Joanne Bristol "Make Art Project," 2016
"Make Art Project," 2016, mixed media broom-like object-making with Joanne Bristol
“Harat is … a Lebanese dialect word. It comes from ‘the mapmaker,’ somebody who makes a map. And it basically means somebody who tells fibs or exaggerates tales a little bit.”
– Rabih Alameddine, author
The Comox Valley Art Gallery’s summer-long artistic program of exhibitions, residencies, collaborations and workshops is linked under the umbrella theme of MAP: Make / Art / Place. The exhibition portion consists of three concurrent shows. Saskatchewan artist Joanne Bristol explores the presence of invasive species in the landscape, using the metaphor of sweeping with brooms (created, presumably, from Scotch broom) to tease out ideas about functionality, belonging and perception.
Joanne Bristol, "Untitled (Sweepers)," 2016
Comox Valley artist Clive Powsey offers Terrain Traps and Other Delightful Terrors.
Clive Powsey, "Terrain Traps and Mount Analogue," 2016
Clive Powsey, "Terrain Traps and Mount Analogue," 2016, drypoint, silkscreen, spraypaint, drawing, chine colle and watercolour, 20.5” x 27"
As the title implies, some of his prints harbour a sense of the sublime. One particularly striking image is of a human skin stretched out like a grotesque mapping projection with distorted lines of longitude, latitude and topography rendering it a two-dimensional object.
Clive Powsey, "Direct site drawing with rotating image insert," 2016
Clive Powsey, "Direct site drawing with rotating image insert," 2016, graphite and watercolour on paper, 37’4” x 9’4”
In the largest exhibition, Unmapping the Last Best West, Barbara Meneley burrows into the fiction within the science of mapping. Based in Saskatchewan, she features maps and landscapes of that province. One wall is dominated by a video of her performance, A Complicated Hole.
Photo: Larisa Tardif
Barbara Meneley, "A Complicated Hole," 2014-in progress
Barbara Meneley, "A Complicated Hole," 2014-in progress, video still, 1:01:21
Meneley, clothed head to toe in red, repetitively strains to dig a hole in the grass under a prairie sky. The performance hints at the struggle of settler culture to control, quantify and contain the enormity of the Canadian landscape, including, of course, mapping.
In another piece, Unmapping Dominus, Meneley cleverly creates an animation from vintage Canadian maps similar to those in atlases and on classroom walls in earlier times. The animation begins with a map featuring the natural resources of different regions. Canadian identity markers of the 1800s and 1900s, things like lumber, minerals and fish, slowly erase. Other elements, such as provincial boundaries and rail lines, similarly disappear and the animation finishes with the outline of the Canada’s landmass, cut off slightly below the 49th parallel. The work speaks to the changing identity of Canadians, now no longer seen as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.” Was this identity ever accurate? Did we create it or is it a hangover from the colonial era when Canada was simply a resource storeroom for the British Empire? Meneley asks us to contemplate landscape without cultural markers, without a fictional narrative. Who are we and what are we without them?
As a viewer of the exhibition rather than a participant in the entire program, I felt jealous I had missed the larger whole. The shows, particularly those by Meneley and Bristol, complement each other. However, when showing video or film alongside works hung on walls, lighting can become an issue, as was the case here. Overall, though, this is an exciting and ambitious project for a small city gallery. Director Sharon Karsten and curator Angela Somerset deserve praise.