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"The Grain Elevator"
Graeme Patterson, "The Grain Elevator," 2005, wood, foam-core, electronics, video projector, DVD player, 11’ x 2.5’ x 2.5’. Collection of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.
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"Installation image from Woodrow"
Graeme Patterson, "installation images from Woodrow" 2007, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
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"Installation image from Woodrow,"
Graeme Patterson, "installation image from Woodrow," 2007, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.
GRAEME PATTERSON, Woodrow
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria
March 14 to May 11, 2008
By Allan Antliff
Woodrow is a remarkable multimedia installation honouring a rapidly disappearing farm town in southern Saskatchewan where the artist’s father was born and where his grandparents spent their lives. The main exhibit is comprised of meticulously built small-scale replicas of Woodrow’s key community structures, as well as the farmhouse and outbuildings where the artist’s grandparents lived. Church, hockey rink, machine shop, elevator, silos, farmhouse, and barn are recreated in miniature as deteriorating, heavily weathered, neglected buildings. The impression of abandonment is not far from reality — at present, the population of Woodrow totals 10 people, and most of the town’s buildings stand empty.
The structures are so perfectly recreated they invite exploration, and every one tells a story augmented by lights, audio recordings, and animated video. Through the door of the machine shop, for example, a video replicates an operating lathe and milling machine projected onto the back wall. The shop itself is littered with evidence of recent activity — spare rods, cogs, gears piled on tables, a disused drill with the bit still in place — this is the shop Patterson’s grandfather owned and operated until his death in April, 2004.
Through the open doors of the barn, the viewer sees the stage of an old movie theatre, complete with faded curtains. A stop-motion animated film, continually looping on the screen, depicts a whimsical series of solitary and unrelated events, including a man in underwear driving a tractor back and forth, a cow chewing slowly, and a young woman standing alone in the barn, bundled up for the winter. Inside the church, a solitary organist plays, and to the side and underneath the building, we can view an animated film of an old farm couple after Sunday service, playing five-pin in the town’s two-lane bowling alley. Each building conceals the ghosts of past activities, some funny, some touching, most trivial and everyday. It all adds up to a simple way of life deeply inscribed with the personal quirks and foibles of those who lived in the town.
The one silent building in Woodrow is the one that once sustained prairie communities — the grain elevator, whose side bears the once proud, now faded green and yellow logo of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.
Patterson has staged his recreation as a ghost town, where people are only part of the past, their possessions — an old truck, stove, and other goods, dumped in a small-scale pothole in the town. But wild animals are free to explore the remnants. Patterson’s installation includes a stand-alone stop-motion film, a deer and monkey cavorting together in the abandoned barn yard of his grandparents’ homestead. Nearby, under a model of a rugged winter tree, five robotic deer periodically shift their gaze and when they do, their eyes light up as if reflecting the glare of passing headlights. Life, it seems, is driving by Woodrow, but the animals don’t mind.