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Heather Benning, "Stolen Brick," mixed media, 2008.
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Installation view, "In Essence," Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba.
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"Senior Citizens / All Citizens"
Serena McCarroll, "Senior Citizens / All Citizens," 2008, archival inkjet.
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"Near Cannington Manor (detail)"
Heather Benning, "Near Cannington Manor (detail)," 2008, motion-sensor light box, photograph, acrylic paint.
In Essence, An Exhibition by Heather Benning, Tyler Brett, Serena McCarroll
Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, Brandon
March 12 to April 18, 2009
By Diane Nelson
The lights are on, but nobody’s home. At least, not anymore. Yet there’s something oddly comforting about Heather Benning’s manipulated photos of old, abandoned buildings in varying stages of decrepitude. Part of a new exhibition called In Essence…, Benning’s works pay homage to days gone by, and a way of life now seldom lived. But while there is a sense of loss in these pieces, and a lament for what used to be, there is also celebration, in that what is gone has not been forgotten.
Displayed in motion-sensitive light-boxes, Benning’s photographs — of banks, manor-houses and family dwellings — have been converted to night scenes. Benning painted out the surroundings, leaving only the buildings as central, solitary figures, with portions of the photos replaced by translucent film. As the viewer approaches, the upper windows and inner hallways spring to life, as if to indicate that, despite the absence of human inhabitants, these relics continue to have meaning.
By turning on the lights, the artist has reclaimed the structures for posterity. Benning’s fascination with homes, and the insights they offer into the ways of rural Saskatchewan existence, has been a consistent source of inspiration. But while she’s created many large-scale, site-specific installations, compacting her work for gallery exhibition proved a challenge, one shared by her In Essence … collaborators, Tyler Brett and Serena McCarroll.
Lured from Vancouver by the possibility of home ownership and financial advancement, Brett and McCarroll discovered a vacant building in Bruno, Saskatchewan (population 500) that included living quarters, and promptly snapped it up for $6,500. The process of moving to the prairie and setting up a business became an artistic endeavour in itself. Called All Citizens, a name inspired by its proximity to a seniors’ centre, the business showcases local and urban art. All aspects of the venture — the physical, the emotional, and the artistic — are showcased as part of the exhibition.
A DVD projection documenting the artists’ move allows gallery visitors a ‘front-seat view’ of the couple’s journey. And its title — 1,600 Kilometres, 5,388 Photographs — sums up the magnitude of the undertaking.
The duo developed All Citizens as a coffee house/recreation centre/art shop, and elements of that diversity are evident in the exhibition. Though viewers might be more interested in seeing actual items from the store, there are instead 8" X 10" photographs displayed in shelf-like rows. Country kitsch comes up against craft, and clashes, maybe, with urban creativity. Tatting, doilies, and crocheted tissue-boxes mix with woodcarvings and pottery. By showcasing the pieces equally — all are pictured on black velvet and recessed in dark frames — the artists make no judgement about ‘high art’ and ‘low art.’ Creation and creativity are all-important, and community are what matters most.