Megan Dickie, a Victoria-based artist, with her piece entitled The Gleamer. Her work is focussed on “the seductive tension that exists between reason and play.” Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

New exhibits at Campbell River Art Gallery unsettle Canadian landscapes

Territorial Acknowledgements and Horizon Felt run until Sept. 5

Two new exhibitions at the Campbell River Art Gallery (CRAG) are designed to challenge and unsettle traditional perspectives on Canadian landscape art.

Sonny Assu’s exhibition, Territorial Acknowledgements, uses paintings gathered from thrift stores that depict romanticized visions of the Canadian landscape. Onto these images, Assu reasserts Indigenous presence, something that Canadian landscape paintings have typically erased or ignored. It’s an illusion of the colonial settler state, said Assu.

“If you take a look at Canadian landscape painting, you don’t see a lot of Indigenous presence in those,” said Assu. “I’m putting the Indigenous presence back onto these Canadian landscapes.”

He reframes that historical exclusion by using red ochre paint to reference the petroglyph markings that his Kwakwaka’wakw ancestors would make on rocks. White shapes on the red surface reference the copper shields chiefs would use during a potlatch ceremony, he said.

And the potlatch represents a very different relationship to wealth than the extraction of resources from Indigenous lands forming the basis of the Canadian state.

“Wealth from a Kwakwaka’wakw standpoint is about giving,” he said. “You hoard all your wealth to give it away, whereas in our Western society, we hoard our wealth to display our wealth.”

The other exhibit, Horizon Felt, curated by Vicky Chainey Gagnon, also seeks to challenge the established structures of power.

She points to a set of archival prints by New York-based photographer Jessica Houston, who travelled to the Arctic to witness and document the impacts of climate change and colonialism. One of her prints shows an iceberg floating above eerily red waters, an effect created by partially obscuring the camera lens with felt.

Chainey Gagnon sees an urgent message in that body of work, one that throws into question the relationship between people and the habitats that surround and sustain them. Houston’s collection is called Horizon Felt, which became the name of the exhibit at the CRAG.

“We’re in a period of climate change, where we have to reconsider our relationship to nature,” said Chainey Gagnon. “This body of work, Horizon Felt, identifies to us the crisis we are living in, and the relationship and the resilience and the posture that we should perhaps adopt, in order to have a more sustainable future.”

Four archival prints by New York-based photographer Jessica Houston at Horizon Felt, a new exhibition at the Campbell River Art Gallery. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Elsewhere, occupying the centre of the room, is a playfully subversive installation called The Gleamer. The work, by Victoria-based artist Megan Dickie, reassembles a geodesic dome that has been crumpled into a mass of pointy aluminum foil.

Dickie hasn’t always presented The Gleamer in fixed sculptural form. It originated as a kind of blanket that viewers could play with, before it became damaged.

“I would invite the viewer to come up, put on a protective suit – it’s very sharp – and then go under the object, manipulate it,” she said. Viewers could then watch a time-lapse video of themselves playing with the gleaming structure.

The Gleamer, by Victoria-based artist Megan Dickie, is being presented in fixed sculpture form at Horizon Felt. It’s the latest iteration of a playfully subversive work. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror 

In a video iteration of the work, the object “comes together like two rams, ramming at each other.”

In that version, Dickie is underneath the metallic blanket, and through video manipulation, she said: “it becomes two of me, ramming against myself.”

“With my work, I’m interested in struggle, and the body being physical in a way that’s unexpected, specifically a female body,” she said. “A female body being aggressive, being in a position of power.”

And yet, that struggle doesn’t have an outcome, like Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain again and again, she said.

But in a sense, it’s a form of dance or play, something devalorized in a society that favours logic and reason.

Comox-based artist Scott Bertram (right) in front of one of his acrylic works, titled 17C11. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Another Island artist featured at the exhibit is Scott Bertram, a Comox-based painter who describes his work as a process of improvisation. His acrylic paintings result from a series of unexpected prompts, adding layers as the shapes and ideas suggest themselves to him.

The three works that he contributed to Horizon Felt are part of a larger project that’s about “finding form where it didn’t seem to previously exist,” he said. “That sometimes includes looking for spatial cues that weren’t preconceived.”

It creates an element of the unknown, something that perhaps speaks to dynamics of change occurring everywhere in the larger world today.

“We’ll see what happens, one step at a time,” he said.

Territorial Acknowledgements and Horizon Felt run until Sept. 5 at the CRAG.

@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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