Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art —Capture: Figure and Frame Exhibition

Another dreary, rainy day in North Vancouver heralded the start of the weekend, so I decided to be productive and go to my first exhibition. So I took myself off to the Gordon Smith Gallery of Canadian Art to view the Capture: Figure and Frame exhibition.

Sadly there were only about six photographic exhibits to see, the rest of the exhibition comprising acrylics, water colours, etchings, mixed media and carvings. The photographers on exhibit were Irene Whittome, Michael Snow, Douglas Coupland, Karin Bubas, Rodney Graham and Edward Burtynsky. I am only going to comment on two photographers, namely, Edward Burtynsky and Rodney Graham.

Edward Burtynsky’s (1955) photograph is entitled: Manufacturing #15 Bird Mobile, Ningbo, Zheijian Province, 2005. It is a photograph of young Chinese workers sitting at their stations all looking at the camera with expressionless faces. The workers are clad in blue overalls and caps, with a sprinkling of a few workers wearing pink caps. The overall image of the photo is very similar to the repetitive mirrored reflections one gets when sitting in front of the mirror at the hairdresser and seeing one’s image reflected back at from the mirrors on the wall behind. This gives the photograph the feeling of an indoor landscape scene with great depth of field taken with a wide angle lens. The workstation structures form vertical patterns, reminiscent of trees in a forest and this pattern is repeated in the wall paneling when one’s eye eventually makes it to the back of the photograph. There is a repetitive theme of three as well – three white pillars hold the ceiling up in the background; three workers and their workstations form the foreground, together with the three side tables next to their workstations. The strong horizontal lines of the fluorescent light fixtures are mirrored by the green conveyor belts between the rows of workers.

As stated by Cotton in The Photograph as Contemporary Art, chapter 3, Burtynsky employs the deadpan aesthetic to his works. He subtly uses his own social and political standpoints to convey a seemingly impartial point of view in his work. This carried through to his naming convention of his works.

Burtynsky purposefully avoids adding a narrative captions to his works as he want people to put their own interpretation on the images. Yet the title of this work is quite telling in its simplicity: Manufacturing #15 Bird Mobile. It is ironic and extremely sad that so many people are needed to create one tiny bird mobile, possibly for a baby’s crib. The fact that “Manufacturing” has a number attached to it implies that there are at least fourteen other photos with a similar numbered title, possibly even more, and upon inspection of Burtynsky’s website this does prove to be the case.

This is borne out in his artist’s statement:

… In my view, China is the most recent participant to fall prey to the seduction of western ideals, the promise of fulfillment and happiness. From my experience of living in a developed nation, the troubling downside of progress is something that I am sensitive to. The mass consumerism these ideals ignite and the resulting degradation of our environment intrinsic to the process of making things to keep people happy and fulfilled frightens me. I no longer see my world as delineated by countries, with borders, or language, but as 6.5 billion humans living off a single, finite planet.

—Edward Burtynsky, June 2007

Rodney Graham’s (1949) photograph, The Gifted Amateur, 2007 is a triptych. It show the interior of a lounge decorated in 1960’s style furniture and accessories, with wood paneling on the walls, and sloping wood paneled ceiling, with an artist standing barefoot in his dark blue pyjamas in the centre of the frame, smoking while pouring paints onto a large slanted canvas. The parquet floor is strewn with newspapers to catch spillages. A dining room table is on camera left, piled high with books, ornaments and cans of paint. Various containers of brightly coloured paint are grouped together on the floor. A sliding door opens to a garden in the background.

The photograph has lovely warm monochromatic brown tones throughout. Any colour in the image is centred around the artist. The dark blue pyjamas contrasting against the monochromatic tones, and the accents of colour on the canvas and the pots of paint around him keep drawing the eye to the centre frame.

One of the gallery volunteers approached me and told me the back story to the photograph. Graham, who is a local Vancouver artist, actually staged the whole photograph in a local school gymnasium close by. His entire set was created from objects dating back to the 1960’s. The newspapers strewn on the floor are copies of newspapers from the same time period. As well as photographer, Graham is also a painter and sculptor and he used one of his own paintings in the photograph, which can be seen in the right frame to the left of the reading lamp. The artist in the photograph is Rodney Graham himself. In his humourist way he is mimicking American artist, Morris Louis whose work fascinated him. The artwork that he is creating is one of his series in Inverted Drip Painting #1 – 8.

Graham’s work is an example of tableau photography, where entire scenes are authentically created and staged true to the period for the sole purpose of making a photograph. He features as the subject in much of his work and his tableaux have a humouristic edge to them.

I suppose by the time I reach level three, I will look back fondly on my first exhibition review and smile …

As an aside to those reading my review, I will be very grateful if you could let me know if you are not able to access Canadian content video broadcasts, so that I can make mention of it and provide a workaround to it during my submissions.

Reference List

Edward Burtynsky http://www.edwardburtynsky.com/ (accessed 5 April, 2014)

Edward Burtynsky, The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, [webcast, online] CBC, Canada, 23/10/2008, 11 minutes 1 second. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4mTGP49n4Y (accessed 5 April, 2014)

Burtynsky, Edward. (2005) Manufacturing #15 Bird Mobile. Ningbo, Zheijian Province. [online image]. Open Society Foundations. Available from: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/moving-walls/13/china (Photograph 9 of 10) [Accessed 5 April, 2014]

Lisson Gallery, Rodney Graham: Wet on Wet – My Late Early Styles, 2007 [online]. Available from: http://www.lissongallery.com/exhibitions/rodney-graham-wet-on-wet-my-late-early-styles [Accessed 5 April, 2014]

Graham, Rodney. (2007) The Gifted Amateur. [online image]. 303 Gallery. Available from: http://www.303gallery.com/artists/rodney_graham/index.php?iid=11196&exhid=56&p=img [Accessed 5 April, 2014]

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