arts and environment
The Lay of the Land: An Exhibit at Eastern Edge Gallery by Logan MacDonald
Curated by Jason Penney
Review by Martin Poole
St. John's, NL
"Drawing Concern", 2017. Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
Walking blindly into Logan MacDonald’s exhibit The Lay of the Land was an advantageous way to experience it. The Eastern Edge Gallery space intensified the work and immediately I was struck by the atmosphere; a physical representation transitioning between wilderness and urban construction, giving each state a sense of becoming the other.
But it isn’t quite so simple. For if we give equal weight to these states, we run the risk of missing MacDonald’s sincere intention.
"Drawing Concern", 2017. Mix Medium Drawing/College. Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
Perhaps it is inevitable that we all carry our ways of seeing a work of art. And when we ‘interpret,’ we bring a distance where none exists, since all reaction is an act of interpretation. However, The Lay of the Land demands more, for it can reveal a misunderstanding. Thus, it demands more than a reaction. I wonder here whether didactic art is too instructive to be completely subjective (if complete subjectivity exists at all) and—in regards to interpretation—the ponderous “I think,” shifts to the factual “It is.”
Perhaps the work is not considered didactic at all.
"Hand Holding", 2017. Mix Medium Photo-installation, 4 x 5ft. Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
Many things are indeed happening in MacDonald’s work, and to attempt to bind them within a single theme would elude, arguably, the point that is being made. As it would only serve to impose my idea on the other, to alter it to my direction, and so forth. But what is this thought if not one of the themes surrounding The Lay of the Land? That is, it reveals imposition in a grand scale.
Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
Consider the origin of Canada, and that it rests upon thousands of years of sophisticated cultural development. Bred from an urgent and ill-founded sense of ethnocentrism, Canada’s colonial era became a blatant force of acculturation and ethnocide of the Indigenous Peoples. One of the more potent examples—among many of past and present—is the residential school system that carved into the bloodlines of Indigenous Peoples’ families, in order to assimilate them into—the now—dominant culture(s).
Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
The result is that a majority of knowledge about this erasure is from our own history. But what does this provide with any certainty? Weigh this question with another: how certain is a fiction? And now compare this to Shirley Cheechoo’s realization in her play Path with no Moccasins: “I got a job one time as a clown at a theatre in Toronto. And the director told me to act Indian, I went blank. So I did what they do in the movies…” (1).
Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
I had my own realization in 2016 when I spent most of my time transitioning between: Newfoundland, Labrador, and the Mile End neighbourhood in Montreal. While I was working in downtown Montreal—still peppered with fly bites—I would sometimes compare it to the Labrador wilderness. It was difficult to fully realize how alternate these states were, so my comparison whittled down to particulars: a gutter to the river, the sidewalk to the embankment, trees to signs and streetlights, etc.
Given that downtown Montreal used to be a wilderness, how much change had to occur to lose this sense of comparison, if not total erasure?
"Parcelled Land (Kwanlin Dün)", 2017. Photo-installation, 6 x 8ft. Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
Take Parcelled Land (Kwanlin Dün), a large photo composed of taped pages of paper, each with a border. Of course, the presentation of the image is decidedly inefficient, but what does this tell us? Is it a distant memory of the wilderness from the city (or office cubicle, given the materials used.)? Is the grid representational of the carving, sectioning, partitioning of lands in post-colonial Canada?
That it is bound with hockey tape is a bold reminder of our national idiosyncrasies, and yet that detail is subtle enough that it could be easily missed. A clever reminder from MacDonald that knowledge of the land before colonization, and the methods that made Canada what it is now, could also be easily missed. Especially if we go along with the run of things, and in this context, we merely accept the fragmented image without further thought.
Perhaps MacDonald is telling us that we are lost within our constructs of the modern age, and the only language we can use to imagine the land before European colonization is what we've developed. Thus, the essence is missed in translation.
"Coast to Coast (NL, ON, YK)", 2017. Mix Medium Photo-installation, 4 x 8 ft. Photo Credit: Logan MacDonald
Consider the photo installation, Coast to Coast (NL, ON, YK). Three photographs: one of detritus, one of a graffito, and one of a fire pit. Each photograph relates a different narrative in turn, and at face-value reveals a different stage of alteration. However, there is more to consider: that they are printed on metal which is not diminutive of the subject matter as it does appear quite beautiful. Yet we are obligated to accept that we are getting a photo of a surface served on a surface, enlarged and fashioned horizontally as if it could be the essence.
There lies the motive that presents behind my words, and seems to precariously exist with each piece—in isolation—of MacDonald’s exhibit. That is, we see an attempt of a force to first destroy and then rebuild with its own ingredients. From the photos of subject matter that had to be destroyed for the urban materials that present them, to an invasive culture that writes a fictive history of an indigenous culture. It’s a destructive cycle, like a photo of a tree that is printed on paper and suspended in a wooden frame; it uses its deconstructed form to tell of its previous state. In a sense, the change can be so severe that it doesn’t exist, i.e. the former is gone, and the latter becomes the one and only. In such a state we lose the point of comparison. Then it seems we will have to work harder to remember.
(1) Cheechoo, Shirly. Path With No Moccasins. 1993.
© CUSS Journal