Artful Blogger

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Artists push the boundary of the natural world in Preternatural

Much Was Decided Before You Were Born by Mariele Neudecker

By Paul Gessell

The Canadian Museum of Nature has, within its much-renovated walls, one of the largest art galleries in the capital area. But it is also one of the more boring galleries in Ottawa because of a tendency to showcase earnest and predictable photographs or paintings. Rarely is there anything to make a visitor say “wow.”

Thankfully, the newest exhibition, which runs until Feb. 12, boasts considerable “wow” factor. Preternatural, as it is titled, offers visitors a selection of art that travels into the realm of the unexpected, marrying art, nature, and science in fascinating ways.

Who, for instance, can fail to be dazzled by the magical photo-based work of Gatineau artist Marie-Jeanne Musiol? Through a complicated electromagnetic process, Musiol is able to capture, photographically, the light field of leaves.

The result is a series of images of leaves surrounded by a luminous halo. Most of the leaves, arranged like museum specimens, are harvested from Musiol’s Gatineau neighbourhood and include oak, maple, and poplar.

Ottawa artist Andrew Wright confounds you with conceptual photo-based work. Initially, you think you are looking at an extreme close-up of the surface of the moon in the night sky. Instead, these are photographic images of a flat snowy field on Baffin Island that have been transferred onto a laminated plywood surface. But Wright has turned the images upside down so that the snowy field is at the top of the plywood and the black night sky at the bottom. To further complicate things, Wright has caused the plywood to bend in places, giving the images a sculptural effect.

Other artists in the exhibition include Mariele Neudecker from Britain, Anne Katrine Senstad from Norway, and Sarah Walko from New York. Each artist takes elements of the natural world and makes them “preternatural.”

The exhibition is curated by Celina Jeffery, associate professor of art history and theory at the University of Ottawa. The Museum of Nature is just one of three venues participating in this journey into the “preternatural” world.

St Brigid’s Centre for the Arts is another venue. There, from Dec. 10-17, Ottawa artist Adrian Gollner operates an installation called Handel’s Cloud in which puffs of white smoke emanate from the very shape and structure of the former church’s vaulted ceiling and in time to a slowed version of Handel’s Messiah.

Indian artist Avantika Bawa will use the interior of St. Brigid’s as a medium to create various conceptual artworks that play upon the natural sights and sounds of the building. Rows of church pews, for example, will be treated as a large musical sheet with strategically placed vinyl squares of yellow placed upon the pews, just like musical notes upon a sheet of paper. Bawa’s work will be on exhibition from Jan. 7-19.

Patrick Mikhail Gallery, a commercial art venue, is the third partner in Preternatural. The work of Korean-American artist Shin Il Kim, Invisible Masterpiece, will be on exhibition from Jan. 4-7. Kim has created a video installation comprised of 708 individual pressed line drawings which are filmed at 30 frames per second. The drawings depict people observing artworks at New York’s Metropolitan Museum. However, the artworks have been omitted from the drawings, leaving just the outline of viewers looking at empty space on paper. The purpose of the video is to underline Kim’s thesis that famous masterpieces tend to turn museum-goers into passive visitors conditioned to ignore less famous art. Kim’s work will be on exhibition from Jan. 4 to Feb. 7.

Preternatural. Until February 12 at the Canadian Museum of Nature, St. Brigid’s Centre for the Arts, and Patrick Mikhail Gallery.