In March the mobile gallery once again parked atop frozen Great Slave Lake, across from the annual Snow Castle. We exhibited Back to the Garden - photographs by Bob Wilson.
In literature, the term ‘local colour’ refers to the description of peculiarities from a particular location and its inhabitants. Bob Wilson’s series ‘back to the garden,’ is the photographic equivalent. Yellowknife viewers will recognize every scene. The wildlife murals, streets and signage are utterly familiar. But local photography, when it is good, often lets us see where we live with fresh eyes.
There are so many elements of visual play in these photos. The curves of the big black bear in the fireweed echo the curves of the big black Ford parked in front. In the caribou photo, bright pops of yellow, grey, and green all repeat themselves, matching perfectly. The shapes of the hyper-colour birch trees painted on the sea-can are extended ‘in the real’ by the pale birch trees in the photograph’s background. See the word ‘water’ behind the grayling? The grasses and shrubs in the photo act as seaweed.
By isolating our city’s scenes of wildlife depictions, removing them from their ‘natural’ urban, concrete environs and placing them within a rectangular frame, the artist is asking us consider something we take for granted; our relationship to animals. When looking at these photos, a slowly-dawning sense of visual irony occurs. These painted animals look a little out of place, don’t they? Even a little pained? Two wolves seem permanently trapped behind a no-parking sign. An eagle flies in a blue sky, narrowly missing a ‘danger high voltage’ label. The arctic grayling is forever caught on a chain-link fence.
Bob’s central question is a good one; do we adorn our city with animals as a way to remember a long-lost ideal? Lynx were never expelled from the Garden of Eden, for example. As the story goes, humans and the natural world lived in harmony – at least for a time.
Interesting too is the fact that Bob has made art out of other artist’s art. We’re curious how the artists that originally painted these murals feel about the new context Bob has given their work.