Gold and Silver: Images and Illusions of the Gold Rush greets the visitor first, an exhibition focusing largely on daguerreotypes from the middle of the nineteenth century. New for the time, the daguerreotype marked the first publicly available form of the camera. Its early capacity for documentation is abundant throughout the exhibition: profiles of miners, landscape scenery, and the atmosphere in both California and Canada are captured and preserved. Curator Luce Lebert effectively translates the tone of the time into the exhibition through inclusion of artefacts and objects such as gold nuggets, stock certificates (marking the transition of currency from gold to paper), and early maps and posters. However, an extremely vital component to both the time period and subject matter is only briefly mentioned in two wall labels: these miners were also colonists, the gold rush largely being a colonization of land whose inhabitants were chased away, land which was then penetrated and exploited.
Once through the initial exhibition, visitors enter into Frontera: Views of the U.S.-Mexico Border, featuring photo-based art exploring, metaphorically and literally, the world’s most frequently crossed border. Works from 1997-2017 by Mexican, Canadian and American artists fill several rooms of the Institute. A stunning lifesize work by Alejandro Cartegena installed just behind the first wall gives a sense of the barriers through which immigrants and travellers must traverse. Whereas the first exhibition can feel a bit nostalgic, Frontera feels timely, contemporaneous and far more diverse. Drone footage of the border between the two countries plays adjacent to We did not cross the border; the border crossed us, a series of photographs by Adrien Missika depicting various types of cacti, many of which so old they predate the current American/Mexican borders. Notwithstanding odd room seating choices (such as a rather bulky leather couch), the exhibition is both current and strong, albeit including only one woman artist.
Lastly, the CPI’s PhotoLab space explores Canada’s own border with the United States through the lens of Andreas Rutkauskas in Between Friends. Rutkauskas documented the borderline between the two countries as a tribute to the book of the same name gifted by Canada to the U.S. in 1976 to celebrate the American bicentennial. The artist, he says, wishes to reminds us that, though touted as the world’s “longest undefended border,” the entire area is still heavily monitored through satellite imagery and various forms of surveillance. The exhibition does well to contribute to the CPI’s theme of “borders, territory, and migration” in the three exhibitions, if a bit of a safe choice for an “experimental” art space.
The three new exhibitions are well presented and designed, spaces for thought and reflection on both the past and present.
Gold and Silver: Images and Illusions of the Gold Rush, Frontera: Views of the U.S.-Mexico Border and PhotoLab3: Between Friends are on view in the Canadian Photography Institute until April 2 2018.