Braxton Garneau: Pay Dirt

Braxton Garneau, Pay Dirt, 2024, sundew installation detail.

Braxton Garneau: Pay Dirt

February 17 – May 26, 2024
Art Gallery of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

There is a long history of landscape painting in Alberta—or bringing the land into the gallery. In Pay Dirt, however, the gallery has been turned inside out. This immersive landscape is an interpretation of both an Albertan tailings pond and Pitch Lake, an asphalt deposit in Trinidad. Pay Dirt folds together space and time to present these two geographically distant locations side by side. Within Pay Dirt visitors act to further bridge the divide between these places. The result is an indoor earthwork that readily shifts between a natural history diorama, a fictional topographical survey, and a scene from a sci-fi movie. It is at once a tranquil spot for introspection and a site of environmental critique.

Water trapped in an asphalt fissure at the La Brea Pitch Lake, Trinidad, 2023.

Asphalt, also sometimes referred to as pitch, bitumen, tar or oil, is as mutable as these many names suggest and it easily shifts between viscous liquid and impenetrable solid. Garneau uses this as a metaphor for many things, including the diasporic, immigrant and expat experiences of his family, the story of Alberta, and the relationship between people and place. Pay Dirt is both Alberta and Trinidad, while at the same time it is neither. Garneau is interested in the being and absence of many things at once.

Images (left to right): Grandmother’s family visiting the La Brea Pitch Lake, Trinidad in the early 2000s. Grandfather driving a new car in Fort McMurray, Alberta in the mid-70s.

Alberta and Trinidad are economically and culturally linked by the oil and gas industry. It was an expertise in extraction that brought Braxton Garneau’s family, and many other Caribbean families, to Alberta. For Garneau, Pitch Lake—just one of Trinidad’s many on and off-shore mining operations—and the tailings ponds of Alberta’s oil fields offer dichotomous entry points to consider where the social and industrial cultures of Trinidad and Alberta converge and oppose. Pay Dirt illustrates these dual histories by dipping a toe into two disparate “ponds.” It is a place to consider how economic drivers might swallow you up in one place and shoot you out in unexpected and foreign lands.

Pay Dirt is organized by the Art Gallery of Alberta and curated by Lindsey Sharman. The RBC New Works Gallery features new artworks by Alberta artists and continues the Art Gallery of Alberta’s tradition of supporting and promoting Alberta artists.

The artist would like to thank the Alberta Foundation for the Arts for support of Pay Dirt.

About the Artist

Braxton Garneau is a visual artist based in amiskwaciwâskahikan (Edmonton, Alberta, Canada). He holds a BFA from the University of Alberta and has had solo exhibitions at GAVLAK, Los Angeles (2023), Stride Gallery, Calgary (2021) and Parallel Space, Edmonton (2019). His work was featured in the retrospective exhibition Black Every Day at the Art Gallery of Alberta (2021), It’s About Time: Dancing Black in Canada 1900 – 1970 and Now at Mitchell Art Gallery (2020), curated by Seika Boye, and New Direction, curated by AJ Girard and Artx at Château Cîroc, Miami, Florida (2021). In 2023, he was a finalist for the Salt Spring National Art Prize and was awarded the Edmonton Artists’ Trust Fund.

Contact Information

Art Gallery of Alberta
2 Sir Winston Churchill Square
Edmonton, Alberta
Canada T5J 2C1

The Art Gallery of Alberta is an accessible venue.

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