To What Earth Does this Sweet Cold Belong?

Toronto

To What Earth Does this Sweet Cold Belong?, installation views at the Power Plant, 2011: Right: Kevin Schmidt: Disappearing Act (2009). Single channel HD video, sound, colour. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Images courtesy the Power Plant, Toronto.To What Earth Does this Sweet Cold Belong?, installation views at the Power Plant, 2011: Right: Kevin Schmidt: Disappearing Act (2009). Single channel HD video, sound, colour. Courtesy Catriona Jeffries Gallery, Vancouver. Images courtesy the Power Plant, Toronto.

By Carolyn Tripp

To What Earth Does this Sweet Cold Belong?
The Power Plant
March 11 - May 29, 2011

Powerful, desolate, and largely uninhabited, a lot of the landscape remains a question mark to the majority of Canadians and Americans, except in art, photography and film. In images portraying the more remote areas of our Continent, we’re typically subjected to either painting that had its day during the turn of the last century, or shocked by the magnitude of our impact on the environment north of the 60th parallel as seen on Planet Earth or The Nature of Things.

The five artists in the show To What Earth Does This Sweet Cold Belong - three Canadians and two Americans - take the North American landscape and use it to develop vastly different conceptual pieces. Kevin Schmidt’s ongoing landscape-based video and photography work takes us to a tree trunk painted to look weak, as though it had been hollowed out to serve as a view-finder for the landscape beyond. Schmidt’s startlingly realistic application of paint looks to be the work of a demented beaver. As the clouds pass in the looped video, it becomes apparent that the “sky” on the tree is stationary. However, this piece could have used its own space; almost complete darkness is needed to appreciate the detail and subtleties captured in the video.

Schmidt’s second piece in the exhibition, a Roman candle being let off in the middle of a snowy night, was another thought-provoking and beautiful piece, portraying the loneliness of the photographer at work in the big, cold dark outdoors, his foot prints lit up by the pyrotechnics.

Jennifer Rose Sciarrino: Proposal for a Mountain (2007): Hand-cut paper and archival glue. Courtesy the artist.Jennifer Rose Sciarrino: Proposal for a Mountain (2007): Hand-cut paper and archival glue. Courtesy the artist.Andrea Carlson and Jennifer Rose Sciarrino isolate pieces of the landscape, positioning them as individual characters in their work. Like shutters documenting their every move, Carlson’s paintings display humorous, cinematic qualities as they focus on the bulbous forms of icebergs. Sciarrino produced sculptures of mountains made of paper and precious stones cast in resin. At first, the stones very convincingly appear like specimens at an earth sciences expo. Their delicate forms and hand-painted surfaces prompt the viewer to ponder the value of genuine crystals and stones if they can be so handsomely recreated.

Annie MacDonell’s mixed-media iceberg sculpture dominated a corner of the exhibition space like the proverbial elephant in the room. This piece addressed a melting, or dying, piece of nature, much like the diminishing icebergs of the North Pole. For this piece, MacDonell chose appropriate scale and media, with the dark sides of her angular forms evoking the rigid, enduring image of a monolith and the glass, recalling the melancholic nature of a melted puddle. This piece would have been best viewed from above, or in a larger space; a worthy piece of this magnitude (over five feet tall) placed in a small room lost a bit of its poetry. MacDonnell’s suite of collaged photographic works delve into similar territory, as the breakdown continued in the fragmentation, and perhaps degradation, of natural habitat and the landscape.

A sense of loneliness continues with Erin Sheriff’s found image of James Turrell’s Roden Crater in Arizona, which he acquired in 1979. The extinct volcano becomes, again, a singular character; its setting changes through Sheriff’s rendering. Upon additional research, this volcano is, as Sheriff portrays it, alone, its relatively small peak standing far away from clusters of much more imposing forms of the landscape.

The excitement inherent in lonely and uninhabitable terrains is still present as contemporary artists address big ideas around the landscape. While applying conceptual ingenuity, these artists have tackled landscape in an impressive variety of ways. Although the exhibition space sometimes worked against some pieces, the works in this exhibition were a pleasure to see.

Carolyn TrippCarolyn Tripp is a Toronto-based artist and writer whose work has been featured at the Contact Photography Festival (Contacting Toronto), the Gladstone Hotel (upArt), the Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1 and the Toronto Urban Film Festival. She has been published in Eye Weekly, Broken Pencil, and Spacing and C magazines.