The Nanaimo Art Gallery’s latest exhibition views humanity’s long-term impact on the land through the eyes of the land.
This year the NAG’s shows have all centred on the question, “What are generations?” and have dealt with ideas around history and generational knowledge. Curator Jesse Birch said on a human scale, “We can’t really imagine much more than a couple generations one way or the other, but we impact generations way beyond what we can even imagine.”
The gallery’s new exhibit, Stone Witness, therefore considers the Earth’s everlasting perspective.
“If the land is a witness, how are we implicated differently and how must we conduct ourselves differently and how many generations must we then think about in terms of our actions?” Birch asked.
The exhibit, which opens on Nov. 29, includes sculptural work and plaster photo transfers by Vancouver artist Liljana Mead Martin, paintings by Montreal’s Abbas Akhavan and a film by Norway-based New Brunswick artist Tanya Busse.
Martin’s sculptures are made from casts of her extremities. They speak to geological age, with an eroded look and a layering technique alluding to the appearance of the strata on a rock face.
“To take something that seems as permanent as a stone and suggest that it was something that was actually created over a long time or eroded over a long time suggests that even the things that we consider to be most solid are actually transitory as well,” she explained, “That they have the ability to change and, in fact, we are changing them with our presence.”
Busse’s film, The Poet’s Antidote, is set in a northern Norway iron mining town. Birch said it juxtaposes scenes of industry with the land’s natural beauty and features the artist in conversation with a shaman of Norway’s indigenous Sámi people, who suggests a way to mitigate the consequences of mining. It will be screened in a specially built room with an immersive, mirror-like floor.
“Hopefully, you feel like you’re part of the work and part of the landscape in a way,” Birch said.
Birch said Akhavan was “thinking a lot about … human responsibility in relation to the land,” while developing his works, Untitled (49.731449,-54.170627). The paintings are made using carbon and chlorophyll on stone paper, meaning they will fade over time.
“The artist’s own hubris then is removed a little bit because they’re acknowledging that the work is not forever and maybe it’s the same lifetime as their own lifetime or who knows?” Birch said. “So I think that’s an interesting gesture when thinking about a show that’s about geological time and thinking beyond our own generations.”
WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for Stone Witness takes place the Nanaimo Art Gallery, 150 Commercial St., on Friday, Nov. 29 at 7 p.m. Artist talk on Saturday, Nov. 30 at 1 p.m. Show runs until Jan. 19.