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"Entrepreneur Alone Returning Back to Sculptural Form"
Geoffrey Farmer, "Entrepreneur Alone Returning Back to Sculptural Form," 2002 -, various materials,variable dimensions, collection of Julia and Gilles Ouellette. Photo: Guy L’Heureux.
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"The Last Two Million Years"
Geoffrey Farmer, "The Last Two Million Years," Foamcore, Plexiglas, cutouts from book, adhesive tape, ink, watercolour, pencil, variable dimensions, courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery. Photo : Guy L’Heureux.
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"Nothing Can separate Us (When the Wheel Turns, Why Does a Pot Emerge?)"
Geoffrey Farmer, "Nothing Can separate Us (When the Wheel Turns, Why Does a Pot Emerge?)," 2007, cast bronze, false bricks, wood, steel, rope, improvised remote bell ringer trigger, improvised bell striker, various materials, variable dimensions, courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery. Photo : Guy L’Heureux.
Musée d’art contemporain de Montreal
Feb 8 – April 20, 2008
By Lorne Roberts
In this mid-career survey show at the Musee d'art contemporain in Montreal, Vancouver-based artist Geoffrey Farmer welcomes viewers into the gallery with a yellow Post-it note stuck to the wall, and a simple message scrawled in pencil: "It's not the work, it's the worker."
It’s a quote from the influential 1970s site-specific artist Gordon Matta-Clark, one of many artists who has influenced Farmer, written on a piece of paper manufactured from a square cut out of the gallery's floor. It introduces viewers to the paradox that makes Farmer's work so compelling. If it's not the work, as we're told, but the worker, then who were the anonymous millwrights who turned the gallery floor into pulp, and then into paper? How does their contribution compare to that of the artist himself? In the same way that the spirits of these anonymous workers populate the exhibit, so does Farmer endlessly hint at his own phantasmal presence.
Take the works that sit outside the gallery space itself. Two of seven ghostly, faceless human figures that appear throughout the exhibit, the works are collectively titled I am by nature one and also many, dividing the single subject into many, and even opposing them as great and small, light and dark, and in ten thousand other ways. Using readymade objects including bed sheets, fright wigs, cardboard boxes, and a flourescent light bulb tube, Farmer creates figures that suggest the human form, while making little pretense of true resemblance, even as the title suggests they stand in for the artist, haunting the gallery in his absence.
In a work like The Last Two Million Years, which Farmer first exhibited in a smaller form at The Drawing Room in London, England, in 2007, the artist has taken an entire copy of Reader's Digest's book of the same name, which rather ambitiously summed up all of human history in a single volume. Cutting out every single image that appeared in the book, Farmer then arranged them around the room on a series of plinths of varying heights and sizes, from dangerously underfoot to bumping up against the gallery's ceiling. There is no evident order to the images, despite the numbering system he applies to them.
As with many of the works in the exhibition, there's a sense of the artist having taken a certain pleasure in skewering the aspirations of an ordered history, or of an ordered gallery. As Pierre Landry, the exhibit's curator, points out, had Farmer not had to leave Montreal to return home, it's no stretch to imagine him back in the gallery daily, re-arranging The Last Two Million Years as the whim might strike him.
The sense of the artist lurking around every corner is also suggested in a work like Ghost Face, in which he has replicated one of the giant white columns that runs through the entrance to the gallery. Cut into the hollow column are two eye holes, at exactly the height where Farmer's eyes would be if he were standing there. At the bottom of the column is a small wooden platform, built to exactly the height that would allow Landry to also look out through the eye-holes.
Or take the Notes For Strangers, a series of poems typed in 1990 to strangers on Vancouver public transit. In most cases, Farmer gave the poems away to those who inspired them, but in the cases where the strangers got off the bus before he did, the works became part of a show. As Landry points out, the few poems that we see serve as much as anything to hint at those which are missing - how many others are out there, we wonder, and what has become of them?
Throughout this show, with these vestiges of himself lingering in so many forms, Farmer brings us back repeatedly to Matta-Clark's idea of the worker. And despite what might seem to be an overly conceptual framework, the raw and exhuberant physicality of Farmer's art provides us with a beautiful and imposing mystery, and a series of elusive ghosts. The result is a fascinating exhibition, one that solidifies his place among our country's most important contemporary artists.