The story of my project for Venice begins with these unpublished press photographs from 1955. They depict a collision between a train and a lumber truck halted by a railway crossing sign. There are planks scattered across the foreground and in one of the images, an unidentified boy poses with a half-eaten apple looking stiffly towards the horizon.
I was holding a copy of Howl, the epic poem by Allen Ginsberg, at the time I received the photographs. I was in my studio reading about the San Francisco Art Institute students who had organized the poem’s first reading on 7 October 1955. I had been an SFAI student myself in 1991. I was 24 years old and I heard Ginsberg sing Father Death Blues, which rattled me. It was also when I first learned about the Venice Biennale. I discovered a copy of a 1970 artscanada magazine about Michael Snow in the school’s library. I somehow thought that if I went back to that moment of discovery I might find something. I found Allen Ginsberg and the memory of a poem he recited.
I mention all of this because the absent figure in the photographs, beside the photographer, is my grandfather Victor, who walked away from the accident only to die a few months later. But I never knew that, or anything about the accident, or anything about him, until these images arrived in my inbox, sent to me by my sister Elizabeth, on 14 April 2016 at 6:24PM.
But this isn’t entirely true. I somehow knew the photographs intimately; the impact of the collision had been passed down through my family without us being aware of it. A shape created by absence, by rage, by unspoken trauma and grief.
They have been waiting patiently for 62 years, for the opportunity to fulfill their destiny, to break a spell, to open a space and to help me find a way out of the mirror.
Ottawa (Canada) Geoffrey Farmer is known for his laboriously crafted projects of epic proportions combining theatrical techniques with historically sourced material. Developed over extended periods of time, the artist’s multi-layered works are open to multiple narratives and interpretations, appearing in a constant state of transformation, as he continues to revisit and alter them.
For his exhibition at the 57th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia, Farmer will install A way out of the mirror in the Canada Pavilion and its beautiful Giardini gardens.
Kitty Scott, the Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, was selected by Farmer to be the curator for the 2017 Canada Pavilion.
“In his Venice project, Geoffrey once again finds a world enclosed inside an image and an image giving rise to a world” explained Ms. Scott. “Personal memory and familial history flow into a broader stream of reflections on inheritance, trauma, and desire. The pavilion itself, colliding with the artwork, is transformed, opening to the outside as its architecture is reimagined in the guise of a fountain.”
Scott is working with Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada, who is the Project Director for the exhibition at the Canada Pavilion.
Considered among the most prestigious contemporary art events in the world, the International Art Exhibition organized by La Biennale di Venezia is the only visual art exhibition to which Canada sends official representation. For more than 60 years, the Canada Pavilion, located in the Giardini di Castello, has featured the work of the most accomplished Canadian artists. This participation has successfully highlighted the quality of contemporary Canadian art in international circles.
About Geoffrey Farmer
Geoffrey Farmer was born in 1967 in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he continues to live and work. Since his first show in 1997 and over his 20-year career, his work has earned critical acclaim around the world. It has been shown in numerous solo and group exhibitions at venues including the Louvre in Paris, Tate Modern in London, dOCUMENTA (13) in Kassel, Germany, the Migros Museum of Contemporary Art in Zurich, the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Alberta in Edmonton, the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, the Vancouver Art Gallery, and the National Gallery of Canada.
Geoffrey Farmer was chosen to represent Canada at the 57th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia by a selection committee convened by the National Gallery of Canada, which included Daina Augaitis, Chief Curator and Associate Director at the Vancouver Art Gallery; Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada; Mark Lanctôt, Curator at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal; Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada; and Kitty Scott, the Carol and Morton Rapp Curator, Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
About Kitty Scott
Kitty Scott is the Carol and Morton Rapp Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Canada. Previously she was Director of Visual Arts at The Banff Centre, Canada; Chief Curator at the Serpentine Gallery, UK; and Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Canada. Scott’s extensive resume includes exhibitions of artists such as Francis Alÿs, Stephen Andrews, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Peter Doig, Theaster Gates, Janice Kerbel, Ragnar Kjartansson and Silke Otto-Knapp. She was a core agent for Germany’s dOCUMENTA (13) in 2012. Scott has written extensively on contemporary art for catalogues, books and journals and edited the publication Raising Frankenstein: Curatorial Education and Its Discontents (2010). She regularly lectures at art schools and curatorial programs throughout North America.
Canada’s participation at the International Art Exhibitions of La Biennale di Venezia
Canada’s representation at the Biennale Arte has played a significant part in shaping the role and place of Canadian contemporary art internationally. For more than 60 years, the Canada Pavilion has helped to launch the careers of many of Canada’s most celebrated artists, including Emily Carr, David Milne, Alfred Pellan, Paul-Émile Borduas, Jean Paul Riopelle, Jean Paul Lemieux, Alex Colville, Guido Molinari, Michael Snow, General Idea, Liz Magor, Geneviève Cadieux, Rodney Graham, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Jana Sterbak, Rebecca Belmore, David Altmejd, Mark Lewis, Steven Shearer, Shary Boyle and BGL.
The Geoffrey Farmer exhibition was commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and produced in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts. The Canadian representation at Biennale Arte 2017 is made possible through the generous financial support of Presenting Sponsor Royal Bank of Canada, Major Sponsor Aimia, and through the National Gallery of Canada Foundation.
About the National Gallery of Canada
The National Gallery of Canada is home to the most important collections of historical and contemporary Canadian art. The Gallery also maintains Canada’s premier collection of European Art from the 14th to the 21st centuries, as well as important works of American, Asian and Indigenous Art and renowned international collections of prints, drawings and photographs. In 2015, the National Gallery of Canada established the Canadian Photography Institute, a global multidisciplinary research center dedicated to the history, evolution and future of photography. Created in 1880, the National Gallery of Canada has played a key role in Canadian culture for well over a century. Among its principal missions is to increase access to excellent works of art for all Canadians.