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Canada’s Art Scene: Reflections & Representations

By John Olsthoorn on October 29, 2014

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The National Gallery of Canada’s Shine a Light: Canadian Biennial 2014 exhibition features more than 88 works by 26 Canadian artists. There’s something for every art taste from film and video installations to sculptures, paintings, drawings and photographs. The show highlights the Gallery’s recent acquisitions over the past two years in its Contemporary, Indigenous and Photographs collections.

One of the more striking pieces is Geoffrey Farmer’s Leaves of Grass.

This 124 foot long installation first appeared in 2012 at dOCUMENT (13) in Germany. Through a donation, Farmer acquired 50 years worth of Life magazines, from 1935 to 1985, more than 1000 copies. He has labouriously clipped out photographs and advertisements gluing the images on various lengths of miscanthus grass which are then inserted into florist foam along the wooden table. (See cover image above.)

From one end to the other, you follow a 50-year history of the world as seen through Life magazine and interpreted by Farmer. Walking on both sides you see many faces, movie stars, sports figures, icons and everyday people and out of the ordinary ones, too. Some of the images really stand out. At the start of the colour section on one side, pictures of Libby’s/Green Giant/Niblets cans of corn pop out. When all done, some 22,000 individual images will be part of this piece.

Leaves of Grass isn’t completed yet with the timeline fragmented from the 1950s onwards. On tables on the outside walls of the room are many pieces Farmer and the many volunteer assistants are in the process of assembling. Blocks of time waiting on the sidelines to be placed. As it is now, incomplete, the exhibit stands up perfectly even if all work on it stopped as it captures a history in progress making it seem like the reconstruction of a construction of time through Life.

Farmer’s artwork is only but one of many.

In one of the two adjoining rooms dedicated to photography, seven large Edward Burtynsky photographs from his Water series are on display. This water theme seems to flow into the second room with two semi underwater photographs from Isabelle Hayeur’s Underworlds project and in several of the more than a dozen of David McMillan’s photographs of the area affected by the Chernobyl nuclear plant accident.

Isabelle Hayeur Death in Absentia II , 2011. Photo © NGC.

Isabelle Hayeur Death in Absentia II , 2011. Photo © NGC.

 

Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun’s An Indian Act Shooting the Indian Act, Healey Estate, Northumberland, September 14th, 1997, an artefact from his 1997 performances of the same name, makes a powerful statement. It is one of twenty-two works given to the Gallery making it the largest donation to the Gallery of art by a First Nation artist.

Nicolas Baier’s Engrams (the world of ideas) is made of steel, white marble, rubber and magnets, illustrating the emptiness of our networked technological world or maybe the skeletal remains (or even the beginnings) of it.

 

Nicolas Baier Engrams (the world of ideas), 2013. Photo © NGC

Nicolas Baier Engrams (the world of ideas), 2013. Photo © NGC

 

With more than a dozen rooms on two levels, plan a good two hours to see Shine a Light. It runs until March 8, 2015. And while you are at the Gallery, check out the some of the other exhibitions on display. The Tom Thomson: The Jack Pine and The West Wind is well worth a side trip.

For more information, visit the Gallery’s website.

 

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