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One of the country’s most exciting young artists explores Canadian identity through ceramics, video, and sound
Toronto, ON January 23, 2017—To commemorate Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Gardiner Museum has commissioned a multimedia exhibition by one of the country’s most exciting young ceramic artists that both celebrates and questions notions of Canadian identity.
“As we enter the 150th anniversary of Confederation and the Gardiner’s “Year of Canada”, we recognize the creativity that has helped Canada forge a unique and thoughtful place in the world,” says Kelvin Browne, Gardiner Museum Executive Director and CEO.
On display from February 16 to May 21, Janet Macpherson: A Canadian Bestiary conveys a very personal view of Canada that draws on the artist’s own experiences, memories of her Catholic childhood, and a distinct visual language characterized by hybrid animal creatures that stand in for the complexity of human interactions.
The exhibition is made up of four immersive installations, each a distinct environment, with music by Macpherson, sound design by Justin Haynes, and videos by Renée Lear.
“The vignettes are connected by overlapping themes and questions: ideas about Canadian history and identity, the symbolic meaning of nature and our impact on the environment, and the mythic idea of the North,” says curator Karine Tsoumis.
“A Canadian Bestiary is my rumination about Canada, using a vocabulary of animals and images I find compelling, but like the animals, these installations are ideas, thoughts, an attempt to define the ephemeral, starting a conversation, not ending it,” explains Macpherson.
Animal heads and bodies are interchanged and faces are masked and obscured. Wrapping forms in damp porcelain sheets—binding, bandaging the figures, contemplating the intentions of these gestures—Macpherson examines the boundaries between devotion and coercion, pleasure and pain, animal impulse and domesticity.
The opening section of the exhibition focuses on Canada as a relatively new country, the encounters of Aboriginal peoples and settlers, and for Europeans, an introduction to a vast wildness. Tree trunks of varying heights act as pedestals for a collection of human hearts—a shrine that bears the scars of the past, including colonization. The accompanying audio is a collection of songs interpreted by Macpherson, including three original compositions, and traditional English and Scottish folk songs that deal with themes of loss and change.
North of North
The next section, enclosed by shifting fabric walls with lighting that evokes the aurora borealis, explores the myth of the North and its role within the collective consciousness of Canadians. Macpherson’s North is filled with mysterious creatures, their strangeness emphasizing the role of fantasy in conceptions of the unknown.
The vastness of the land and the migration of diverse peoples are central to Canadian history and identity. Migration features a herd of miniature hybrid animals crossing a low bridge. The image encapsulates thousands of years of migratory movements from the Paleolithic migration across the Bering Strait land bridge, the movements of nomadic populations, and the journeys of early European settlers, to present-day migration. It is accompanied by Renée Lear’s original video, The Migration Stops Here, which illustrates how large populations of Canada geese no longer migrate due to habitat loss.
The fragility of our ecosystems and the impact of human activities on the natural world are central themes in Decoy. For the first time, Macpherson introduces life-sized figures; an owl, a coyote, and a deer stacked on top of one another are at the core of the installation. Viewers are encouraged to reflect upon the reality of Canada as a vast territory that has continually been exploited for its resources.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Janet Macpherson was born in Barrie, Ontario, in 1974, where she grew up. She moved to Toronto to pursue her studies, obtaining her Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy at York University in 1996. While at university, she discovered the medium of clay through pottery classes, a hobby at the time. Her training in ceramics continued at Sheridan College in Oakville from 1999 to 2002, and for the following six years she maintained a studio practice in Toronto, making functional objects.
Macpherson started exploring a more figurative approach to ceramics at the Ohio State University, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts in 2010. In 2013, she received the Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramics from the Clay and Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario. Her work has also been supported by grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Toronto Arts Council. Macpherson was an artist in residence at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, and more recently at the Zentrum Für Keramik in Berlin, Germany. She lives and works in Toronto.
PROGRAMS & EVENTS
In Conversation with Janet Macpherson
Tuesday February 14, 7 – 8 pm
Join Kelvin Browne, Executive Director & CEO of the Gardiner Museum, as he discusses the exhibition Janet Macpherson: A Canadian Bestiary with artist Janet Macpherson, video artist Renée Lear, and curator Karine Tsoumis.
Tickets: $15 General; $10 Gardiner Friends
Salon 21: R. Murray Schafer and the Natural World
Friday February 24, 7 – 9 pm
Regarded as a pioneer of “acoustic ecology”, Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer has long been concerned with environmental sound. In partnership with Soundstreams, this installment of Salon 21 will explore notions of wilderness and soundscapes in conversation with artist Janet Macpherson and composer David Jaeger. There will also be a docent-led tour of Janet Macpherson: A Canadian Bestiary.
FREE with half-price Museum admission.
What Now: Thinking Through Canada 150
Monday February 27, 6:30 – 8 pm
Speaker: David Balzer
Presented in Partnership with Canadian Art
2017 marks Canada’s sesquicentennial—an intended celebration that, however, already seems much different than 1967’s explicitly hopeful, late-Modernist centenary. In an era where we are again seeing the dangers of nationalism—something contemporary art has claimed to reject outright, yet unquestionably participates in—it is worthwhile to think carefully, skeptically, and curiously about this anniversary and the charged moment it will afford. Here, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Canadian Art magazine, David Balzer, explores the problems and opportunities surrounded Canada 150: an event that could, and should, be as much about the future as the past.
$15 General; $10 Gardiner Friends
⋛⋋( ‘◇’)⋌⋚ PiGEON ⋛⋋( ‘◇’)⋌⋚
Saturday April 29, 9 am – 12 pm (Rain Date: Saturday May 6)
The growth of dense urban areas poses a significant threat to migratory birds. One of the leading causes of bird death in North America is collision with human-built structures. Harnessing the practice of psychogeography, which aims to produce new perspectives of urban environments by observing and moving through them playfully, PiGEON will guide participants through the Bloor St. Cultural Corridor on a birding excursion led by Toronto-based artist collective Friends of Ogden Park and FLAP Canada. The walk will be followed by a DIY paracord-string crafting demonstration as a preventive tool for bird-window collision. PiGEON also includes a complimentary brown bag lunch and free admission to Janet Macpherson: A Canadian Bestiary.
$25 General; $20 Gardiner friends
Universe in a Glass
Wednesday May 17, 7 – 10 pm
There is more life in a drop of ocean water than in most major cities on Earth; yet, this awesome reality is invisible to the naked eye and goes largely unnoticed. Presented in partnership with Toronto Animated Image Society and Subtle Technologies, this screening of animated shorts explores the interconnectedness of all living beings on our planet through water. It will be followed by a Q&A.
$15 General; $10 Gardiner Friends and Toronto Animated Image Society Members; Free for Subtle Technologies pass-holders
Janet Macpherson: A Canadian Bestiary is on display at the Gardiner Museum from February 16 to May 21, 2017. For more information about the exhibition and a full list of programs, visit gardinermuseum.com.
Thank you to our Presenting Sponsors, Tom Kierans and Mary Janigan, and our Exhibition Partner, the Hal Jackman Foundation.
111 Queen's Park
Canada, M5S 2C7
The Gardiner Museum is temporarily closed.