Driving back from Newcastle to Sydney one Sunday afternoon, North Nomad and I took a “shortcut”.
The shortcut doubled our return trip, and took us through Wolf Creek territory.
Driving through the semi-rural regional area about 40 minutes out of Newcastle, we hit a stretch of road that was deserted but for one house.
One house and its sculptures.
The front yard was overtaken by two sculptures: a huge baby head welded onto rusty machinery, to make it look like an overgrown baby insect hybrid, and dinosaur sized ants destroying a burnt out car.
Half of me wanted to stay and take photos.
The other, more sensible half, decided to drive a lot faster and get the hell off that road.
I’d forgotten all about that trip. But thanks to the contemporary art gallery The Power Plant, it all came flooding back.
The Power Plant is a public contemporary art gallery on at the Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. Admission is always free. And it’s a nice 10 minute stroll away from our apartment block on the harbourfront of Lake Ontario.
The entrance to the gallery is white, airy, light, with tall ceilings. We’re handed a brochure and advised that no photos are allowed of the current installation.
Winter 2014’s main installation is Amnesiac Hide, the first solo exhibition in Toronto by British artist Mike Nelson. His pieces exist in large spaces that audiences can move through and experience.
Nelson’s been nominated for the Turner Prize, and represented England in the 2011 Venice Biennale, so it’s clearly me just being an uncultured muggle, but Amnesiac Hide left me a little… underwhelmed.
Inside his exhibition, it smells like a construction site. We were warned it smelled musty, but asthmatics would do well to bring a face mask.
The first installation is Quiver of Arrows; four vintage airstream trailers welded together that you are invited to walk through and explore.
The piece is raised on a timber scaffold of sorts that you climb stairs to enter. We’re warned to watch our heads.
Inside the airstream, it smells oddly of wet Labrador. The authenticity of this smell impresses me more than the installation itself. The books on religion and philosophy, plates that looked used for rolling joints, and helmets hanging around are all allusions to the people who would live in such a place (dirty cyberpunks in the desert, North Nomad suggests). It does feel authentically lived in, rather than created.
The second piece is Gang of Sevens: sculptures built with pieces of flotsam collected by Nelson on Vancouver beaches. Some have a tribal, totemic feel. Others look like props from the next Rob Zombie movie. It’s wandering through this part of the installation that reminds me of the time we got lost on our “short cut” back from Newcastle to Sydney.
The third room, Eighty Circles Through Canada has two sections: one is a large dresser, filled with an assortment of personal effects. The other side is an enormous screen filled with an old fashioned projector with clips of lonely shots of British Columbian landscape, all lakes and forests and solitude.
Upstairs is the final part of the installation, Double Negative (the Genie). On first glance, it’s totally uninspiring. Several photocopy machines are spread through the room, with messy print-filled papers scattered around them. It reminds me of what a law firm print room looks like when there’s a big piece of litigation on. But on closer inspection, the printing is fragments of poetic prose.
There were parts I appreciated in the exhibition: I liked the welded airstream construction. The juxtaposition of beautiful and bleak imagery in Eighty Circles was clever. The prose in Double Negative was thought provoking and I felt the sense of sharing a journey that was cut short unexpectedly. And at least I got a laugh from Gang of Seven and my Wolf Creek flashback!
I get that the art isn’t just about what it looks like.
In this instance, it’s about immersion into a space, the longing for adventure and perhaps of a time that’s passed, and of the journey that happens when we travel, both internal and external.
I get this.
But it just does nothing for me.
I’m a simple creature. I want art to be beautiful.
And I just couldn’t help but walk away and think it wasn’t too different to a lot of disused equipment or, frankly, garbage that we’ve seen on extensive road trips through country America and Canada, or even bush or outback Australia.
But what is garbage (quite literally in this case) to one person, is a masterpiece of recycled art to another. So our ten minutes of some interest may be another person’s hour of musings and discussion.
Outside the Harbourfront Centre in Canada Park, there’s more art. Large photographs permanently have a home on the astroturf, and hey, I’m allowed to photograph these ones!
What’s the strangest art installation you’ve ever seen?
Location: 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Opening Hours and Days: The gallery is open all year, Tuesday to Sunday: 10am to 5pm, Thursday 10am to 8pm, and open holiday Mondays.
As no photographs were allowed to be taken of the exhibition, the photos you see in this post are either of the gallery main entrance, or the semi-permanent photography exhibit on the astro-turf outside.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica over at Google.