Derek Liddington at Contemporary Calgary

By Marsel Reddick

Derek Liddington, the trees weep, the mountains still, the bodies rust, 2024, installation view at Contemporary Calgary

Derek Liddington’s the trees weep, the mountains still, the bodies rust covers Contemporary Calgary from floor to ceiling, every wall painted with pink, blue, purple, and white – but mostly green – amorphous forms just familiar enough to invite viewers to play with interpretation. At first abstract, the fluid contours generate the visual experience of running through a forest. There emerges a tree, then a stream, then a leg, dancing and jumping. Canvases hanging on the walls are mostly rectangular, with some in shapes that resemble hands and feet. Occasionally the rectangular paintings have bone-like protrusions sticking out of their frames. Centered diagonally across the floor there lies a large canvas with two ripples in the middle of its fabric. These, like the walls, are painted with colours that emulate biological matter in shapes hinting at corporeality. Deep red spots glowing a blurry brownish-yellow over top of flora-like underpainting bring to mind heavy rain, pustules, and pomegranate seeds – and coalesce into a single convulsive entity.

Derek Liddington, the trees weep, the mountains still, the bodies rust, 2024, installation view at Contemporary Calgary

The contrast between the softly washed walls and the dark, vibrant canvases creates a sense of temporal and spatial disjunction. Faces, hooves, rivers, fungi, and plants emerge from the paint, conjuring themes of decomposition and regeneration. The massive scale of the shapes that resemble appendages evokes the presence of giants and gods. At times, the imagery excites auditory sensations – rustling, buzzing, squelching – and, for a moment, the room pulsates with ecological interconnectedness. Imagine blood flowing through dirt, taking root, and transforming into budding vegetation. The wrinkles in the central canvas imply a rippling motion in the makeup of this imaginary realm – earth being transfigured into water. Situated like a portal or pathway, the wave suggests the liquification involved in the reconstitution of organic matter.

Derek Liddington, the trees weep, the mountains still, the bodies rust, 2024, installation view at Contemporary Calgary

This sense of interconnectivity depends, however, on a commitment to a fantasy. Little disruptions throughout the display of materials lead one to oscillate between feeling elsewhere and presentness. Despite the application of colour to the walls, the installation is too fragmented to be immersive. The exposed edges of the canvases become the main vehicle for this separation, which prevents continuity between the painted surfaces and the fantasies they propose by drawing attention to the reality of the materials. High up on one wall, a hand-shaped canvas appears to clutch a rectangular one. Following an effort to imagine a relationship between the two, that exposed edge was a loud reminder of their shared materiality; object and subject dissipated, the hand and the held, intertwined and yet illusory.

Derek Liddington, the trees weep, the mountains still, the bodies rust, 2024, installation view at Contemporary Calgary

This invitation to enter a forest-like dreamscape within Calgary’s downtown core serves as a poignant reminder of the dichotomy between generative fantasy and the stark realities of urban life. The metamorphosis depicted in Liddington’s paintings eerily mirrors the transformations outside the gallery walls in the ever-under-construction-zoned city. Corporately transplanted trees line the streets in metal structures, and birds peck at each other’s corpses. Imagine living to see the trees grow big enough to consume their cages, the construction zones overtaken by moss and fungi.

Derek Liddington: the trees weep, the mountain still, the bodies rust continues until August 25.
Contemporary Calgary: https://www.contemporarycalgary.com/
The gallery is accessible.

Marsel Reddick is an artist and writer based in Moh’kins’tsis whose research explores identity, divination, materiality, trans history, magic, intuition, and affect.