J.J. KEGAN MCFADDEN
With Alec in Mind, April 19 to June 9, 2012
Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba, Brandon
By Kenton Smith
“ I’m beginning to think so much of what I do concerns memory,” says curator J. J. Kegan McFadden, director of Platform Centre for Photographic + Digital Arts in Winnipeg. His 2010 solo show Kelly & Terry & Kegan attempted to trace his father’s family line through ephemera, including his father’s and grandfather’s and personal wardrobes.
So it’s worth asking McFadden about how much memory comprises his most recent exhibition, With Alec in Mind, at the Art Gallery of Southwestern Manitoba in Brandon. The show incorporates clothing, family photographs, and other ordinary artifacts, this time paired with a selection of art works by more than 50 artists from the Manitoba Art Bank Collection.
It’s all focused on a violent episode from McFadden’s family history — the murder of his great uncle Alexander (Alec) Tabolotney by Alec’s grandson, Aaron Molodowic. It happened in 1993 when McFadden was only 15 years old, but it’s an incident he remembers perfectly vividly, despite having been “removed from it all” as he says.
“ I remember listening to music and being a normal teenager,” he says, adding that a lot of what he recalls amounts to “misinformation.” Curating since 2003, he began research for the project in 2008 after moving back to Winnipeg from Vancouver. It was around that same time that Molodowic was released from a mental health institution in Brandon, and as McFadden revisited the incident, sifting through the documents of different courts, he realized just how much came as revelation.
Though McFadden’s mother (who helped him sort out fact from memory), is “completely petrified” of the show, McFadden insists the exhibition is not sentimental for him in any way — rather, he thinks of himself as a kind of anthropologist or ethnographer. This past September, he became an archaeologist, literally digging up “junk” from his grandfather’s property.
He dug up many of the objects featured at the AGSM which, when juxtaposed with the Art Bank material, creates what he calls a “blurred” interpretation — Object A plus Object B equals Object C. McFadden was searching for examples of coincidence and symmetry in all elements of the exhibition, as in the case of a 4' x 4' photograph of a vintage clothing store, with its female proprietor dressed as if in mourning. At the entrance to the show, the artist has lined up approximately 25 landscape images: etchings, photographs and paintings butted up along the clear horizon line, the one constant element. It was, McFadden says, the horizon Alec beheld all his life on the rural Manitoba prairies, “the same horizon we all see.”
Across from that, a wall is covered with images of interiors — “different versions of home and comfort,” which McFadden describes as a domestic salon. In the centre he’s placed what he calls an interpretation of melancholy, black and white images to evoke the murder itself.
The artist has created a satellite show in the Oseredok Ukrainian Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, where he’ll display family photographs, echoing on Alec’s Ukrainian heritage. “The idea is to offer this backward look at what eventually happened, and to collapse Alec’s life into a series of ‘circles,’” McFadden says. Despite his professed emotional detachment, however, he admits: “I run the risk of it being almost too personal at times.”