Friday, September 8, 2017
Exhibition Essay: an aware form of care
In Blood and Bone is a compilation of Alana Bartol's many multifaceted constructs; its result is similar to a corporeal body. This body—an accumulation of different organs, which in turn are different facets of Bartol’s work—reaches out into the world in a multitude of ways. The body works and in doing so makes this body of work.
First, there is the Orphan Well Adoption Agency (OWAA), which walks the line between a real functioning not-for-profit and a fictitious organization. The OWAA, like any adoption agency, busies itself with matching orphans, in this case orphaned oil wells, with people that will act as their caretakers. While at a first glance, the OWAA may seem the penultimate step towards a reconciliation with the land and its peoples, Bartol knows the reality to be far more complex; she knows this to be but the first step of many*. In actuality there may be no final step towards a reconciling but instead a resolve to actively care with awareness.The OWAA is a radical step in envisioning—stepping out of fantasy and into a messy reality. The responsibility inherent in privilege is only performed if a person puts their agency into action, and this is something that Bartol clearly is devoted to doing in this exhibition. Bartol utilizes her privilege granted from the exhibition version of In Blood And Bone to draw attention to the hazy grey area between real organizations, performance within fine visual art. This in turn is a tool to consider what it would be like if we entered a realm focused on care.
Also exerting the pushes and pulls of a physical body is Bartol's water dowsing practice, a second tenet of this exhibition. Dowsing, or water witching, is the practice of using a pendulum, dowsing rod, or forked stick to determine the location of water or other rare minerals. Water witching itself is contentious and controversial and is seen by many to be a dubious practice, though it has been practiced for over a century to successfully find water. To practice this, the dowser must ask the rod yes or no questions. Bartol also has a blue uniform for dowsing and uses Ganzfeld goggles, which renders the user's vision blank, making her as susceptible as possible to the whims of the dowsing rods, and responses to her questions. The dowsing rods are tools of the field worker but they also relate to the third and final element of In Blood and Bone, which comes flying into the gallery and becomes an entity of its own. Black vinyl neckties made of garbage bags, representing corporate culture, patriarchy, and evil spirits in general, which haunt the land and places where these orphaned wells reside. The dowsing rods themselves are installed to animate the dispersion of these ties, and this is represented in both the installation of the neck ties in the space and the animated video in the gallery’s front room.
The great pleasure of a body of work like this is that it offers viewers a space to consider the gargantuan and contentious issue of the oil industry within Alberta in a completely different manner. The absurdity of the ties that bind corporate structures to the land is intimated by the black neckties, which add an element of humour. The laughter that follows can both confound and disarm people to discuss socially and politically charged subjects which can be very difficult to address within the economic systems that we have created. Bartol poses the questions, “How do you get people to connect to issues that are overwhelming even if they are relating to them personally?” and “How do you shift a perspective so that the contentious and uncomfortable topic of oil can be considered?” If this exhibition is to serve as a starting point in which Bartol begins her inquiries, she does so by first listening, processing, acting, and persisting—with care.
By: Ashley Bedet
*A consideration she is aware of given Bartol’s history of incorporating walking into her practice. See A Woman Walks the City Limits, 2016.
Ashley Bedet came back to Calgary, where she was born. Bedet is the product of many very different worlds reproducing, meeting difference, and then reproducing again. That makes her the product of at least four distinct separate paths. She graduated from NSCAD University in 2014 and has been slowly making and showing work since.