Lorraine Gilbert at SAW Gallery
With record-breaking heat and drought in Ottawa this summer, it would seem that the colour green is only to be found indoors at the moment. Whether by plan or accident, two prominent venues have programmed shows with the word "flora" in the title: the National Gallery's alternative to the predictably popular Van Gogh love-in is Flora and Fauna: 400 Years of Artists Inspired by Nature, while a stone's throw away at SAW Gallery is Local Flora: The secrets of the natural world revealed by nine outstanding regional artists.
Flora and Fauna at NGC is largely a permanent collection exhibition of the kind that is both traditional and refreshingly straightforward in its inception: a gathering of works by artists both alive and dead in all media centered on a theme. The practicality of the title belies a handsome and engaging exhibition, filled with verdant possibilities. Notable are Lucien Freud's small cliché verre drawing of foliage which offers a rare view of work of his that does not have the figure as subject, Karl Blossfeldt's well-known photographic studies of plants that would seem to fuel the argument for intelligent design, and Aganetha and Richard Dyck's ever intriguing ongoing collaboration in the use of the lowly desktop scanner to record everything from horses to, in this case, the insides of bee hives.
Lorraine Gilbert's two mural-sized panoramic photographic reconstructions are perhaps the most prominent. Painstakingly built using both traditional photographs and non-perspectival scanned images, Gilbert's work encourages a close examination of the interplay between the built and natural environments. This oft-maligned subject is easily relegated to cliché, but in Gilbert's sensitive hands (and eyes) we get a complex and nuanced treatise, where photography's conventions are challenged and used in ways that are both mature and profound. It came as no surprise to hear that Gilbert was originally an environmental biologist.
As the only artist in both the NGC and SAW exhibitions, Gilbert is a senior artist who seems to be on the verge of getting her due. Her work was also the subject of last year's NGC touring two-person exhibition Global Nature with current art-world darling Sarah Anne Johnson. Local Flora, curated by the now independent Stefan St. Laurent, contains striking works by the likes of Howie Tsui, Cheryl Pagurek, and Andrew Morrow (among others). I have immense respect for St. Laurent's curating and, truth be told, he is a masterful marketer, drawing national and international attention for thoughtful and timely exhibitions, but many of hia shows at SAW are crowded and, despite the inclusion of ferns and other greenery sparsely placed in the ceiling, Local Flora suffers from too many works. The odd use of white framing trim around every work, set against a baby blue wall, does the exhibition no favours either. With any luck, the plan for a new complex for Artscourt will suffer no more delays and SAW's new physical space will soon be able to live up to its top-notch programming.
National Gallery of Canada: http://www.gallery.ca/
Flora and Fauna continues until September 9.
SAW Gallery: http://www.galeriesawgallery.com/
Local Flora continues until August 18.
Andrew Wright is an artist based in Ottawa and the Interim Chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa. He has exhibited widely and is the recipient of numerous awards. He was recently elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. He is Akimblog's Ottawa correspondent.
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