January 9 Conservator Jill McRae will discuss the cleaning and restoring of the Ron Bloore White on White mural.
A brief Q & A will follow each ArtTalk
The Documentary Impulse: 1970s Photography of Prince Edward Island Life
Inspired by the newly built Confederation Centre of the Arts, Canadian painter Ronald Bloore offered to create a custom mural to adorn its walls in the early months of 1965. The piece, White on White, was finished and installed by Bloore during the summer of 1967. Eleven Masonite panels that match the shape of the sandstone blocks that make up the structure of the Centre were installed directly under a skylight in the main concourse, a public thoroughfare that is still used as such today. The varying tones of white, coupled with the changing outside light, created a mural that Bloore felt would “always be alive and moving.”
After 36 years, the wear and tear of being on public display, coupled with the need for repairs in the concourse saw the Bloore mural removed and placed into storage in April 2003. Now, after several years of planning, the conservation treatment of this sculptural painting will take place in full view of the public as part of the fall exhibition programming. Elizabeth Jablonski, a paintings conservator from Nova Scotia, will head the treatment process with assistance from Confederation Centre Art Gallery’s conservation technician, Jill McRae. Upon completion of treatment, the site-specific piece will be reinstalled in the main concourse to once again interact with the architecture and light, “reflecting something of the outside in to the interior.”
In 2012, overwhelmed by grief, Hamilton-based painter Sandra Meigs produced a series of four large-scale paintings that translated her emotional state following the death of her husband into an imagery of subterranean architecture. One of the inspirations for the work was her sister’s basement in New Freedom, Pennsylvania. She found in the claustrophic, disused space, in the arrangements of half-forgotten things, a scene she linked to her emotional state and to the processes of stasis and change that preoccupied her. She described the experience:
“To get into the basement there’s a small door and rickety stairs, the ceiling there is quite low, and incandescent lights hang down just by their wires, from the ceiling. I found the basement so beautiful, especially when it was lit that way…there’s random stuff piled on other stuff, with narrow walkways through. It’s kind of like being in a museum…[but deposited] through normal accumulation over 40 years.”
The approximately 500 photographs Meigs took in New Freedom became source material for a series of modestly scaled paintings, The Basement Piles, and a catalyst for the more monumental The Basement Panoramas, which are each based on real basements whose locations are named in their titles.
Basements, often filled with unsorted things we store for future use and collections of the residue of lives, ornamented by tangled systems of wiring, heating and plumbing, hidden from everyday existence above ground, can be read in these works as an architectural scenario analogous with the structures and processes of the unconscious mind. In Meigs’ paintings, the physical shape of the basement breaks down into vigorous spirals and swirling lines, spreading and layering and changing direction as if of their own accord. Frequently interspersed with charged text, The Basement Panoramas reflect on mortality and rebirth, the hidden drives that both animate us and hold us in their confining embrace. Alternating between exuberant, expansive colour and gesture, and nightmarish claustrophia and repetition, these works are a document of the will, as intensity, as persistence, and as escaping endlessly beyond our control.
-Pan Wendt, Curator
During the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the College of Fine Arts at the University of Baghdad lost their entire library from looters who set fire to the collection. More than 70,000 books were reduced to ashes. Fifteen years later, students at the college still have few books from which to study.
In 168:01, Wafaa Bilal has constructed an austere library containing 1,000 empty white books. The white library serves as both a monument to the staggering cultural losses endured throughout Iraq’s history, as well as a platform for its rebirth. Aimed at restoring the college’s lost archives, 168:01 positions viewers as potential participants whose contributions fund educational texts from a wish list compiled by students and faculty. As the installation accrues donations, the blank books are replaced with new ones and the library’s shelves become saturated with knowledge and vibrancy. Select donors receive these books in return for their contribution and as a symbol of the void they have helped to rectify. At the end of the exhibition, all donated texts will be shipped to Baghdad. In this way, the white library activates a system of exchange connecting its visitors in Canada and beyond to the College of Fine Arts in Iraq.
Iraq has a long history of cultural destruction. During the Islamic Golden Age in the 13th century, an invading Mongol army set fire to all the libraries of Baghdad, including the famed House of Wisdom, or Bayt al-Hikma. Legend describes the invaders throwing the Bayt al-Hikma’s library into the Tigris River, creating a bridge of books for their army to cross. The pages bled ink into the river for seven days, at the end of which the books were drained of knowledge. For Bilal, 168:01 refers to the first moment when grief is transformed into a call to action, signalling the struggle to move forward from the ashes of ruin.
In conjunction with the library, Bilal presents The Ashes Series, a powerful suite of photographs that depict reconstructed media images of the destruction caused by the Iraq War. Composed over the course of ten years, The Ashes Series portrays painstakingly detailed, miniature reconstructions of original press photographs. Each set is scattered with twenty-one grams of ashes and rephotographed in medium format. The reconstructed images immerse its viewers in landscapes whose haunting quality resensitizes the viewer to its entrenched power of loss. These once bustling cultural spaces bear witness to the stark absence of human life, whose renewed presence is represented by the viewer’s arrival to its suspended aftermath. As in the white library, Bilal seeks to activate a state of encounter between viewers and the image. This exhibition invites you to participate in 168:01and join the international network of individuals whose combined efforts share momentum towards building a brighter future of possibilities.
The exhibition is curated by Srimoyee Mitra and organized and circulated by the Art Gallery of Windsor. It is at the Confederation Centre Art Gallery through january 6, 2019.