Sur/real

20 October 2018 – What do you do when the real keeps crashing into the surreal? If you are Edward Burtynsky, you document it.

This Canadian photographer & artist has been doing so for a while, mostly recently with his enormous multi-media project, Anthropocene — in collaboration with Nicholas de Pencier & Jennifer Baichwal — now on view at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

I have loved Burtynsky’s large-scale, high-resolution photographs of human impact on the earth (“built landscapes”) since I first saw a show of his works at the AGO during its 2008 expansion — and as a result decided to become a Gallery volunteer.

Here he is again.

The show is epic. And it deals with an epic new stage in human history. As Burtynsky points out on his webpage devoted to this project:

The Holocene epoch started 11,700 years ago as the glaciers of the last ice age receded. Geologists and other scientists from the Anthropocene Working Group believe that we have left the Holocene and entered a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Their argument is that humans have become the single most defining force on the planet and that the evidence for this is overwhelming.

When your skills and technology allow you to view our impact at something approaching its true scale, real does indeed merge with surreal.

I walk about, disoriented once again by the way large-scale destruction can often look so beautiful.

Is this a Georgia O’Keefe flower painting?

No. It is Phosphor Tailings # 5 near Lakeland, Florida.

Is this a Renaissance tapestry?

No. It is waste at the Morenci copper mine, Clifton Arizona.

Are these snail shells?

Again, no. This is Uralkali Potash Mine #4, Berezniki, Russia.

Other confusions are also possible, and more charming.

My one-time AGO colleague and continuing good friend Cyndie joins me. She leads me to this video of coal trains coming & going.

A visitor told Cyndie about standing here with her young son, someone who had heard his parents discussing jazz giant John Coltrane. “Look!” cried the child. “Coal train!”

The technology on display, and the skills of those using that technology, are staggering. Huge scale, huge depth of field, and razor-sharp focus. Here’s another sweeping view of the land and a phosphor trailings pond near Lakeland, Florida …

 

and, look, here is a croc, sunning himself at pond-edge.

Sometimes, the team is able to document “good anthropocene.”

Take this short video sequence shot by Baichwal and de Pencier in Cathedral Grove, Vancouver Island.

Before …

and — boom! — after.

All good.

So-called “danger trees” — ones that through age and other frailties pose danger to workers and visitors — are routinely exploded. Their debris settles back to the forest floor, hastening the return of their nutrients to the soil.

More good anthropocene — a thriving coral reef lying more than 18 metres underwater in Komodo National Park, a World Heritage Site in Indonesia.

As we walk out, I tug Cyndie over to the huge work hanging by the exhibition entrance, one I have always loved in the AGO’s permanent collection.

With that coral reef still dancing in my mind, I suddenly know why this glorious work by Québécois master Jean-Paul Riopelle …

is such an appropriate visual introduction to the show.

 

 

 

Good-bye, TDOT

14 March 2018 – The visit ends as it began. With a great visual punch of art.

But, this time, not street art!

Contrary to what I may have led you to believe, not all of Toronto’s art is on the street. Some of it is on walls — interior walls, you understand,  and sometimes visible only by paid admission. Really.

I spend my last day in Toronto — indeed, I am en route the airport — at the Art Gallery of Ontario. The architecture and exhibitions come second to the power of memory and the joy of seeing old friends and former colleagues.

Mind you, as “second” goes, it’s first-rate.

I visit the Burning Forest …

La Forêt ardente, Jean Paul Riopelle, part of the Mitchell/Riopelle exhibition …

wander through the Narcissus Garden

one installation in Yayoi Kusama’s multi-floor exhibition …

and drink my latte under a bright winter sky in the AGO’s Galleria Italia café.

 

All that skyscape is curated into multiple images by the lines and curves of Frank Gehry‘s architectural magic, a fitting tribute by this native son to his home town — indeed, his home neighbourhood.

Over the years, one weekly shift after another, I nursed my coffee-break lattes under these soaring arcs, exposed to the weather visually but protected from it physically, and so free to enjoy its every mood.

One more latte, this time as a visitor. The perfect end to the perfect final day of my visit.

And I’m off to the airport, and home.

 

  • WALKING… & SEEING

    "Traveller, there is no path. Paths are made by walking" -- Antonio Machado (1875-1939)

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