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Steven Leyden Cochrane
Mark Neufeld at Gallery 1C03
December 02, 2014

“What is the appeal of an image of a fort?” Twice a performer in Mark Neufeld’s Re-Enactments asks the question; both times it goes unanswered. I mean really, who cares? Questions of “caring” – who cares, how, why, and to what end – turn out to be central concerns in Neufeld’s meandering, occasionally claustrophobic, and ultimately rewarding exhibition at University of Winnipeg’s Gallery 1C03.

Mark Neufeld, Re-enactments

Neufeld scavenges institutional art collections, junk shops, and the Internet for artifacts of the colonial past, bits of Roman mythology, and the trappings of modern-day curatorship, arranging found objects and borrowed artworks in artfully haphazard installations. Those same objects reappear in paintings and collage works, which he handles with a similarly mannered nonchalance, and they serve as props in periodic scripted performances.

Re-enactments paraphrases and expands on Performance with Two Sculptures, a 2013 exhibition in Lethbridge in which Neufeld’s curated cacophony orbited a pair of bronze broncobusters by Frederic Remington. Alongside canvases showing the sculptures being felt up by white-gloved hands, two Remingtons from the University of Manitoba’s collection anchor the current show. These serve as a point of departure for an extended meditation on local “frontier” depictions, focusing on views of Upper Fort Garry, the now-ruined HBC trading post at the heart of Winnipeg’s contemporary downtown.

At the entrance to the gallery, a giant oil-on-canvas reproduction of a catalogue for Dreams of Fort Garry, a 1999 HBC-sponsored historical show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, faces a monochrome mirror image of itself. Neufeld transmutes the battered, sage-coloured cover into solid chroma-key green, the “image of a fort” replaced by a literal (if speculative) site of projection. The large paintings bookend a scattering of borrowed works on paper, some featured on the back of the catalogue (the original is draped over an improvised display case housing one of the Remingtons).

Mark Neufeld, Re-enactments

In the performances, two female actors slip between the roles of a wide-eyed, Whitmanesque sex worker, the distraught wife of a British colonial officer, a curator, and a performance artist. The script interweaves the first two women’s wildly differing accounts with the story of Cura, the Roman goddess whose name gave us several words for “caring.” While the role of gender in received notions of “care” and Neufeld’s particular treatment of it here could bear more scrutiny, the script’s unlikely mythological turn does go partway toward explaining “the appeal of an image of a fort.”

Having sculpted it from dirt, Cura was given the first human “to have and hold it as long as it lives” – both a gift and a burden. For better or worse, these antiquated and even disagreeable colonial artifacts – fort pictures and cowboy sculptures alike – are ours to reckon with until they, like us, return to dust. Rather than “who cares?” the real question is whether our caring, which seems inevitable or at least proscribed, elevates us or drags us down.

Gallery 1C03:
Mark Neufeld: Re-enactments continues until February 14

Steven Leyden Cochrane is an artist, writer, and educator based in Winnipeg, where he contributes weekly exhibition reviews to the Free Press. He is Akimbo’s Winnipeg correspondent and can be followed @svlc_ on Twitter.



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