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Michael Davidge
Land Reform(ed) at Ajagemo in Ottawa
August 26, 2014

Land Reform(ed) at Âjagemô invites the viewer to re-examine notions of the Canadian landscape in contemporary art. The exhibition is the first to be installed in the new gallery at the recently developed Performance Court where the Canada Council for the Arts is the anchor tenant. The Council moved there at the beginning of the year and Âjagemô opened in June to give the organization an attractive street presence. The space will be used to show off the holdings of the Canada Council Art Bank, which has been collecting Canadian artworks since 1972 and renting them to government and corporate clients. Land Reform(ed) offers a quick thematic tour as delineated over the past four decades by some of our nation’s greatest hit-makers.

Dil Hildebrand, Camping Fishing, 2006 (photo: Brandon Clarida)

Curated by Stanzie Tooth during an internship for her MFA at the University of Ottawa, the exhibition offers scant evidence that contemporary Canadian artists naïvely celebrate a direct communion with an unspoiled wilderness. The oldest work in the show, Michael Snow’s Log from 1973/74, portrays a highly mediated relationship with nature. The eponymous log is vertically stacked in four sections separated by plexiglass. It leans against the wall next to a similarly leaning plexiglass-mounted and sectioned photograph of the very same log, suggesting a crazy science experiment where the more closely you examine an object the more unfamiliar it becomes. Adjacent is a more recent work by Dil Hildebrand titled Camping Fishing. This painting of a woodland view also resembles a movie set, as its lower section reveals an artificial underside to the natural scene above. Even the most innocuous project on view, a series by Marlene Creates where the artist photographed her hand against tree trunks, demonstrates that Canadian artists do not leave the landscape untouched by their interventions.

Âjagemô is an Algonquin word that means “crossroads.” By acknowledging its presence on unceded Algonquin territory, the gallery further implies that claims to the landscape in Canada do not always go uncontested. The complexity of the historical narrative of the North American landscape is reflected in Tooth’s choices for the exhibition. Arthur Renwick’s WO-QUI-NI (Roman Nose) opens up a gap between the landscape and its graphic depiction by literally punching a hole in its surface with a semi-colon cited from a related document. Part of a series whose titles are taken from the names of the Lakota warriors betrayed by the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, this work could stand as a punctum for the entire exhibition.

Kim Adams, Artists’ Colony (detail), 1987-89 (photo: Brandon Clarida)

Viewers are exhorted by a didactic panel to think of the “crossroads” of Âjagemô as a meeting place where one can imagine new possibilities and consider taking untraveled roads. Land Reform(ed) offers plenty of opportunities to do just that. Kim Adams’ fanciful Artists' Colony is one example. Fashioned from model train miniatures, the work proposes a visionary utopia of sunbathers, fried chicken, and dancing horses. I noticed that the stacked railway cars providing ad hoc condo towers for the settlement bear the logo of the old Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway, the same logo used today by the Hamilton-based artist collective TH&B. Perhaps they will be inspired to create a full-scale version of Adams’ colony for Steeltown.

Land Reform(ed) continues until October 31.

Michael Davidge is an artist, writer, and independent curator. His writing on art and culture has appeared in BlackFlash, Border Crossings and C Magazine, among other publications. He is Akimblog’s Ottawa correspondent and can be followed on Twitter @MichaelDavidge.



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