Exhibition for Art Windsor Essex, February 17-October 8, 2023, in conjunction with the touring show Homage, circulated by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection.
Canadian painter Lawren Harris, for many years, was a devout Theosophist, following teachings set out in the 19th century that described all things, every particle of matter, as infused with a “spark of the divine.” For many Theosophists, this spark is visible in the form of an “aura,” a field of vibrating energy that emanates from both living beings and inanimate objects. A trained viewer can perceive a coloured glow surrounding humans, plants, animals, rivers, mountains and so on, and indeed, many of Harris’s works seem to depict this radiance of energy. By the same token, these art objects, now held in the AWE collection, also emit an aura that can be observed by a gifted clairvoyant. Artist Jon Sasaki is not such a person, so for this series, he sought help, exploring several ways to document an aura. In addition to testing special lenses and a smartphone app, Sasaki collaborated with four clairvoyants to help make the hidden dimensions of six Lawren Harris artworks visible. In the accompanying video, Windsor-based clairvoyant Jen Garden interprets the objects’ auras. She describes how they have been augmented by interactions with collectors, conservators, curators and art handlers, as well as the countless gallery visitors who have contributed their own energies over the years. Hung in groupings around the original Harris works, one notices auras drawn by different clairvoyants at different times and in different places, showing an amazing amount of similarity.
The search for hidden traces parallels Sasaki’s photographic series Homage, made at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in 2020. Studio objects once handled by members of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson were carefully daubed with sterile cotton swabs, removing a sampling of dormant bacteria, yeast and fungus that had been deposited by the artists’ own hands or accumulated in the years since. After being transferred into nutrient-filled petri dishes, those microbes blossomed into complex ecosystems, many resembling the landscape motifs favoured by Canada’s canonical painters.
As in the Aura series, Sasaki’s gesture is rooted in deep admiration for the Group of Seven and their work and a desire to depict it as teeming with life and vibrating with energy.
Grateful acknowledgements: Jennifer Matotek, Spencer Montcalm, Julie Rae Tucker, Nicole McCabe, Nadja Pelkey and Stephen Nilsson for their support of Aura, and clairvoyants Jen Garden, Lizi Bloom, Gina Dempsey, and Brenda Lott lending for their vision. Images 3,5 and 8 Courtesy of AWE, photographs by Frank Piccolo.