By STUDY28|Violette Stepaniuk
When I walked into the Andrew Wright: Pretty Lofty and Heavy All at Once exhibition at the Ottawa Art Gallery, I was shocked and disappointed. You see, based on the exhibition’s promotional photo, my imagination curated a show of equally alluring photographs of silver and light, almost like a mirror room, mesmerizing and spellbinding. What I saw at the gallery, however, was nothing like it.
In the first room I found unusual but, at first glance, underwhelming nature shots and a strange installation of freestanding black panels, each with an image of splashing water printed on its curved lower end. The second room offered more unusual installations, including the work that brought me to the show, but which turned out to be an installation, not a photograph.
I could see no rhyme or reason in this collection. What does a close up of a rock or snow have to do with a row of black panels? How does a mirrored glass box containing silver-plated objects relate to a set of black and silver wavy squares spread out on the floor?
Since experience has taught me to keep an open mind even about the most unusual of exhibitions, I acknowledged my initial judgmental thoughts then asked myself, Why are these works here together? What do they have in common?
“WALKING THROUGH ANY MUSEUM OR ANY COLLECTION WITH ONE’S SENSES AWAKE AND WITH A RECEPTIVE MIND TELLS US…THAT ART OBJECTS CAN BE UNPREDICTABLE, INTRIGUING, SURPRISING. AN ENCOUNTER WITH AN ART OBJECT BY AN ATTENTIVE VIEWER IS AN ENCOUNTER WITH THAT WHICH IS STRANGE.”Tony Godfrey, Introduction to Understanding Art Objects
I realized that not only did the whole exhibition seem strange and ad hoc, but that there was something strange, eerie, and mysterious about each piece. What is strange about a rock or a snow bank? Under normal circumstances, or should I say in plain, everyday snapshots, nothing, but these were not everyday, plain photos. I realized that as soon as I focused on that nagging feeling of strangeness.
In the Untitled Photograph set of works, Wright closes in on a rock against the black of the night, making the rock seem strange and otherworldly. Similarly in After Kurelek (2013) a sheet of snow appears to be hanging in total darkness. These familiar natural objects seen through Wright’s lens acquire a sense of alienness as if they are floating in outer space.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Wright, via andrewwright.ca
Andrew Wright | Untitled Photograph #2 (Lichen) | digital chromogenic print, mounted on dibond | 50 in x 67 in | 2013. Edition of 5.
This sense of strangeness is present in all of Wright’s photographs and installations in the exhibition. The trees in Tree Corrections (2013) are a common sight, but in his shots there is something odd about them, and grouping them into one installation only adds to this sense of confusion and disorientation.
OAG curator Ola Wlusek explains that the black panel installation, Still Water (2009), represents a waterfall. The power of the rushing and crashing water is impressive, to put it mildly. Having camped along a cliff, on the Cape Breton’s Coastal Trail in Nova Scotia, I know how darkness emphasizes the power of rushing water, and how unnerving it is to look down at the crushing waves when facing the black wall that the ocean and sky form at night. In Still Water the beauty of the crystal-clear splashing water clashes with the piercing darkness of the wall. Mesmerizing, yet unnerving.
Photo by Violette Stepaniuk
Andrew Wright’s installation Still Water (2009) at the Ottawa Art Gallery, on view until May 10.
Even my favourite work, Disused Twin Lens Camera (missing crank), 2014, the installation-not-a-photograph that led me to this exhibition, and which I like so much that my alter ego art thief contemplated taking home, is playful and exciting on the one hand, and unsettling and mystifying on the other. At first glance the glass box is shiny and bright, but if you look deeper you find yourself staring into the dark centre of infinity.
Photos by Violette Stepaniuk
Looking at Disused Twin Lens Camera (missing crank), 2014, an installation by Andrew Wright, is like looking at infinity trapped in a box. Possibilities are endless as these details of the work show.
Subject = photography
A video I found on the photographer’s website sheds light on where this sense of strangeness comes from. For the most part Wright’s photography is not just about photographing things; instead, the subject of his photography is photography itself.
“THE DISCOVERY OF SOMETHING REMARKABLE IN A PERSON, EXPERIENCE, OR THING THAT INITIALLY PUT YOU OFF IS WHERE A MORE FULFILLING LIFE BEGINS.”Maxwell L. Anderson, The Quality Instinct
Andrew Wright: Pretty Lofty and Heavy All at Once, on view until May 10, is the Ottawa-based artist’s ten-year retrospective, which explains the sense of an ad hoc collection. Even though the exhibition didn’t meet my imagination’s expectations, and I still don’t understand some of the works, it was exhilarating to give myself over to a new art experience. I don’t have all the answers, but just considering the questions led me to seeing things in a new light (or darkness).
Ah yes, the darkness, this piercing black…there is something about it that I can’t forget. I was looking for silver and light, but unexpectedly this interstellar blackness got a hold over me.