Exploring Canadian Art in the Capital: David Altmejd

The beginning of this month proved to be an exciting one filled with the opening of two Canadian themed exhibitions. The National Art Gallery of Canada (NGC) is currently running the exhibition It is what It Is: Recent Acquisitions of New Canadian Art (Nov. 5th to April 24th) and the Patrick John Mills Contemporary Fine Art Gallery is exhibiting a show titled I killed the Group of Seven (Nov. 11th to Dec. 5th) both serving to expose the city to great Canadian Artists. I had the pleasure of attending the second of two Meet and Greet Artist talks, put on by the NGC; and of going to the opening of I killed the Group of Seven where I had a lovely conversation with one of the artists exhibiting.

I managed to fall in love with a couple of artists, well their work. I left both exhibitions optimistic about Canadian art but most importantly: with a pensative mind. Because when it comes right down to it, art is not supposed to create parties or cultures, its suppose to make you think and perhaps, react with or against the culture it finds itself in. I want to focus on five artists who, uh, pretty much blew my mind: David Altmejd and  Adad Hannah, both from It is what It is and Mathieu Laca, Dane Atkinson and Allan Egan from I killed the Group of Seven in order to give them the space they deserve.

I managed to walk into the Artists Talk five minutes late (I blame this on my own disorganization and my rusty French, long story, involves the loss of a key and a key attendant, ’nuff said). But what I did walk into held me to silence and admiration. David Altmejd was up first and he was discussing one of his sculpture, the Holes. Altmejd managed to create these giant anamorphic-monster-like sculptures whose bodies are turned inside out, revealed, holed and blended into the mythical landscape they find themselves in. I wish I could’ve sneaked a picture. But since I tend to follow rules and not break them (ultimate sad face here – this gal’s down fall!) I didn’t bring my beautiful broken camera into the exhibition space. Instead, I managed to find a flickr account that holds five pictures of the piece. So enjoy them.

What I loved so much about Altmejd’s sculpture was how easily my eyes flowed over the bodies of these grotesque yet beautiful monster-like bodies. Altmejd’s use of light, pastel colours within the sculpture allowed for the eyes to move around easily, letting you take in the scuplture as a whole. Their holes not only revealed their insides, allowing their organs to spill out; but it also provided an opportunity for growth to happen. Altmejd’s combination of little creatures and societies around the dead bodies gave the piece a sense of balance between the lightness and darkness of, well, life. Even though Altmejd’s shows the viewer organs outside of the body and a figure decaying you can’t help but feel happy when viewing it. The darkness of the piece gives way to the  use of the colours and the sprouting of life (be it nature or societal) around the figures.

The aspect of  the mythological provides the viewer to go beyond escapism. This monster-like creature does not exist; it seems like it belongs in the movie “The Never Ending Story”. Its death signifies its non-existence within this world. But instead of staying within an escapist universe, Altmejd’s piece points to something true within culture: societies flourish when built up on myths (especially myths designed for a Nation). The dead figures have [stairs] built onto them for the use of the society. Allowing for the flourishment of a society to happen around them. It not only speaks to the life cycle of decay turning into life but it also speaks to myth generating success.

Canada’s art history when steeped in the Group of Seven revolves around the myth of the artist and his inspiration. The group allegidly gained all of its inspiration from Nature and Nature alone. This statement completely disregarded the picturesque style they were painting in  (and its history) and Europe’s history within landscape painting. But our society accepted it. Society also accepted their “success” within Europe when really most of our paintings were laughed at, along with the didactic panel of the artist influence and inspiration. Their paintings have flourished because we, a young independent nation, needed to show Europe that we were independent of them (ah, “high” culture and its use) but yet, they still flourished on a myth. This is just one example of how a myth can generate some sort of success. One can only wonder what else lies beneath the myth. {Financial Crisis, anyone?}

The piece not only served aesthetic purposes but allowed for my mind to be stimulated beyond the art world. It has further allowed this viewer to keep asking questions on how this culture is shaped. A value that surpasses any monetary worth.

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