You enter a glittering birch bark forest and begin to walk through a maze of thirty trees.
Tiny illuminated symbols are encased in the porcelain trunks of the trees. The symbols are computer designed to look like they’ve been created by the ancient art of birch bark biting. What are the symbols? The logos for Manitoba Hydro, Safeway, the Olympics, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Apple Computers, the Bay, the Royal Bank of Canada and many more.
Winnipeg artist KC Adams says her work looks at the relationship between nature and technology. She wants us to think about the damage corporations do to the environment and how as consumers we are a part of that activity.
Birch Bark Ltd. is just one of the installations in an exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, created in honor of the gallery’s one hundredth birthday. Curated by art critics Meeka Walsh and Robert Enright, the exhibit called Winnipeg Now features work by 13 young artists, all of whom have some connection to Winnipeg.
Perhaps the most dramatic installation in the exhibit is this one by Sarah Anne Johnson. Using garbage- old bottles, plastic cups, light bulbs and other debris she has created a fantastic fireworks display that dazzles the viewer. It is placed over a model ship with people on board enjoying life. They are drinking, falling in love, chatting and dancing. They seem oblivious to the fact that pollution is changing the landscape forever.
The wall behind the ship and fireworks contains a long mural-like photograph of the Arctic, part of a series of images created by Johnson in 2010 in the Arctic. I heard an interview with Sarah Johnson at the art gallery where she talked about the challenges of creating such a large work and installing it. She even took a plastics course to help her learn how to create her three-dimensional fireworks display.
Many people keep ‘to do’ lists but Paul Butler has turned the practice into an art form. For 12 years he kept copies of all his daily “Things to Do” lists and he’s bound them into a huge book which is part of his Winnipeg Now installation. On the wall we see a video where the pages of the book are being turned and all around the room are labeled photo items from a sort of ‘bucket list’-things the artist would like to accomplish- Get A Dog, Read More, Learn French, Drink Green Tea, Practice Yoga and Eat Breakfast Before 10 o’clock. These goals are illustrated with images from Google. They are of poor quality because he made sure he picked images that weren’t copyrighted.
This is my favorite Winnipeg Now installation. It brings me to tears. Lot’s Wife, it’s title, is an allusion to the Biblical story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Fleeing the city Lot and his family are instructed not to look back. His wife does and she is turned into a pillar of salt. Monkman isn’t telling the Biblical story with his work however, but the story of his grandmother Caroline Everet who was forced to leave her home along the Red River. A photo of the St. Peters site where his grandma lived is projected onto the wall. The government transplanted Caroline’s family to Matheson Island in Lake Winnipeg and the figure in the installation is standing in the centre of an island, on which grass grows, flowers bloom and an innocent little fawn hides. Dressed in white (like a pillar of salt) she is looking back at her old home even though she has been instructed to forget her past. A gentle breeze blows the grass, the person’s dress, and ripples the water on the lake in the video. In a Globe and Mail interview Monkman says his work makes reference to the esteem in which two spirited people were held in Cree culture. The white clad figure has both male and female qualities. Everytime I look at the installation I learn something new.
A pair of giant rotating chess pieces created by Marcel Dzama probably draw the most attention from children who visit the Winnipeg Now exhibit. Dzama played chess as a child and was fascinated with Marcel Duchamp, a well-known French artist who was also a professional chess player.
I’m particularly drawn to this recreation of a 1950’s bedroom by Guy Maddin. It is the bedroom of his teenage brother who committed suicide at the grave of a deceased girlfriend when Maddin was a child. He inherited his brother’s bedroom complete with all his belongings and Maddin has recreated it in the Winnipeg Art Gallery. During the Winnipeg Now exhibit he will be shooting films in the bedroom in which characters hold seances to contact the spirits of actors in old films and then act out their lost plots.
If this taste of the Winnipeg Now exhibit has you intrigued you really need to go to the Winnipeg Art Gallery to see it. I’ve just described a little bit of all the fascinating stuff that is there. You can also watch a film about vanishing orders of religious nuns, sit in a rocking chair and listen to some unique bedtime stories, help create an artwork yourself by choosing various transparencies to project onto a wall and find out what cake decorating and house paint have in common. The exhibit is on till the end of December 2012 so you still have plenty of time to see it.
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