Esker Foundation, Calgary
May 23 to Sept. 6, 2015
Photo: Sue Wribcan.
Mia Feuer, "Boreal (detail)," 2013, mixed-media installation, dimensions variable.
Mia Feuer is highly regarded in the United States, much better known there than in Canada, and has garnered awards and exhibited widely since 2009, including a show last year at the former Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. A provocative artist, the Winnipeg-raised Feuer, who is now based in California, has taken aim at the oil and gas industry in recent shows, and this, her first major exhibition in Canada, is no exception. It’s not without irony as the Esker Foundation is supported largely by private oil money. Still, Naomi Potter, the gallery’s curator and director, says founder Jim Hill, a Calgary oilman, acknowledged the role of art in opening conversations when she first mentioned Feuer. “As long as you are not hitting people over the head, and there are no pickets out on the front street, I am fine with that,” she recalls Hill saying.
Still, Feuer’s art can be loud, brash and unforgettable. “She is a woman thinking about the landscape, not in a female romantic way, but in a powerful feminist way, which I think is an interesting shift in terms of a post-natural landscape,” says Potter. “Her work is gutsy and aggressive and dirty and dangerous – and there is a power there.” Feuer is no armchair idealist or environmental tourist. Her projects are ambitious, involving years of research, and have taken her around the world. She says she’s not an activist, but cares deeply about the planet, and also readily acknowledges her own reliance on petroleum products.
Photo: Sue Wribcan.
Mia Feuer, "Boreal," 2013, mixed-media installation (detail), dimensions variable.
The Esker is presenting four works from the Corcoran show, as well as two new pieces, both inspired by Feuer’s recent research in the ravaged bayous of Louisiana. One of Feuer’s best-known works, An Unkindness, was made after visiting an Alberta oilsands reclamation site, where wheat planted to leach toxins from the soil was attracting mice. To combat the infestation, trees were embedded upside down so winged predators could roost on the exposed roots. This bizarre landscape haunted Feuer, prompting her to suspend a surreal mass of entwined black objects from the gallery’s ceiling. It includes recognizable elements – oil drums, shredded tires, feathers and a tree – and becomes an ominous, seemingly gravity-defying apparition. But the installation is actually quite light. It was mostly constructed from plastic foam, a material Feuer finds seductive for its material versatility, even if she worries about its environmental consequences.
Below the suspended mass is an iceless skating rink. The surface is black plastic, a deliberate subversion of winter white, and visitors are invited to put on skates. The rink recalls Feuer’s childhood, when her father would skate by himself at night, focused on his own thoughts. “By using a hockey rink, which is such a symbol of the Canadian landscape of winter, I wanted to give the viewer of the show a similar space where they could perhaps try to access those same kind of feelings,” says Feuer. Thus, an installation that engages complex and difficult dichotomies ultimately becomes a space for contemplation.