Art Gets Interactive: What’s New at the Esker Foundation Winter 2019

Jeremy Shaw, Towards Universal Pattern Recognition (Detroit Anniversary Prayer, 1987), 2017. Kaleidoscopic acrylic, chrome, archival colour photograph. On loan from the Bailey Collection, Canada.

Story by Christina Wong

Be quiet. Watch your bags and your children. Don’t crowd the art and definitely do not touch the art. The various spoken and unspoken rules of visiting an art gallery are numerous. The reminders that these rules must be abided by—constant security, words of warning, velvet ropes—are also numerous, telling us that art is something that ought to be revered and respected.

But what if an exhibition was as much about engaging as it was about admiring? What if keeping a respectful distance was only telling a part of the story, where noting things like white space and placement could only tell you part of what’s happening? This season’s exhibition at the Esker Foundation invites viewers to physically engage with the art, get close, and revisit the pieces from a different perspective. By encouraging visitors to try something that’s otherwise forbidden, this season’s exhibition allows viewers to experience a sense of wonder, without the velvet ropes. Here’s what’s inspiring our sense of awe at the Esker Foundation this season.

Abstract Art Becomes Concrete Reality with Neil Campbell’s wheatfield

Neil Campbell, Big Rubber 3, 2019. Photographic image on vinyl. Image courtesy of the artist.

Neil Campbell’s exhibition, wheatfield, is comprised of a series of larger than life paintings that requires some distance before you can see the piece in its entirety. Though your first instinct might be to stand as far away as possible, Campbell proves by taking one small step forward, you take a giant step through the looking glass and into another world. From seemingly flat geometric figures that move and change as you walk through the gallery to oversized vehicle tires where it’s easy to get lost in the texture of the tires, Campbell has created an exhibition that is best enjoyed from the front row. 

It is this physical engagement, and the need to fearlessly walking up to a piece to really take it all in, that makes this exhibition come alive. Pieces like Station are no longer just two large ovals suspended just a few feet from the ground, but a gateway to a world of black and white, the slits between the spaces becoming the doors to a subway car waiting to take you away. Bloodline, two enormous circles posed opposite each other in a corner of the gallery is one that you cannot help but look up to in awe as you approach, as if looking into the eyes of some higher power. Moving around a piece, getting closer, looking from a different angle: these are the actions which wheatfield allows us to take part in, and in doing so, we are treated to an inspiring study in motion and perception.

Experience Humanity’s Future Through Jeremy Shaw’s Quantification Trilogy

Jeremy Shaw, I Can See Forever, 2018. Two-Channel HD video installation with 5.1 soundtrack. Co-produced by Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg and KÖNIG GALERIE, Berlin, with support from the Canada Council for the Arts; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Kunstverein Hamburg, and the Esker Foundation Commission Fund, Calgary. 

Jeremy Shaw’s Quantification Trilogy is a series of films set in a future where humans have evolved, augmenting themselves with Machine DNA and further evolving themselves into immortal Quantum Humans. Presented in three separate rooms at the heart of the Esker Foundation, Quantification Trilogy documents three moments in time in this evolved future, where dance, song, and prayer are no longer part of everyday life. These “documentaries” focus on these now marginalized groups, failed experiments, and fanatics engaging in acts that no longer fit in a logical, rational world.

While it’s strange to think that we as humans might evolve to a point where dancing and song are considered practices of a peripheral group, Quantification Trilogy uses this to explore the meaning of being human. What is life without movement, without ritual? At the core of the trilogy lies the tension between logical thought and purposeful self expression, both capable of helping human beings achieve an evolved state, but limited in their capacity to do it alone.  You can enjoy the films in any order during your visit, but it’s recommended to view them in the order in which they are presented for the full experience.  If you are short on time, I Can See Forever, which is making its Canadian installation premier at the Esker Foundation, is one visitors will not want to miss.  

Find Rapture with Jeremy Shaw’s Towards Universal Pattern Recognition

Jeremy Shaw, Towards Universal Pattern Recognition (MM Pastors 2.1.01), 2016. Kaleidoscopic acrylic, chrome, archival colour photograph. On loan from the Bailey Collection, Canada.

Encircling the rooms screening Shaw’s Quantification Trilogy are a series of seven photographs framed in custom machined prismatic acrylic that invites visitors to approach with their bright, dimensional shapes. These pieces are part of Shaw’s Towards Universal Pattern Recognition series, a kaleidoscopic view of moments in time, where the images dance and radiate in their own reflections. As you view the pieces from different angles, the focus of the photograph is multiplied, and you realize that the universal pattern we are asked to unwind is that of what it means to be in raptures.

To be fair, the moments preserved here are mundane, but they are also moments of joy, achievement, and bliss.  Whether it’s the expression of calm as a yogi engages in a pose, the moment of bliss one settles in for a nap, or the sense of achievement of running a CT scan to discover an illness (or lack thereof), these moments are common and universal. While the cause of their joy is different, the effect on the subject is the same, and through the glittering fragmentation of the prism, their transcendent nature is revealed and made universal.

The Esker Foundation’s Winter Exhibitions run until May 12, 2019. Admission free.