Satellites and Other Evolutions

Ididn’t mean to trust Google so much.

I knew in some corner of my mind that Google Earth constructs images from satellite data, but it’s easy to slide into believing that the continuous image feed when you “fly” through a canyon in the software program must be based on photographs.

The Creation of Evolution is a group show at the ODD Gallery in Dawson City that includes two images by Andreas Rutkauskas that shook and refreshed my laptop gaze at geography.

Heidi Nagtegaal’s individually named knitted beards form a method of manufacturing (personal) evolution.

It also includes a dystopian painting, delicately balanced sculptures, digitally created animals in states of false “evolution” and a collection of knitted beards.

The “Virtually There” diptych that Rutkauskas shows is simple on one level. He takes a photograph with his own personal camera at the same location as a Google Earth image, prints the two images of the striking Rocky Mountain scene, and lets viewers compare them.

By now we’re so used to working with cameras that we know lenses and eyes don’t see the same things, but the differences between those views doesn’t bother us much in our daily routines.

What I learned by my own act of comparing the two images taken at N51°20’54” W 116°12’26” was that I’ve been enjoying the romance of distant, dramatic, satellite-based technology more than I realized.

It’s incredible that satellites have been invented and actually function, so I like to imagine, naively or not, that the visuals provided by these electro-mechanical wonders will also be incredible. Instead, Google smooths and stretches rugged beauty into slick polished peaks.

And maybe it’s a fatigue, a fallout from the electronic “evolve everything all the time” hyperactivity (when are you getting your next iPhone? where’s the latest MRI machine and can it give me eternal youth?) that leaves me looking for a payoff of wonder from high-tech inventions.

In some ways this response is also a riff on the Creation of Evolution title that curator Lance Blomgren has chosen for the first of two shows that make up the exhibition component of the sixth annual The Natural & The Manufactured.

A second exhibition by Bill Burns, alongside Steve Badgett/Simparch & Deborah Stratman, and a lecture by Sheila Heti, form the August component of the event.

If the natural can be manufactured, can evolution be created? Again, a simple-sounding premise leads to many layers of exploration and mind-play.

Kerri Reid (Bruno, Saskatchewan) manufactures near-perfect copies of Icelandic rocks, and it takes minutes to find the piece that will “give away” which set is hardened magma and which is kiln-fired ceramic.

“Virtually There” compares the satellite and the camera, leaving viewers with two visual fictions

Is the copy more or less valuable than the original; is the manufactured more or less poetic than the natural?

Matt Shane (Montreal), currently completing an artist residency at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, looks for a fallout of the fantastic from dystopian uses of landscape.

“Redland” presents a series of synchronized processes of industrial prodding into the natural world.

The work is painted with intense backgrounds of black and deep red, giving his light brush strokes of optimistic, pale tones an otherworldly feeling even as they form the ladders, crossbars, timbers and other imposing architectures in his fantastical world.

The overall effect is a paradox of harmony and dread.

Heidi Nagtegaal has been working on a large-scale study of beards and facial hair through history since 2007.

She knits “portraits” (artistic specimens of facial archeology?) of the beards of men as varied as Karl Marx, Bruce Springsteen, Henry David Thoreau, “My Old Boss” and Kenny Rogers.

Knitting has “cozy” built into its wooly ways no matter what, and Nagtegaal is in part adding humour and sensuality to the human habit of trying to “evolve,” at least personally, a way of being in the world through self-presentation.

The pan-Canadian art show also includes work by Lewis & Taggart (currently in Bergen, Norway), an art duo whose sculptures here look at the evolution of human travel by machine.

Kara Uzelman (Saskatoon) creates a “Monument for Mesmer” as a way to revisit Franz Anton Mesmer’s belief that natural energetic forces bond all animate and inanimate objects together. She uses magnets, gravity and twists of wire as the forces tenuously holding the sprawling sculpture together.

Three prints from the Metamorphs series by Sol Legault are images that seduce with their smooth silvery “animal or spectre?” limbs blending into layers of floating movement.

Matt Shane’s “Redland” is half dream, half nightmare

At once gorgeous and nauseating, the works might be a projection of evolution into the future after human tinkering gets out of hand.

The Creation of Evolution will speak to other viewers in different ways, of course. People I chatted with over the past few days saw intense anxiety in Matt Shane’s work, or found it was impossible to look at Legault’s multi-eyed monsters.

For me, the exhibition celebrates the human capacity for manufacturing evolution (of machines, of biology, of landscape) and balances that celebration with plenty of wry laughter about how we also keep messing it up.

The wonders and seductions of technology aren’t trustworthy after all – as we all knew – and their romance entices us to evolve onwards.

Meg Walker is a writer and visual artist living in Dawson City.

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