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MIRIAD Island by Philippa Jones on exhibit at NGC

By Apartment613 on December 23, 2014


Post by Charlene Lau Ahier

Artist Philippa Jones’ monumental drawing, “MIRIAD Island,” now on exhibit at the National Gallery’s Canadian Biennial, is an exploration of the origins of scientific inquiry, fuelled by the ideals of the imagination. The artist conceived of “MIRIAD,” which stands for Ministry of Intuitive Research in Imagined and Actual Discoveries, as an umbrella project that includes installations, drawings and collaborative research based on solicitations from the public.

In her description of the MIRIAD project, Jones states: “The Ministry seeks to contribute to known truths through imaginative exploration. MIRIAD’s method of investigation is to formulate hypotheses free from preconceptions, initiating research by imagining truths, then seeking to substantiate these imaginings through the discovery of actual artifacts and specimens.”

The imaginary island depicted in Jones’ drawing is the site of this fictional research. She has created a mini-universe, which includes “artifacts” collected by the public, some of them mundane, others imbued with meaning gathered from “dream surveys” conducted by the artist. In so doing, she has created a hypothetical data set which by implying discovery of natural and fictional phenomena then feeds the visual language used to create the drawing. The process brings to mind Darwin’s theories on the origin of species based on research he conducted on the Galàpagos Islands.

Executed in pen and ink, the drawing is a long horizontal sheet of an unfolding linear landscape consisting of myriad geometric shapes and expressive washes in subtly monochromatic tones. Reading the drawing, which weaves in and out of imagined spaces in labyrinthine fashion, is like trying to solve a mathematical problem for which there may be no solution. The drawing was allowed to unfold intuitively, starting with a clearly imagined horizontal structure inspired by the vastness of the Newfoundland landscape. The artist deliberately had no end vision for the final island, wanting instead to see how it would grow and attempting to keep herself (in her own words) “in a state of continuous imaginative possibilities.”

Philippa Jones. MIRIAD Island, 2012, pen and ink wash on wove paper, 71.5 × 456.5 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC

Philippa Jones. MIRIAD Island, 2012, pen and ink wash on wove paper, 71.5 × 456.5 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Photo © NGC


Jones seems to have sustained an almost childlike interest in the majesty of the imagined spaces, adding whimsical touches as well as menacing paths leading to nowhere. The thinness of the washes gives an ethereal quality to the work, while the tessellated geometric shapes imply an architectural structure and solidity, providing a framework with which to engage in the artwork.

In fact, the rhythm and movement inherent in the drawing obeys a certain logic that brings to mind generative processes in natural phenomena, which behave in unanticipated and yet deterministic ways. The resulting visual response is that of wonderment, and one is brought into a kind of primordial union with the grandeur of the imagined landscape. No better introduction to the scientific mind can be envisioned than to visit MIRIAD Island, in all its infinite possibilities.

“MIRIAD Island” is on display as part of the Canadian Biennial 2014 until March 8, 2015.

The Ottawa Art Gallery’s Articulation: Critical art writing workshop series is intended to offer participants the support, skills, and editorial assistance they need to establish or expand their critical art writing practice. Each workshop is designed and led by a leading Canadian expert in the field of art. Apt613 is publishing select articles produced from the workshops. This project was made possible with the support of the Access Copyright Foundation.