Tag Archives: Ontario

the wind and the rain

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

The wind and rain hit the side of the house so relentlessly and powerfully all night that I assumed when I would wake the next morning everything would be blown away. But as the sun came up over the field, beyond the garden and work shed it was business as usual; Molly the dog running about, birds flitting about on empty trees and the southern Ontario sky moodily moving clouds back and forth – grey, lavender, white and grey again. Morning in farm country. It is an entirely different kind of morning than in the forest.

I am in southern Ontario installing an art exhibition that is the consequence of a residency. The landscape, with farms and hollows is completely different than where I live which is foresty, rugged with Precambrian shield rocks and has hundreds of lakes. Where I am now there is one, huge great lake. But as it always is when we embark and then embed ourselves in different landscapes, we feel comfortable in our relative discomfort. I admit to being a home body; I like being in my jammies and reading and hanging out on my property and wandering up my road. So, when I travel and even if it is only somewhere else in Ontario it has an impact on my psyche.

Winter is coming. A foreboding tag line if there ever was one. The turn onto our road last winter – yeah, we get snow.

Ontario used to be a place with fairly consistent weather; rain in in the shoulder months, snow in winter and heat in summer. The sun always around and appearing regularly. Ontario weather is now no longer that consistent. Our summers are a mixed bag, sometimes wet and cold, sometimes too hot, our winter starts later and later and when the snow comes it comes in heaps and there seems to be crazier and crazier rain storms. This past year I witnessed flooding I had never seen before in lots of places in the province. It is alarming for sure and with the fact that my life has been built around trekking across the landscape to make and exhibit art, I have to say I am not filled with the greatest of optimism that this will become easier, in fact I think these ventures will become harder. Secretly though I also think that perhaps we might have to stay home more (quiet little yeah!).

Being a landscape inspired artist in an era of accelerating climate change isn’t exactly what I bargained or readied myself for. Listening to the rain last night in that 19th century farm house with its huge wooden doors and big heavy windows – the kind you can sit in on a pillow and create poetry in – was exactly where I hoped I would be one day when I was young girl obsessed with Mary Shelley and the Brontes. Unfortunately loving stormy nights doesn’t fill me with Gothic ecstasy anymore, they come too fast, too hard and go beyond drama into something far scarier and foreboding. Climate change is ruining my love of Goth. Storms now cause power outages and we can’t use our water – this isn’t romantic, it’s boring. Dark foreboding skies are still beautiful, but they can also mean that a heavy rain will probably make the door jamb in my house leak. So, this is where I am now. I moved into a gorgeous log cabin in the woods, a romantic setting if there ever was one only to have all the sensuality of violent weather drummed out of me. Climate change you suck.

I WISH I thought climate change was a hoax, I would probably be more able to pretend that on a stormy night I am sitting with the ghosts of Shelley and Byron trying scare each other until it stops raining. No such luck. I listen to the wind howl in a way that seems completely psychotic, not eerie or evocative, just simply psychotic and try to distract my fear of our roof coming off by watching Netflix and praying that the internet holds. Ok, I may be waxing a bit dramatic here. These storms aren’t relentlessly ubiquitous yet.

The thing is I have always loved the weather in Ontario and in all parts of Ontario. One year we got stuck in a blizzard and had to stay in our hotel an extra couple of nights outside of Cobalt on Lake Temiskaming. It was amazing really. Our hotel had a fireplace so, if the power went out we’d still be warm (it didn’t) but watching the snow sweep across the lake, it’s power and beauty an almost ethereal and translucent spectral event – made for a very memorable couple of days.

The morning after, strange swirling forms of vapour rose off the lake spiraling to the blasting sun as though the very air was giving blessings to the universe. I could not possibly make art our of such an event – there was no need really. We drove slowly away toward home and of course I was happy and relieved however changed, because the landscape, the weather and the movement through time that others refer to as travel had made its mark upon my soul. A reliable sense of things in our atmosphere seems to be vanishing – I shall hold its poetic power as long as I am able.

Advertisements

Being Here with Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg

Victoria Ward
Victoria Ward

If you write or paint or do something very solitary, you come to love inanimate objects. My wolf mug is my buddy on mornings when I need to answer emails, my Bic pens are my tools for drafting inconsequential and sometimes totally consequential notes, my ancient orange desk chair with a slight lean to the right when I stretch my back is not helping my spine but it has a comforting familiarity about it I have come to love, these things are part of my world and they inhabit it as I do, sometimes with love, and sometimes with cold utility.

Conceptual sculptors Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg understand the world of love and utility among objects in such a unique and refreshing way that I must make a disclaimer. Their arrival from Brooklyn to Minden had me frothing at the mouth with excitement – artists with some NYC chutzpah and glamour! And, less superficially, they arrived with a stunning record of unpretentious exhibiting all over the place of work densely thought out and meticulously made. This is not a super critical review because I admit to fandom right away.

Their exhibition ‘Here’ at the Agnes Jamieson Gallery this April was a gentle introduction to their work. Several dozen extraordinary collages, all of which were made from photographed bits and pieces of sculpted work prior to the move and after, all with their trademarked blue polystyrene and a wonderful video was the perfect entry into their world for a small community not necessarily familiar with the history and trends of conceptual art making.

Here (b363), 2016, 11x14" inkjet on paper collage
Here (b363), 2016, 11×14″ inkjet on paper collage

The collages worked wonderfully as two dimensional pieces. Some of them seemed every bit as intricate as a painting, full of the kinds of struggle of composition and planning that a painting entails. But, they were photographs of sculpted pieces also made with meticulous craftsmanship. The viewer then is looking at a work that has multiple layers of meaning, and multiple layers of creating. Some of the collages seemed like enigmatic stories, some seemed like starting points for movies and some rested comfortably as abstracted works. The mixture of their urban past and their now, rural and woodsy present were delightfully explored – the trees like their street lamps are exquisitely crafted with humour and quirk.

Certain collages had enormous psyche space in them. By that I mean viewing the work up close and then stepping back confirmed that which is always desirous in art work; looking and thinking separate, come together again in analysis and then released in an emotive resignation. You exhale when you see good art work just as when you confront something like a vista in nature. I wanted one to take home.

The video in the exhibition is a slightly older work. Titled ‘The Way Things Are’ it features ‘characters’ from Hanson & Sonnenberg’s earlier work such as street lamps, a zamboni, post office boxes, street signs all of which come to animated stop-motion life in an evening on a city street corner. A chair mysteriously falls over on a rooftop, a zamboni leaves a garage without a driver and slowly chaos ensues; street lamps explore garbage cans throwing them asunder and one even urinates, a garbage can leaps from a building, a stop sign bashes a post office box into rubble. This is glorious stuff for those of us dedicated to philosophies of chaos theory. The set is both detailed and realistic down to chain link fence, street cobblestones and working lights. Created in the deep blue and green hues from the set made of polystyrene the video goes beyond cartoon, and with the ensuing catastrophic atmosphere enters the macabre. Something lurks in all their work and ‘The Way Things Are’ is an illustration of the escalation of seeming entropy.

While the pieces I saw in the exhibition and from what I can find about Chris and Hendrika on the web, one could deduce a kind of coldness in their work. Their materials are those that are used in a common way such as street signs, the things we never think of as having warmth or personality. However, their approach, taking these seemingly impossible and mundane materials and making them into lively things that suddenly jolt about or lie down or urinate and get twisted into other forms such as buckets shows two artists on an epic search for love and transformation.

Modesty reigns in this kind of artwork. Deep into the video ‘The Way Things Are’ two things stand out in distinction; first an orange hue vibrating from what looks like a little street corner studio. Is this them? Are they continuing to work away while their creations run amok? It’s lovely to think so. Another, on the back wall of an open doorway is the only text “No Rules”. Of course, when even the street lamp can’t be trusted to perform its one duty we have the delightful chaos that only artists such as Chris and Hendrika are able to create and eventually put back in order.

You can watch their videos and see more of their work at BucketofBlood