“We will lose a mistake in history. We will gain a new beginning whether we like it or not.”

Anyone who has experienced Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky’s work knows that it at once attracts and repels. He frames our modern condition of dependence on oil in such a way that despite the tragedy of the landscapes there is a grace in how it moves us to remember what was there before and what we have lost. That pain of loss hopefully compels us to protect what we still have.

Early bipedal footprints saved in volcanic rockLike the Australopithecus footprints in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania the oil trapped in the Bengali men’s footprints speaks to our Home Erectus (de)evolution. Can we do better?

In their comment section, the Canadian Museum of Nature has collected some important thoughts that prove may be we can.

QUESTION: “Imagine that the last drop of oil was used up today. When you get up tomorrow morning, how would your life change?”

ANSWER: “In the beginning it would be mayhem on Earth, but adaptation would be necessary to survive and continue. The strongest and smartest will come out of this and learn much along the way.”

Image of a man's footprints solidified in sand with oil pooling into them.
Edward Burtynsky, Recycling #10, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2001. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

QUESTION: “What stands out as the most striking image in this exhibition? Why?”

ANSWER: “The images in Bangladesh – oil at the expense of the environment and the world’s poor.”

“Seeing barefoot workers cleaning up and dealing with our “oil mess” is a reminder that we are all connected, and nothing we do is without a result.”

QUESTION: “Future historians might call the 20th century the Century of Oil. What do you think the 21st century will be known for?”

ANSWER: “The century of consequences.”

Hopefully the 21st will also been known as the The Century of Change.

Edward Burtynsky: Oil
Canadian Museum of Nature
Ottawa, Canada
until Labour Day Monday, September 2, 2013.

Follow the Museum of Nature on Facebook & twitter @museumofnature.

Image of Edward Burtynsky, Shipbreaking #23, Chittagong, Bangladesh, 2000. Chromogenic color print. Photograph © Edward Burtynsky, courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Howard Greenberg & Bryce Wolkowitz, New York

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Where to begin?

A line of penguins running off an iceberg plunging into the water.
Chinstrap penguins. South Sandwich Islands. 2009.  © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Start with art.

More than several times a day my heartbreaks as I watch what comes through my Facebook feed, like today as more information regarding the children of Syria killed by chemical weapons punctuated a moment. In these Orwellian times when we discover that Big Brother is indeed watching the wonder of the internet and social media is that we are watching too. We participate in bearing witness.

The other stunning quality of social media is that for every story that crushes me and makes me weep there are double, even triple, stories of action and resistance that offer hope and inspiration.

For example, my feed also includes what’s happening right now at Canada’s major cultural institutions and auxiliary events and projects surrounding these exhibits.  We have amazing curatorial teams that have produced shows that challenge the Chinese Government’s position on Human Rights, Canada’s policies on Aboriginal issues and the Economy of Oil, and global attitudes regarding the Environment.

My concern – do we walk away from these shows changed at a deep core level? Do we return to our daily lives radically motivated to stop being part of the problem and act in service of social justice and environmental causes? Will we change our level of comfort for the sake of stopping someone else’s pain or the loss of natural resources?

I pray that all the illumination will indeed cause a spiritual shift towards a tipping point that will alter the world. I want to see civilizations that are socially and environmentally just because today as children’s lives are ended by chemical warfare in Syria in this country Aboriginal women are being sold into the sex trade and the land along with the women is being violated.

It’s time to get radical folks.

What we experience in these exhibits can be our entry points into living with intention.

RECOMMENDED SHOWS THAT WILL CHANGE PERSPECTIVES:

Sakahàn @ The National Gallery, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Indigenous and Urban @ The Museum of Civilization on until Sept 2

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis @ The ROM, Toronto on until Sept 2

Edward Burtynsky: Oil @ Museum of Nature, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Decolonize Me @ Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor on until Sept 15

Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape The We Change @ The McMichael, Kleinburg on until Sept 29

Ai Weiwei: According to What @ The AGO, Toronto on until Oct 27

& BIG FYI

Ghost Dance: Activism. Resitance. Art. @ Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto opening Sept 18 thru to Dec 15

“For centuries, colonialism has been the cause of suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against Indigenous people in Canada and many other countries. But attributing the rise of resistance, activism and the associated art to colonialism itself is disingenuous. The destructive ideologies inherent in colonialism are manifest by the interactions of people. The events caused by these interactions change people and their societies. Indigenous art is not predicated on “colonialism,” but on the events that it causes…Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.” Steve Loft, more on RIC’s website

Series of ads for exhibits at Canada's major cultural institutions.