SPIRITS FROM THE WOODS (2018) | EXHIBITION STATEMENT
While each artwork in this exhibition has its own conceptual beginnings (including wildlife management, consumerism, and cultural / spiritual inquiry relating to wild animals), the common underlying theme is about evaluating relationships.
Wild animals are easy to identify with, especially when one considers our current cultural, technological, and political climate: animals are constantly having to adapt to a world that is changing due to human activity and some of them find ways to survive in unusual settings. Also wild animals live in the present moment: they are in tune with the environment that surrounds them and in living this way they naturally do what many humans try to accomplish their entire lives.
The majority of us have a symbolic relationship with wild animals. By this I’m referring to how we incorporate images and representations of them in our home decor (and artwork), in our social media feeds, or tattooed on our skin. These relationships have almost nothing to do with the actual living beings that pass through our neighbourhoods and who avoid us on trails - these relationships are actually based on human self-identity rather than outward calling to protect animals.
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
To identify with something as being ‘other’ is to perpetuate a difference between two things (us versus them, pet versus wild animal, my beliefs versus your beliefs). In terms of artwork and the symbolic use of animals, it is the role of art to offer an idea, concept, or narrative to the viewer and it is the role of the artist to remind the viewer that the idea or concept simultaneously exists independent from the artwork; an image of a bear morphing into the shape of a garbage bag does nothing to save another family of bears from being destroyed by conservation officers responding to a call. A viewer however may choose to take that message and make changes in their daily life or be active in their neighbourhood or city or province. It is the viewer that takes action (or not).
For me as an artist, it is important to incorporate elements of animal conservation or at least a level of awareness of particular issues (including how we regard wild animals in a largely symbolic sense) into my artwork. Including these points of reference is a way of embedding meaning into the artwork, like putting a message in a bottle or filling a vessel with ‘awake-ness’. My ultimate hope is that regardless of how weird the narrative may be, in the end the artwork can motivate viewers to self-evaluate their own relationships to the natural world and adjust their settings if their passion for animals is only reflected in their self-identity.
To reference Rene Magritte’s famous Treachery of Images painting of a pipe which includes the phrase: “Ceci n'est pas une pipe.” (this is not a pipe), in the case of this current exhibition, the artwork is about identifying our ‘relationship status’ regarding wild animals and to ask viewers to maintain a real world awareness and hopefully active support for the beings that are portrayed.