The Nanaimo Art Gallery’s latest investigative query is “How do we speak differently?” and will first view that riddle through a camera’s lens.
Curator Jesse Birch has assembled the work of six Canadian artists who explore the possibilities of photography and how the practice interprets and modifies reality. The exhibition, Fulhame’s Map, features photography, video and installation pieces. An opening reception is being held at the gallery on Friday, April 6 and the show runs until June 3.
“For me, this show is about speaking through a language of images and experimentation with images and the way that the language … the vernacular photography [has been] changing over the last couple hundred years,” Birch said.
The title is a reference to 18th-century chemist Elizabeth Fulhame, who observed that maps could be drawn using a combination of chemicals and light and was a notable figure associated with the conception of photography.
In Fulhame’s spirit, some pieces in the exhibition experiment with what can be done with light and images. Emily Carr and UBC grad Fabiola Carranza contributes with the mixed-media installation Frankincense and Flora, a sculptural work based on a kind of Victorian projector called a physionotrace, which was used to draw subjects in profile based on silhouettes.
“A lot of my work is about getting really obsessed with finding some way to make a historical thing come to the present and become interesting again,” Carranza said.
Birch pointed out that while Fulhame was developing the chemical side of photography, the physionotrace was a precursor to the mechanical side.
“To me [they were] the first images that you see that are photographic of portraits of women and children, so I became interested in that device for that reason. And then that led me to various attempts at making my own version of this machine because none of these machines survived, only the drawings that were made with them,” Carranza explained, adding that she has still never seen a physionotrace in person.
Calgary-based artist and fellow Emily Carr alumna Nicole Kelly Westman similarly explores an old-fashioned projection device in her piece, Faux Light Falling on Drawn Drapes.
“For a while I’ve been interested in other ways you can memorialize a moment that’s not like taking a photograph of it,” Westman said.
In her work, Westman uses a cuclioris, a light filter device used in film and performance that cast shadows to suggest the presence of objects that aren’t really there, like tree branches or blinds. Westman created her cuclioris patterns based on light streaming through her bedroom window. She then projected light and colour though the device onto fake curtains, photographed the result and printed that onto the real drapes in the show.
“So, it’s like three curtains involved,” Birch said.
“There’s the imaginary memory of the light falling on the curtains, there’s the constricted studio curtains with the cuclioris light and there’s that printed onto these curtains which have become real again in the gallery.”
“It’s a hard soundbite,” Westman said with a laugh.
The show also features experimental photographs by Victorian-era Victoria photographer Hannah Maynard and Montreal’s Jessica Eaton as well as videos by Vancouverite Allison Hrabluik and Sara Cwynar, who resides in New York City.
WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for Fulhame’s Map at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Friday, April 6 at 7 p.m. Show runs until June 3.