The Ottawa Art Gallery has certainly reopened its new (and beautiful) building with an inaugural exhibition that brings together works that combine 6,500 years of Ottawa history and bringing together 193 historical and contemporary artworks by 181 artists, including 11 new commissions.
The exhibition, Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes / We’ll all become stories curated by Rebecca Basciano, Jim Burant, Michelle Gewurtz and Catherine Sinclair emphasizes the ways in which artists have encountered, interpreted, and envisioned the story of the Ottawa-region and their experiences living here over time. With a triple-barrel title that acknowledges numerous artistic perspectives that are enveloped in the Ottawa region, including English, French, and Algonquin, the exhibition aims to allow us to see our history, our region, and ourselves in a new light.
Presented in four thematic sections — “Bodies,” “Bridging,” “Mapping,” and “Technologies” — that mix historical and contemporary works, the exhibition abandons the traditional chronological format of survey exhibitions, creating dynamic conversations between the works on display.
The first section, “Bodies,” emphasizes portraiture and images that relate to various political, social, and economic issues that impact the body. Max Dean’s eye-catching installation Waiting for the Tooth Fairy (2009) reference the innocence of childhood and contemplates humanity’s mortality. While the nearby salon-style hanging with portraits and figurative works by Meryl McMaster, Rosalie Favell, Evergon, and Yousuf Karsh, among others, shows the complicated narratives of civic portraiture, body politics, and identity.
“Bridging” delves into the ways in which art can serve as a bridge between cultures and between the real and the imagined. While works such as Carol Wainio’s Pour retrouver le chemin (2014) depict an uncanny and fantastical scene showing the feared impact of mass production; others, like Jeff Thomas and Bear Witness, father and son artists, both use the camera to reclaim spaces marked by colonial monuments with an indigenous presence in their works Bear Thomas, A View from Nepean Point (1996) and Of Buffalo, Bears and Indian Scouts (The Legend of Little Tommy Tomas) (2017).
Ottawa and its art history has been overlooked for too long.
The third section “Mapping” shifts our attention to the land and geography of the Ottawa-region and the concepts of memory, place, and how geography can shape our identities. Historical works by Florence Helena McGillivray, Henri Masson, A.Y. Jackson, and Maurice Haycock document the rural landscapes of Ottawa-Gatineau and the northern reaches of Ontario with nationalist and local sentiments of the early- to mid-twentieth century. While contemporary pieces such as Hilde Schreier’s From Sea to Sea (1987), Annie Pootoogook’s Coming Home (2002), Meredith Snider’s Mind Map Ottawa: Five Cardinal Points (2013), and Barry Ace’s Nayaano-nibiimaamg Gichigamiin: The Five Great Lakes (2016) explore the ways in which artists conceive and remember their environments and how they represent identities that are tied to places and ongoing traditions.
While, finally, “Technologies” explores artists’ creative processes and unique use of materials. From William J. Topley’s 1876 composite photograph of a fancy dress ball, Patt Durr’s light sculpture Culture Trash (2003), to Anna Williams’ installation Canada House (2016-17) featuring bronze beavers, an-illuminated beaver lodge, and an audio component, these works comment on our relationship to culture and its construction and its ephemerality. Other works in this section emphasize how technology is a vehicle for culture, like the tradition of making birch bark baskets in indigenous cultures.
I felt overwhelmed by the creativity that this city has inspired over the years.
Ottawa and its art history has been overlooked for too long, and this ambitious exhibition and its accompanying publication attempt to address this oversight. Overall, the exhibition is a celebration of the rich artistic culture that has developed in Ottawa and its surroundings. Leaving the galleries, I felt overwhelmed by the creativity that this city has inspired over the years. We are a vibrant and artistic city, and this is captured in Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous-mêmes / We’ll all become stories.
It is also so incredibly satisfying to see so many works of art in a gallery space, such as the OAG, made by artists from your own community—it really feels like you are encountering and listening to 193 different stories and perspectives about the place you call home.
The new Ottawa Art Gallery’s inaugural exhibition Àdisòkàmagan / Nous connaître un peu nous mêmes / We’ll all become stories is on display until September 16, 2018. Admission is free and the gallery is completely accessible.