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21 September 2012 - 13 January 2013
Katie Bethune-Leamen, Daniel Young & Christian Giroux, Penny McCann, Cecilia Nygren, Peter Michael Wilson
Whether she is travelling by boat to document the frozen mountains off the coast of Newfoundland, questioning a historical explorer’s ethics, or gathering stories about local mummering rituals, Toronto-based artist Katie Bethune-Leamen inserts humour and abstraction as a short-hand for presence. Iceberg for Fogo Island When There Are None (2012) shows the artist wearing her Styrofoam sculpture of an iceberg as an offering to the cold landscape. While exploring the formal qualities of ice in sculpture, video and photography, Bethune-Leamen is hinting at the artificiality that will potentially dominate our future through this performative gesture. She is our contemporary Caspar David Friedrich.
Interested in the identity of the Canadian wilderness and its surrounding mystique, Hamilton-based artist Peter Michael Wilson rented a ranger cabin on Rain Lake, Algonquin Park, in an attempt to connect with Tom Thomson - or the iconic figure’s residual energy - by summoning his spirit. A map of Tom Thomson Lake hangs framed on the wall inside the cabin. An apparition emerges from the fog at the edge of the dock as seen in Ghost Canoe (2011). Is that Thomson dissolving into the blackness of the water? Manipulated only by long exposure times and a flashlight, Wilson’s unaltered black and white photographs echo the honesty, sensibility and magic found in the small easel works by the famous painter on permanent display at the National Gallery of Canada.
With yet another reference to Tom Thomson, in her video Tom (2009), Stockholm-based artist Cecilia Nygren plays with the authenticity of place by filming on location in Banff, Alberta, as well as Thomson’s identity, by casting an androgynous female in the role. The video jumps between close-ups of hands and a paddle, to a linear composition of the lush landscape that resembles a historical painting, and finally to a formal study of the red and white horizontal lines of a squash court. Nygren suggests that the individual identity of a cult figure, as well that of a mythologized place, can still undergo renewal.
Like a performer, the landscape transforms before us; it keeps us restless. In her video Crashing Skies (2012), Ottawa-based artist Penny McCann transforms the ordinary rural landscape of Mount Forest, Ontario, into an otherworldly dreamscape. She unravels the “empty land” as a farmhouse stands in a copper field of scratched emulsion and split-toned horses amble dreamlike across the frame into inky, underexposed blackness. The hand-processed 16mm imagery creates an elliptical inner world of nostalgia furthered by atmospheric fauna sounds. There is the faint air of an alien historical discovery of lost footage from some kind of an apocalyptic future.
A very systematic future is envisioned by the Guelph and Berlin-based artistic duo Christian Giroux and Daniel Young. In their sculpture Mr. Smith (2011), inspired by the American sculptor Tony Smith who in his work explored an underlying mathematical and geometrical basis to the material world, the artists explore materiality in relation to space. Adapted to its specific location, Mr. Smith presents a new kind of “post-wilderness” as the artists focus on the rigidity of the relationship between negative and positive space.
Taking cues from past explorations of landscape as a powerful political unifier, the artists take risks in their reinvestigation of this long-term fetishized subject matter, while presenting new perspectives on national and personal identities. Canadian landscape – what power does it hold today?
Ola Wlusek, Curator