In the Yukon Arts Centre’s Public Gallery, the Open Season exhibition presents work by four artists with relationships between Yukon and Ontario: two from Ontario who live here now (Douglas Drake and Scott Price), and two Ontarians who have been transients in the territory (Jenn E. Norton and Elinor Whidden).
Carrying the hefty subtitle “Intermigration and the Emergent Cultural Landscape,” the show also includes a text that discusses how Canadians are influenced by migrating from place to place within this large country.
Movement between Ontario and Yukon is the example offered.
But there doesn’t seem to be any cross-country interaction going on – only movement to the Yukon and a response to the spaciousness here.
In fact, Ontario references are only visible in Whidden’s work, unless you include the overarching experience of being “from away” which would apply to anyone living in any other part of Canada before coming here.
The one interlaced Yukon/Ontario artwork is Jenn E. Norton’s Mirador. It’s a video installation that seduces with a lush soundscape of gentle, overlapping strings and electronica.
Two video streams show a constant flow of aerial footage. These are long shots of the landscapes between Whitehorse and Dawson, alternating with agricultural landscapes of Ontario.
Like the sounds, the landscapes are slowed down and blend into each other, which creates a sense of decadent dreaminess. Luxury, distraction and entertainment are words that come to mind when a cutout of an overstuffed armchair, and then a couch, float by in the videos’ skies. We are armchair travellers for this landscape, which turns the wilderness into scenery instead of a land to know and live in.
Douglas Drake turns Northern wilderness into a scene, also deliberately, with his installation Somewhere in the forest, near mountains. Like a set for a play, this two-walled cabin is flanked by an artificial mini-forest.
Viewers may walk onto the “cabin” platform to look at the framed photos and magazine clippings that reinforce a vision of northern Canada as wild, treed and glacier-wrapped.
The page in the typewriter is halfway through a love letter that, we are told, Drake found on an abandoned postcard.
“The mountains here are beautiful, and I cannot explain them. You’ll have to come see,” it says in part.
Like the writer, Drake has attempted to describe ideas of the North with caribou antlers and Canadian Geographic-styled images – visual language just as limited as words are when it comes to describing what it’s like to live here.
Scott Price’s sculptures offer the most tactile, literally hands-on relationship with migration. But it’s migration on a small scale, a matter of metres: the movement of sheet metal scraps from being castoffs to being part of a nest, for example.
Price takes bits of abandoned objects (bicycles, doorknobs) and pieces of the natural environment (twigs, stones) and makes sculptures that seem both whimsical and practical. A structure on tall, skinny legs looks like a dream home for a spoiled bird family; a “cart” with bamboo-and-steel wheels appears ready to deliver a load of rusted iron ore to the next highest bidder.
Birds’ winter and summer routes come to mind with the nest-like shapes of two sculptures, offering the strongest link to the curators’ overall theme of migration.
Elinor Whidden takes on ideas of the open road, sometimes expressed as the hunger for the open trail. This Is Our Country evokes a laugh and a wince at the same time. A figure in vaguely, but not quite, 19th century clothing stands on a vista looking at mountains – through a rearview mirror tied onto a walking stick.
One question that comes to mind is: are we able to connect to the vastness around us without motor vehicles anymore? (Or, are we willing to? I personally love driving up the Dempster Highway.)
But Whidden’s art isn’t didactic, it’s in love with the romanticized view of nature as much as it questions that view.
The YAC decided to experiment with hiring guest curators for 2011 and 2012, and Open Season is the first exhibition under this mandate. One of the requirements is that curators create shows that include both Yukon and non-Yukon artists. It’s an approach that allows for a lot of fresh combinations, as the next months will reveal.
Open Season was curated by The Trousseau Society, an anonymous trio of Toronto-based artists who were unavailable for interview.
But the artists give us work that is sensuous and smart while remaining curious about the Yukon that became part of their personal migrations.
Open Season continues at the YAC until March 12.