In The House Built By Those That Came Before Me
Sur Les Lieux De Ceux Qui M'ont Précédé
2016, intervention, documentation and installation at the Art Gallery of Sudbury, Sudbury ON.
The Art Gallery of Sudbury is located in the Bell Estate, once the home of William and Katherine Bell, and built with the proceeds of their lumber empire. Although the house has been retrofitted to museum standards, residentially-scaled doorways and stairways sometimes pose challenges for its current function as a contemporary art gallery.
In the House Built By Those That Came Before Me presents a site-specific intervention that considers the history of the Bell Estate, it's repurposing as the Art Gallery of Sudbury, and the forestry industry of Sudbury past and present, as a way of broaching questions on the place of traditional landscape art in contemporary discourse.
A 25' tall pine tree was harvested nearby, selected from the young forest growth that has reappeared locally in recent decades, and an attempt was made to maneuver it in one piece up to the second floor gallery space. Five assistants hauled the tree indoors, flexed the tree around corners and jammed it through narrow doorways. Eventually branches and portions of trunk had to be lopped off to allow it to pass through residentially-scaled doorways and staircases, as there is no freight elevator at the Art Gallery of Sudbury. Whatever remained of the tree by the time it reached Gallery 2 was put on display, accompanied by a 17 minute long video documenting the absurd, laborious action, as well as the negotiation and teamwork required to make it happen. In keeping with the historic mission of the landscape genre (which figures prominently in the AGS collection) “unbridled nature” was denoted here in scaled-down form, edited, made manageable to fit within institutional parameters. Discarded branches and trunk sections sacrificed during transit allude to the omissions of landscape painting, all that which was cut out of Canada's "official art."
A selection of four works from the collection feature solitary trees, a common trope in Canadian landscape art, connoting a sort of heroic individualism. Arranged here in a grove, however, the work talks more about coexistence, perhaps bringing to mind productive social modes in the human world: ways of collaborating that would, for example, allow for an unreasonably large tree to be brought up a flight of stairs... a task impossible to accomplish as an individual, no matter how heroic.
The title In the House Built By Those That Came Before Me both refers to a tree transposed into a lumber baron's home, as well as alluding to the challenges faced by contemporary Canadian artists working critically and affectionately within the landscape tradition.
HD video: 17 minutes 26 seconds, looped with sound.
Crew: Gérald Beaulieu, Joelle Beaulieu, Sabrina Cazzola, Josh Hubert, Daniel Ranich, Taddrick Tremblay, Kenny Van Exan
Grateful acknowledgements: Demetra Christakos, Joelle Beaulieu, Heather Feeney, Nancy Gareh, Deanna Nebenionquit, Karen Thistle,The City of Sudbury, The Ontario Arts Council, The Canada Council for the Arts, Clint Roenisch Gallery