What it means to be Canadian
Article: Lauren Neumann – Contributor
“I am Canadian.” It’s a phrase that is very present in our lives. It’s that beer slogan. It’s your immediate response when you’re asked where you’re from when you’re in the U.S. (there’s no use specifying which province). Canadian. But what does this word really mean? What does this Canadian identity look like after you take some time to really unravel it?
Canadiana, the new exhibit at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, questions just that. These series of works takes a look at what defines us as Canadians and how we create our own narratives in relation to our vast land of Canada.
This exhibit was inspired by Winnipeg-based artist Diana Thorneycroft’s series of photographs The Group of Seven Awkward Moments, which are carefully placed alongside a collection of landscape pieces that were pulled from the MAG’s permanent collection.
Thorneycroft’s series of chronograph prints are highly dramatized photos of different narratives within recreations of different Canadian landscapes that were used in paintings by the renowned Group of Seven. She creates these stories by arranging displays of figurines playing out moments in Canadian life. These events range from the whimsical, first snowfall (two men sitting outside drinking beer) to a darling scene of children playing in the woods (with a child bleeding out of his face from his tongue being ripped off a-la-metal pole).
She uses this dark humour to show the contrasts between the storybook True North with the everyday, uncomfortable events that take place and truly define us as Canadians.
“It is through the use of the collective’s iconic northern landscapes, which have come to symbolize Canada as a nation, combined with scenes of accidents, disasters, and bad weather that give the work its edge,” says Thorneycroft, on her website.
The contrasts in The Group of Seven Awkward Moments within the paintings as a comment on the idea of the Canadian identity are also evident in the collective’s relationship to their surrounding paintings.
The collective of photos are displayed with classic paintings of landscape by Canadian artists, including Roland Gissing and Ruth Pawson. The clever placement of crude scenes among variations of aesthetically beautiful fields makes the viewer take their own relationship of being a Canadian further into account. What is it that defines this identity?
After being a part of all of the different narratives that these artists have crafted, the viewer is able to create their own Thorneycroftist scene with an interactive area in the Canadiana exhibit. There is a trunk filled with figurines that the artist herself has selected and the viewer is able to place them and photograph them however they desire on a classic Canadian landscape as a response to The Group of Seven Awkward Moments.
The interactive opportunity in Canadiana ties the entire idea of the exhibit together. It gives the viewer the agency to tell their own narratives of how they identify as Canadian, after the collective asks them to reflect on it.
Canadiana runs at the MAG from Jan. 25 to June 14.