N. Vancouver is the inaugural exhibition at the beautiful and spacious Polygon Gallery, curated by Executive Director Reid Shier. The Polygon Gallery is the new iteration of the Presentation House Gallery, which was a stalwart North Vancouver institution that has focused on lens based work over the large part of its forty plus year history. The brand new $18 million facility is in part courtesy of Michael Audain, chairman of the Polygon Homes Corporation. Despite the unfortunate corporatism of the name, the space is a considerable upgrade from the old gallery on Chesterfield Avenue and will be a fantastic space for future exhibitions with far better options for display.
The N. Vancouver exhibition brings together a number of artists who have engaged with the theme of the north shore, and it includes photography, video, sculpture and weaving. Well known photographer/artists such as Jeff Wall, Stan Douglas, Rodney Graham, Fred Herzog and Stephen Waddell are represented, as well as some historical photo/conceptual work by N.E. Thing Company. First Nations weavers Lisa Lewis and Shelly Thomas displayed beautiful traditionally made blankets that were inspired by ancestral blankets seen in vintage photographs of First Nations Chiefs. Overall, works from twenty-six artists are currently included and the catalogue claims that the exhibition will evolve over time as new artworks are introduced.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is Stan Douglas’ Lazy Boy (2015). Douglas combines a 2D digital image with 3D computer-rendered buildings to re-create a squatters’ community of wooden shacks that populated the intertidal zone along the North Shore waterfront in the 1930s and ‘40s. It was there that British Novelist Malcolm Lowry resided and wrote Under the Volcano. The digital rendering of the shacks that no longer exist was made from extensive research and archival photographs. The image is approximately 3×7’ and from a distance looks almost a completely monochrome black. However, as you move towards it you see more and more detail and the wooden shacks only come to life as you get really close. It is a very compelling and engaging image that is a result of both technical virtuosity and research acumen. I normally do not like these kinds of CGI works, they usually look too digitally and not how I tend to see the world, but its monochrome blackness makes it strangely extremely realistic. Although it looks exactly like a straight night-time photo, since the shacks no longer exist, even though they are recreated from photographs and merged with a landscape photo, the photographic guarantee of “reality” that counts as indexicality with respect to the referent is in this case broken and the image functions more like a painting than a photograph. As Jeff Wall once claimed, there are “two reigning myths of photography-the one that claims that photographs are ‘true’ and the one that claims they are not.” In the case of Lazy Boy, it appears that the two myths have merged into one. Nevertheless, regardless of how one categorizes it, this image is a glimpse into the future of photography and it alone makes the exhibition worth seeing.
Speaking of Jeff Wall, intentionally or not, the exhibition illuminates a very interesting and often overlooked historical note. Wall’s Coastal Motifs (1989), a landscape of the North Shore and mountains from the vantage point of Burnaby, is displayed in the main gallery. It is a large lightbox installation in the style that has become synonymous with Wall’s work and has led well-known art historian Rosalind Krauss to declare that Wall was the inventor of the light box as an artistic medium. However, in an auxillary room off of the main gallery space, there is a much smaller lightbox installation by N.E. Thing Co. that was done approximately ten years before Wall’s first light box work. A fact unknown to Rosalind Krauss, probably because it did not happen in her backyard of New York City, but it proves that N.E. Thing Co. was really the first to use the light box as an artistic medium and something that they rarely get credit for.
The Polygon Gallery is a great addition to the art scene in Vancouver and the N. Vancouver show is well worth visiting. The exhibition continues until April 29, 2018.